RUBS: Is this the best way to subdivide water bills between residents?

Salvatore J. Friscia
Salvatore J. Friscia | 3 min. read

Published on June 2, 2011

If you own multi-family rental property in the southwestern United States, you should know about RUBS (Ratio Utility Billing System). A large majority of multi-family rental properties in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico are individually metered for electric but have what’s called a “master” meter for water. The electric usage of the tenant is paid for by the tenant, and the water and sewer usage for the entire complex is typically at the owner’s expense. This expense can be rather costly and eats into the NOI (net operating income) of the property, producing a negative effect on the value of the asset.

Most industry experts foresee prolonged price increases for water consumption, as the areas mentioned above are currently dealing with drought and long-term water conservation concerns. To mitigate this expense, savvy investors have typically reduced water consumption through the installation of low-flow toilets, low-flow shower heads, and landscaping with indigenous plants or desert landscaping in common areas. While this helps reduce costs, it doesn’t eliminate it, and the owner is still burdened with an expense that continues to outpace reduction methods.

Some owners have gone as far as installing sub-metering on each individual unit if the property’s current piping system allows it. This would seem to be the best solution; but once again, this is only feasible if the property’s current piping system will allow you to make these changes. All of these methods are helpful and will curb water consumption and the cost associated with it; but unfortunately, all of these methods also require an initial capital investment by the owner to implement. Depending on the size of your property, this initial capital expense could be significant—sub-meters can cost anywhere from $200-$400 per unit, not including installation fees.

The RUBS (Ratio Utility Billing System) uses an allocation formula that divides a property’s water bill among its residents based on square footage, number of occupants, or other quantitative measures. It allows the owner to recover a substantial portion of the water and sewer costs by proportionately allocating the costs amongst the tenants.

To implement RUBS, it is recommended that an owner give monthly notices for at least 6 months to all tenants about the new program. This will give adequate time for the tenants to absorb the changes and understand the new cost associated with the billing. Studies have shown that the loss of tenants will be minimal, and the cost associated with the savings from the program will outweigh any short-term vacancy bumps. The owner then takes a percentage (typically 10 to 20%) from the total water bill for common area usage and allocates the remaining amount to the tenants. Some owners gradually increase the percentage for which tenants are responsible to ease tenants into the program over a yearly time frame.

The RUBS program is a useful tool that eliminates the outlay of capital and the high cost associated with sub-metering. When implemented correctly, the program will reduce operating expenses and increase the overall value of your property.

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Salvatore J. Friscia

Salvatore J. Friscia is the Managing Broker at San Diego Premier Property Management in California.

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