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Frequently Asked Questions

Changes to Tenant Utility Accounts

What is happening?

Effective July 15, 2011 Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is no longer creating new residential water, sewer and garbage accounts in tenant names.

Why is this change being made?

There are approximately 20,000 SPU tenant accounts. The financial management of those accounts should lie with the owners. SPU believes this change appropriately shifts administrative cost of managing tenant accounts from the rest of the rate-payer base to landlords.

This change will align our processes more closely with Seattle Municipal Codes (SMC), specifically SMC 21.04.260, which states that all accounts for water shall be kept in the name of the owner of the premises.

Additionally, the property owner is always ultimately responsible for the water, sewer, and garbage debt incurred by a renter.

Where does it state that SPU accounts should be in the owner's name?

Seattle Municipal Code SMC 21.04.260 states that all accounts for water shall be kept in the name of the owner of the premises.

Where does it state that the property owner is ultimately responsible for the charges incurred at their property?

SMC 21.04.250 identifies the property owner as the proper account holder, and as the person ultimately responsible for the debt incurred at the property.

When is this happening?

All new accounts opened on or after July 15, 2011 will be in the property owner’s or manager’s name.

Will you close all residential tenant accounts at once?

As tenants move out and close their accounts, the owner's account will be activated and remain in the owner's name from that point forward.

I own a residential rental property, and I am concerned about tenant delinquency. What are my options?

  • Both you and your tenant can sign up for electronic billing (ebilling) and view the bills on-line. If this option is chosen by either the owner or the tenant, the paper bills will stop.
    • The owner and tenant can have separate ebill user accounts;
    • When the tenant moves out, the tenant or the owner can request that the tenant’s ebill user account be deactivated;
    • Neither party will be able to access or view the other’s stored payment information.
  • Call (206) 684-3000 periodically to check on account status
  • Close the tenant account (if it is still open) and open the account in the owner’s name. Once the active account is in the owner’s name, the owner may request duplicate billing where the original bills and notices are sent to the owner and duplicate copies are mailed to the service address.

Is it necessary for me to call SPU after my tenant moves out?

No, this will be done automatically. Please make sure that SPU has your correct mailing address on your account.

How can tenants establish credit using utility accounts?

Tenants can establish credit through many bills that are in their name such as home phone, cell phone, cable, internet, gas, and electric. Tenants are still able to put the City Light bill in their name, thus they can still establish credit through a utility account.

Shouldn't tenants have a right to open a utility account in their name?

Tenants who live in duplexes and other multi-family apartment buildings do not have separate SPU accounts in their names.

Can the electric bill be put in the tenant's name?

Yes. Renters are eligible to retain individual electric accounts through Seattle City Light. For more information, please read SCL’s Billing and Accounts FAQ.

Does this change apply to commercial tenants?

No, this change only applies to single-family and multi-family residential tenants. SPU will continue to allow commercial tenants who occupy commercial properties to hold water, sewer and garbage accounts in their names.

Can the tenant receive a copy of the bills and notices?

Yes. The property owner – whose name is on the bill – should contact customer service at (206) 684-3000 to have a copy of the bill sent to their tenant. The original bill will continue to be mailed to the property owner at their mailing address, and a clearly marked duplicate copy will be sent to the service address.

Will tenants use excess water and resources if they don't receive a bill?

There is no hard evidence to suggest tenants would waste water if they don’t pay the water bill. For rebates offers, water-saving tips and advice on finding and fixing leaks, visit the Saving Water Partnership website or call (206) 684-SAVE (7283).

How will I manage my property’s utility bills?

Landlords have several ways they can manage their property utility bills. They can adjust rents, deposits, or fees as well as provide bill copies to their tenants. SPU has no interest, influence, or authority over what landlords determine to be their best method.

What about tenants who are eligible to receive discounted utilities through the City’s Utility Discount Program?

If a tenant is eligible to participate in the utility discount program and has a City Light account in their name (proving they are the tenant), water/sewer/garbage credits will be applied to their SCL account.

How can I determine the amount of a typical bill in case I want to raise my rent to cover the utility costs?

Billed charges can vary depending on number of people in the household, water use habits, and solid waste service levels. Landlords can look at previous bill statements to obtain bill history to determine an average monthly amount. For additional billing information, landlords may also visit SPU's Rate Summary website.

How can an owner pro-rate a bill for tenants leaving or new tenants moving in?

Landlords can prorate by taking an average bill amount, dividing by the days of service to determine the average daily charge, then multiply by the number of days for which the tenant is responsible.

For additional information, please call (206) 684-3000.