Utility allowances bring students unexpected costs

Joy Petersen

Many housing complexes surrounding the University area include utilities in their rent which pay for water, heat and electricity.

But some of these complexes cover only up to an allotted amount in utility costs, which can bring some unexpected costs for students as they brace for the coming winter months.

Melrose Student Suites is one complex that includes all utilities in the rent. Because Xcel Energy provides the building’s heat, heating costs are considered part of electricity costs.

An electricity allowance of $16 is given per person in a four-bedroom lease agreement, to cover the cost of electricity each month, which isn’t always enough, and residents are left to pay the rest.

Residents in the complex pay a set rate for utilities without a breakdown of the exact costs, and don’t know exactly where overage charges come from, first-year nursing student Sarah Balma, said.

“It’s great because here we have an allowance for the four of us,” Balma said. “If we go over that, then we still have to pay for that.”

Though paying one check a month is convenient, paying more fees for going over the allowed budget is misleading, Balma said.

“They didn’t make it sound like we’d be going over every month, and we are,” she said, “So I kind of feel a little deceived.”

Michael Wilde, the Melrose director, said residents won’t see an increase in heating costs until January. But for now, residents are only paying about $5 more than their allowances.

Other complexes surrounding the University make residents pay separately for electricity.

Northstar at Siebert Field also uses Xcel energy for electricity, which is the only utility residents pay other than rent.

Tiffany Score, Northstar’s account manager, said for a five-person unit, the energy bill runs around $80, but is split five ways.

Jason Klohs, a campus-area landlord, said when residents don’t have to pay bills and utilities separately they don’t care as much about their utility use.

“The landlord realizes that if he puts it all into one, the tenant doesn’t care if they leave the lights on all day, and they don’t care if they take a two-hour shower,” he said.

While many University-area apartment complexes allow residents unlimited access to electricity and heat included in their rent, he said residents aware of electricity costs are more likely to save energy.

Many complexes might pay for most or all utilities, but Klohs said those living in houses will likely see the greatest increase in heating costs this winter.

He said bills increase to hundreds of dollars during the winter, despite the high-efficiency windows that protect from heating.

“If the tenant does not have a double-paned, solid, newer window,” Klohs said, “I would say plastic on the windows is going to help considerably.”

According to the National Fenestration Rating Council, houses lose 84 percent of heat through single-paned windows.

Most large apartment complexes have double-paned windows which are heat-efficient. However, Klohs said high-efficiency furnaces and windows, if installed correctly, are just as energy efficient as apartments.