Can landlords charge for water in California?

Can Landlords Charge for Water in California?

As a landlord or property owner in California, you may be wondering if you can charge your tenants for water usage. With the state’s ongoing water crisis and the increasing cost of water, it’s essential to understand the legalities surrounding California water fees and landlord charges. In this article, we will explore the regulations governing water billing in California, the different methods landlords can use to charge tenants for water, and the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Understanding California Water Billing Regulations

California has specific laws and regulations that govern how landlords can charge tenants for water usage. These rules are designed to ensure fairness and transparency in billing practices and to encourage water conservation. Some of the key regulations include:

  • Landlords must have a legal basis for charging tenants for water, such as a lease agreement that explicitly states the tenant is responsible for water charges.
  • Landlords cannot charge tenants more than the actual cost of water provided by the utility company.
  • Landlords must provide tenants with a clear and itemized statement of water charges, including the method used to calculate the charges and any applicable fees.
  • Landlords must give tenants at least 30 days’ notice before implementing any changes to water billing practices.

It’s important to note that these regulations apply to all residential rental properties in California, including single-family homes, apartments, and condominiums.

Methods for Charging Tenants for Water

There are several methods that landlords can use to charge tenants for water usage in California. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and the best approach will depend on the specific circumstances of your property and tenants. Here are three common methods:

1. Ratio Utility Billing System (RUBS)

RUBS is a method of allocating water charges among tenants based on factors such as the number of occupants, square footage, or a combination of both. This method is popular among landlords because it’s relatively simple to implement and doesn’t require the installation of individual water meters for each unit. However, RUBS can be less accurate than other methods, as it doesn’t account for actual water usage by each tenant.

2. Submetering

Submetering involves installing individual water meters for each rental unit, allowing landlords to charge tenants based on their actual water usage. This method is more accurate and fair than RUBS, as it ensures that tenants are only charged for the water they actually use. However, submetering can be more expensive and time-consuming to implement, as it requires the installation and maintenance of additional equipment.

3. Flat Fee

With a flat fee approach, landlords charge tenants a fixed amount for water usage each month, regardless of their actual consumption. This method is simple and easy to implement, but it can be less fair than other methods, as tenants who use less water may end up subsidizing those who use more. Additionally, a flat fee may not provide a strong incentive for tenants to conserve water.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Charging Tenants for Water

There are several benefits to charging tenants for water usage in California, including:

  • Encouraging water conservation: When tenants are responsible for their water usage, they are more likely to be mindful of their consumption and take steps to conserve water.
  • Reducing landlord expenses: By passing water costs on to tenants, landlords can reduce their overall operating expenses and potentially increase their rental income.
  • Greater fairness: Charging tenants for their actual water usage can help ensure that each tenant pays their fair share of the overall water bill.

However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Administrative burden: Charging tenants for water usage can create additional administrative work for landlords, such as tracking water usage, calculating charges, and providing itemized statements to tenants.
  • Legal compliance: Landlords must ensure that their water billing practices comply with all applicable laws and regulations, which can be complex and time-consuming to navigate.
  • Tenant relations: Some tenants may be resistant to paying for water usage, particularly if they have not been charged for water in the past. This can create tension between landlords and tenants and potentially lead to disputes.


In summary, landlords in California can charge tenants for water usage, provided they comply with all relevant laws and regulations. There are several methods for charging tenants for water, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, the best approach will depend on the specific circumstances of your property and tenants. By carefully considering your options and ensuring compliance with all legal requirements, you can implement a water billing system that is fair, transparent, and encourages water conservation.

Kurby Team

The Kurby Content Team is a diverse group of seasoned real estate experts dedicated to providing insightful, reliable information for homebuyers, real estate investors, and real estate agents. With backgrounds ranging from real estate brokerage, property investment, and residential home buying, our team combines decades of experience with a passion for demystifying the real estate world. We at Kurby are committed to helping you make informed, successful real estate decisions. Whether you're a first-time homebuyer, a seasoned investor, or a real estate professional, count on the Kurby Content Team to deliver the most relevant, actionable real estate content you need.