TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the multiple dwelling law, in relation
to the collection of charges for heat-related residential utility
PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: This bill would amend section 79 of
the Multiple Dwelling Law to eliminate the practice of building owners
charging residential rental tenants for electricity, natural gas, and
other fuel used for space heating in the dwelling unit.
SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: Subdivision 1 of section 79 of the
multiple dwelling law is amended to prohibit an owner or agent of any
owner from separately charging tenants or occupants for any electricity,
electric service, natural gas or natural gas service or other fuel
utilized to heat living quarters.
JUSTIFICATION: Shifting heating costs to tenants reduces economic
incentives fox landlords to improve the thermal efficiency of their
structures, through measures such as insulation, window replacement with
high efficiency glass, and provide more efficient heating systems,
fixtures, and smart controls. This is contrary to state policy to
promote energy efficiency and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As utility costs rise, some building owners have begun to shift their
costs for fuel and electricity onto their tenants, by requiring tenants
to pay heating surcharges, separate and apart from rent, for fuel or
electricity used to heat their dwelling units. These surcharges are
based on consumption measured by either landlord-owned meters, or based
on apartment square footage allocations. These surcharges, typically for
natural gas or electricity, are inherently unpredictable, are not quan-
tified in tenant leases, and are not knowable in advance. As such, they
cause great hardship to tenants living on fixed incomes from social
security, disability and pensions, who lack significant savings.
Frequently, heating surcharges imposed by owners are not subject to
outside audit or verification by the tenant and are therefore inherently
prone to abuse. Shifting building owners' heating costs to tenants
through unpredictable and continually varying surcharges. renders these
costs not transparent to tenants, because owners are not obligated to
reveal the energy inefficiencies of their buildings or the amount of
energy wasted by the heating equipment they operate. In contrast, if
building owners retain direct responsibility for heating costs, they
will recover those costs in the rent they charge and they will have the
incentive to adopt cost effective efficiency measures. The charge for
rent is fixed and transparent, and can be understood by existing and
prospective tenants. The Multiple Dwelling Law already imposes upon
landlords the obligation to provide heat or heating fixtures to tenants.
This bill prevents owners of multiple dwellings from imposing charges
for natural gas, electricity, or other fuel used fox space heating sepa-
rate from the stated rent. It does not affect situations where a tenant
has directly metered gas or electric service from a franchised gas
corporation or electric corporation.
Requiring tenants to pay surcharges to building owners for fuel and
electricity for heating denies them the protections of programs designed
by the legislature to protect low income utility customers from abuse,
such as the Home Energy Fair Practices Act (HEFPA), and the legislative-
ly-created safety nets for the needy including the emergency utility
assistance program under Social Services Law § 131-s and the energy
crisis provisions of the home energy assistance program under Social
Services Law 97 (HEAP). Customer remedies and assistance in these
programs is triggered by a notice of termination of utility service, and
is not available when surcharges for heating costs axe deemed to be
"added rent," allowing landlords to evict tenants for nonpayment.
Tenants who encounter temporary difficulty in meeting their obligations
to pay for fluctuating charges heat-related utility service are in a far
worse position than direct utility company over unpaid or disputed
charges; they are given the opportunity to pay arrears over time in
affordable installments through deferred payment plans, which must be
offered as an alternative to termination of utility service, and they
have the opportunity to obtain emergency HEAP or Social Services Law
section 131-s assistance. Such assistance is not available when the
landlord imposes a rent surcharge for a utility service it provides
through its own meters or for the cost of utility service which the
landlord uses to heat the premises and allocates based on square footage
or other factors.
PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 2011-2012: S.1775 Referred to Housing,
Construction & Community Development
2009-2010: S.4749 Referred to Housing, Construction & Community Develop-
FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None is anticipated.
EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect immediately.
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