Multifamily property owners are tasked with managing regulatory compliance in a multitude of ways; evictions, landlord and tenant laws, fair housing, and data security and privacy, just to name a few. So, it comes as no surprise to hear that there are a plethora of regulations that affect how a landlord can bill back their residents for utility usage. In some areas throughout the nation, these regulations are stringent and oftentimes indiscernible. In some cases, local or state regulations can even contradict those of the Public Utility Commission (PUC), making it exceptionally difficult to stay compliant.
Owners are faced with the challenge of trying to recoup utility expenses and promote resident conservation while minimizing legal risk. Noncompliance can cost you big time with locally assessed fines and legal fees. Turning to a billing provider who understands resident billing regulations, and that can successfully guide you through the complexities of local and state regulations is a smart move that will help protect your business. Here are some of the questions you should ask when looking for a billing provider.
Important Questions to Ask
Do they have a dedicated legal team (licensed attorneys) committed to staying updated on resident utility billing regulations?
In an industry that is constantly evolving and with new tenant-friendly legislation popping up left and right, it’s critical that whoever you choose to partner with has a dedicated team of professionals whose sole focus is to ensure you’re compliant whether you have a portfolio that is spread nationwide or operate in a singular city or state.
Do they offer lease reviews and make lease language recommendations that relate to utility billing?
Compliance is two parts: Adhering to legal billing practices and clearly outlining billing methods and applicable fees in your lease language. Some jurisdictions even require specific language or additional addenda to be used for utility billing. Ensuring your lease accurately reflects how residents will be billed for their utility usage is critical. Having an expert review your lease and make recommendations when needed will save you from future headaches.
Do they assist in the event of a dispute or any type of legal indemnification?
While being advised by an expert certainly minimizes legal liability, there is always that one resident that wants to challenge their utility charges. Make sure whoever you partner with offers services that include navigating official disputes filed by residents.
How are regulatory changes and updates tracked and how have they streamlined communication to keep clients informed?
As previously mentioned, the multifamily industry is constantly evolving, and regulatory changes and trends are no different. It’s important to stay informed – which means receiving accurate updates in a timely manner that allows you to prepare for upcoming changes.
Does their legal department actively participate in the legislative process on a state and local municipality level?
Being backed by a billing provider that has a legal team that supports lobbying efforts means your interests as a landlord are being protected. Who better to help you understand and adhere to billing regulations than those that actually helped write them?
Do they prepare required regulatory reporting for clients to submit (e.g. North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, etc.)?
In some jurisdictions, landlords are required to register with the local PUC or the city or state to legally bill back residents. This paperwork can be confusing and tedious at best, and some areas even require annual renewals to be submitted. Find out if the provider you are considering helps with these processes to ease this administrative burden.
Navigating these waters is tough, which is why it is important that you can rely on your billing provider to help guide you through them. The goal is to maximize your utility recovery without exposing yourself to legal risk. Being able to trust a legal team of experts helps you reach this goal, all while giving you peace of mind.