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Can I include water bills in my rent court eviction filing?

10/11/17 5:41 PM Brian Wojcik Eviction Notice, Evictions, landlord tenant law, Rent Court

One of the top questions I receive from do-it-yourself landlords is:
“Can I include water bills in my rent court eviction filing if the tenant signed a lease proving they are responsible for paying for water consumption?”

The short answer is, it usually depends on the judge.

Many judges have been dismissing cases that include values other than rent or late charges, regardless of what is stated in the lease.

If the case is dismissed without prejudice, the case can be re-filed again paying the fees and court costs as you did with the original filing, for the same period, and exclude water/utilities. If dismissed with prejudice, the case cannot be filed again for this specified period. It all depends on the judge. In our experience, there is a 50/50 risk of dismissal, rarely ever with prejudice (but it's always a risk).

Why and when did this change occur to water and utilities not being allowed in rent court?
As a result of Felicia Locket vs. Blue Ocean, the appellate court found water charges to be an inappropriate inclusion as part of an eviction. District Court Judges are interpreting this case and positing water/utilities as an inappropriate charge on the failure to pay rent form. They want to see rent, and rent only as part of the complaint. Further, there is no line on the complaint forms that would distinguish and declare utilities separately from rent. It is a single line with a single number, and the number is presumed to be all rent. 
Because there is no way to declare “additional rent” separately on the current failure to pay rent forms, many judges specifically ask “is any portion of this amount for utilities?” If they could figure it out themselves from the face of the complaint they likely wouldn't ask, but they are asking.
"Additional rent" including water/utilities can be claimed, but it would be claimed together with rent. If claimed all together (as the form requires), and the judge were to ask the question, there is a chance that the entire case would be dismissed (and not just a dismissal of the utilities amounts).
A complaint containing rent + fees such as utilities and water can be included. Just beware of the strong warning that the case may be dismissed in its entirety (as some of them are as we witness other cases who don't utilize an attorney in court). 

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Brian Wojcik

Written by Brian Wojcik