Recently, we ran an article on how landlords should think about their electrical. We wrote it because there’s a lot of things landlords need to know, from how their electrical can affect their insurance, to what they need to know about disagreements with tenants. We realized while researching that article how much information would be relevant to tenants in Manitoba, so we decided to publish this article, that looks at the other side of things. We’ll break it down into a few parts: what you should know about electrical hazards in the place you’re renting, how metering can work, and how to get help if your electricity is cut through no fault of your own.

When you’re looking for a new place to rent, there’s a lot that’s going to pass through your head: the location, the price, and the facilities. When investigating the facilities, it’s important to take a close look at the electrical; you want to find a place that isn’t likely to have electrical fires, and one that you can probably get tenant’s insurance for. Insurance companies are hesitant to provide insurance to locations with old-school wiring; aluminum wires, knob-and-tube wires, and systems with insufficient electrical load are all problems. Ask your prospective landlord what kind of wiring they have, and how many amps their system is; if they’ve got old knob-and-tube wires, you should tell them you don’t want to move in unless they have an electrician with knob and tube removal services come by to replace the old system.

You’ll want to take a close look at the outlets around the house, for two reasons. The first is to make sure there are sufficient outlets; in a modern home, you’ll need quite a few well spaced throughout the place in order to run all of your electronics without overloading a circuit. You also want to check the quality of the outlets; any scorch marks or signs the outlets are loose should give you reason to pause.

The lease agreement you sign will undoubtedly come with terms regarding utilities, including electricity. This is relatively simple when you have your utilities paid for, but can grow more complicated when you have to pay for your own. For tenants paying their own Hydro, there are two metering systems: one where each tenant has their own meter, and one where the tenants are billed a portion of a shared meter. When you have your own meter, the process is again relatively straightforward – you start getting billed by Hydro the day you move in, and you stop being billed the day you move out. Hydro does not accept terms of a lease agreement; they have a strict move in/move out policy, so if your lease says anything different, you should be cautious.

Things can get a little more complicated when the meter is shared – each tenant is ostensibly responsible for their own electricity use, while the landlord is responsible for electricity use in the commons. The concern here is that a landlord could hypothetically overcharge tenants for electricity to avoid having to pay for the commons. When this occurs, there is a dispute resolution mechanism you can employ, though not through Manitoba Hydro – they bill the landlord in the case of single meter. You should read the Tenancy Branch’s dispute resolution for shared utilities page. You should also brush up on Manitoba Hydro’s rules for landlords, to help better understand the dynamic.

The payment arrangement for utilities can vary pretty dramatically from place to place, but one thing that is invariable is this: your landlord is responsible for ensuring that you have safe access to utilities. That means that the landlord must fix faulty electrical systems, and if the landlord is paying the utilities, they must keep their account in good standing. Should they neglect to do this, the Tenancies Branch will step in; they will collect your rent instead of the landlord, and use the accumulated funds to pay utilities, or pay for necessary repairs. There may still be times this is insufficient; when that occurs, there is a Safety Net Program that might help you find another place to live. All in all, you should be very careful about which landlord you choose; trust your gut. If you sense something is wrong, or you’re likely to have disputes, look for a different place.