Ask LH: Can I Demand To See My Water Bill While Renting?

Hi Lifehacker, At the moment, I'm renting out a house with my partner in Queensland. We previously rented a house with a different real estate to our current one. Each time we were sent our water bill, we would request the actual copy of the bill, and they were happy to send it through.

However, with our new real estate agent, we haven't been able to get a copy of the bill, though we have been told how much water is used. I have continuously emailed them once every couple of days for the last three weeks without a response. The bill has been paid, but I'm yet to see the actual water bill to confirm the water usage. My question is this: am I entitled to see the actual water bill, and if so, what further steps should I take for them to send it through? Thanks, Watered Down

Photo: Shutterstock

Dear WD,

Approaches to water bills and how they are paid by tenants vary depending on both the state you live in and the kind of property you rent. In Queensland, landlords are required to show physical evidence of water charging, although passing on the physical bill apparently isn't mandatory.

Here is the relevant ruling on the state government's Residential Tenancies Authority website:

Lessors will receive the water bill and should provide their tenants with a copy of water bills or evidence of water consumption to verify the amount to be charged.

The above clause suggests that your agent isn't technically breaking any rules here. Their decision to completely ignore your emails does seem odd though.

Have you actually tried giving them a call? Real estate agencies aren't always prompt when it comes to electronic correspondence. There are usually multiple agents looking after each property, which can make it easy for tenant's emails to "slip through the cracks". (This is especially true if the email requires extra work on the agent's part.)

Instead of relying on email, try engaging them in a conversation; either via phone or by visiting in person. At least you'll get a definitive answer that way. Our advice is to ask politely and explain it's for record keeping, as opposed to suspecting you're getting ripped off.

In any event, it's easy enough to check whether you're being overcharged with or without the bill — simply compare the litres on your water meter against the amount they claim is being used each month. If the numbers don't match up, you definitely have cause to see the alleged bill of charges. To take the matter further, contact Queensland's Residential Tenancies Authority or Tenants' Union Of Queensland

.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    In VIC, for the house we rent we only get a bill for the water used and this is addressed to us and sent from the water company. Not via a middle man like the real estate or landlord.

    The landlord apparently also receives a separate bill with the service / connection charges which we do not pay.

      We got the same when we last rented in Queensland. We used to receive a copy of the water usage information directly from Urban Utilities. In fact looking at their FAQ


      I am moving into a rental property, will my water be turned on at my new property when I arrive?

      Yes. We do not disconnect water services when a tenancy changes. Your landlord is responsible for all water and sewerage charges on at your property. However, each quarter a summary of your water consumption will be sent to the property addressed to The Tenant. This is for information purposes only so you can monitor your usage. We will not send you a bill – the bill is sent to the landlord or their property agent.

      From the usage information it is pretty easy to work out how much you should have been charged. This service from Urban Utilities is pretty useful as we got sent the wrong bill from our real estate agent once.

    Another question to consider is "why do you want the bill? if it's in line with your previous usage, do you really need it?". The answer could be "yes, for tax purposes", or "yes, because I insist" or any number of possibilities. However, asking for proof where common sense may prevail AND there is no actual need is just being a pain.

    The real question is are you even paying. Many rental properties absorb this cost because it's so small and because it's commonly to the owner and not the renter. If the owner/landlord is passing on the cost then they have a legal obligation to provide the evidence. You should exhaust all avenues of obtaining this from them (with written evidence) before getting help. You should always pay your rent regardless.

    If you can not get this sorted with the real estate then it's the Rental tribunal and you force them to come to the party. Having loads of evidence of communication without response + continued payment in 'good faith' as back up you're likely to find the tribunal will be all smiles for you.

      Have you ever even paid a water bill?
      When I used to rent my landlord paid the access charge but passed on the usage charges.
      Now I own a house, (with 2 tenants), I see the whole bill. Each quarter it's about $250 and only $80 or so of that amount is the access charge. I wouldn't say that $170 a quarter is a "small" amount, like you have said above.
      And also, why should I give you free water to wash your stinky ass? If you want free water go and wash in the beach. ;)

        I didn't say whether I thought passing on the cost was right or wrong - only that many choose to absorb the cost into rent to avoid the admin of providing a copy of the usage charges to the tenant and chasing payment.

          No, but you said it was a "small" amount. If you think approx $700 a year in water usage charges, (no access fees included there), is "small" then you're slightly misguided. I wasn't talking about "right and wrong".
          [edit] - $700 buys you a shitload of admin time considering how easy it is to email a bill, BTW.

          Last edited 12/08/14 9:54 am

    " a copy of water bills or evidence of water consumption " - it sounds like WD is not getting either the copy or 'evidence', so perhaps he can quote the law to the estate agent and see what happens. Checking the readings also works providing you know how the charge is calculated.

    Property Managers believe that the landlord is their customer, and the tenant is the bane of their existence. They need to be reminded on a very regular basis that the tenant is the one that pays their wage and is actually their customer.

    Expect them to be entirely useless toward you, and every request to be met with the path of least work and least resistance. Always, always, always avoid paying your rent by an automated process, and tie your rent payments to their performance.

    Remember, a property manager sees it as their job to extract rent from the tenant and pay it to the landlord. Everything else is a distraction.

    Of course, in life, it is worth treating people as honest and hard-working until proven otherwise; so I find it is a good idea when you move into a property to give your property manager a medial task to determine if they are going to work for you, or the landlord. If they perform your medial task without drama, you can interact with them like an adult.

    If they don't perform your medial task (they won't), then you have proven they are typical scum-of-the-earth property managers, but you know where you stand. If you need something, wait until the morning your rent is due. Call them first thing, and ask them for what you need.
    Do not pay your rent until it is delivered.

    As soon as you are behind in your rent, they will be calling you regularly, and you can stress that your next rent payment is tied to their performance. You will pay your rent as soon as they deliver on your polite request.

    It also pays to look up in your state what the statutory limits are on how far behind you can be in rent before they are allowed to issue an eviction notice. Always pay the minimum rent increment on this day, to ensure that (in victoria) you are 13 days behind in rent, not 14 (where they can take action).

    Pay your rent in full when they perform for you.

    It is possible to have a fruitful, productive and present relationship with your property manager, but just like training a puppy, you need to teach them early and remind them often that you are their boss.

      Pretty confident you're not allowed to withhold rent for performance reasons, but if you happen to mention that, "Completely unrelated... how's that thing you needed to do for me?" up until the point that they're having to submit forms for notices to remedy breach all the damn time, they'll quickly connect the dots and figure you for a royal pain in the ass. From there, they'll either groan and deal with requests more quickly to get you out of their hair, or they'll turn combative and exploit the renter-unfriendly loopholes in tenancy law to make your life a pain, right back. Because no-one ever thinks they're the bad guy.

      Can't rule out that the agent is just lazy and hoping the 'problem' will go away. I remember standing in a [Real Estate name redacted] office a few years ago, waiting to pay my rent via money order handed in personally (yeah, weird process right?), and in an office of eight agents sitting at their desks, with me waiting 20min for someone to attend to this task, I heard numerous times people being phoned for by renters and the agents telling each other, "Ugh. So don't want to deal with them. Tell them I'm out on inspection." I ended up calling out, "So which one of you guys who's meant to take this payment is 'out on inspection'?" Fuckers didn't even have the decency to look embarrassed, just laughed. Because shirking responsibility and wasting peoples' time with bullshit excuses is hilarious.

    One other factor could be whether the bill is being sent to the landlord or the agent (who pays it and then forwards to the agent). If it's the former, and the agent couldn't be arsed chasing up the landlord (extra admin for no profit) then I can see how that would cause you to be stuck in the position that you're in.

    Ive just moved and my previous landlord has sent me a water bill, but on my lease it states that no water charges will be incured unless the owner installs water saving devises which was never done. Do I still have to pay?

      No, in this case you don't have to pay the water bill. Your (former) landlord has quite a nerve but, fortunately for you, no leg to stand on.

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