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Home / overcharged

Council members propose transparency law for LA tenants’ utility bills

Councilwoman Nithya Raman and Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion Wednesday aimed at creating a law in Los Angeles to provide more transparency for tenant utility bills by requiring landlords and billing agencies to provide written disclosures about how utility charges are allocated to each tenant.

“So many of the city’s low-income renters are unable to take advantage of the wide array of services available to them because they have no way to verify their utility charges,” Raman said. “Not only does this system make no sense, it leaves money on the table that could help tenants pay their bills.”

According to Raman’s office, Seattle adopted an ordinance in 2003 requiring landlords and third-party billing agencies to disclose their formula for tenants’ utility bills, along with meter readings for the entire building. Tenants are then able to more easily dispute their bills when they are being overcharged.

The motion, which was seconded by Councilman Mike Bonin, notes that many large apartment buildings have a single meter, with utility bills for each tenant estimated.

“Renters in Los Angeles, particularly low-income renters, have borne the disproportionate brunt of this pandemic — oftentimes serving as essential workers, all while dealing with inconsistent housing regulations, staving off illegal evictions, and now managing household expenses under tremendous inflationary pressures,” Koretz said. “A utility transparency ordinance would require landlords to be upfront with the way utility fees are calculated, shine a light on how tenants are charged and ensure landlords are tying utility fees to usage. This ordinance is long overdue and I look forward to helping move the initiative across the finish line.”

The motion will first be heard by the City Council’s Housing Committee and then the full City Council. If approved, it would instruct the Los Angeles Housing Department City Attorney to report on recommendations for an ordinance that would require greater transparency for tenant utility bills.

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