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Q: Can a landlord start an Xcel Energy service in my name without my permission?

A: Your question raises several issues.

Assuming that you have a signed lease, the first issue is that tenants can be responsible to pay utilities only if the units are separately metered. If the utilities are not separately metered, then the tenant should not be responsible to pay for electricity.

Next, some leases contain language stating that the tenant is responsible for the utilities, and the landlord has permission to contact the utility companies and set up the tenant as an obligor with the utilities. If your lease contains both these clauses, then there is nothing prohibiting a landlord from following through and setting up a tenant to pay the utilities.

If your lease does make you responsible for the utilities, but does not authorize the landlord to contact the utility company and set you up as an obligor on the utilities, then it gets a little tricky. There is nothing in Minnesota law that prohibits a landlord from doing this. However, the agreement between the utility company and the individual responsible for payment is a contract, which requires all of the normal essentials of a contract, including acceptance by the parties. If someone doesn't signal acceptance, then the contract may be void.

Utility companies used to always require that the landlord submit the lease, to show that the tenant had accepted responsibility to pay the utilities. But I have learned that utility companies are at present getting a little lax, and too often are allowing a landlord to call in and simply designate the tenant as the payee for the utilities, without submitting the lease.

If this has happened, there may be some problem on the utility company's end, as it doesn't have an agreement with the person it is trying to hold responsible for the payment.

Finally, if the lease does not require that the tenant pay utilities, then it is not appropriate for the landlord to start the service without your permission, as the landlord is legally responsible for utilities unless the lease requires the tenant to make those payments.

You should check the language in your lease. If you do not have a written lease, or if you aren't required to pay for utilities and you haven't authorized your landlord to set you up with a utility company, then you should consider contacting a tenants' rights organization such as HOME Line at 612-728-5767.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.