Ask LH: Can My Landlord Force Me To Pay A Water Bill?

Hi Lifehacker, I have recently moved and my previous landlord has sent me a water bill. The real estate agent told me when signing my lease — and it is written in the lease — that I would not be charged for water until the owner fitted water-saving devices, which he never did. Do I still have to pay? Thanks, Dampened Enthusiasm

Dear DE,

If there's a clear clause in your lease to that effect, paying should not be a requirement. Once a lease has been signed by both parties, everything on it becomes a legally binding contract. The landlord can't just change their mind about something without proper consultation.

Your first step should be to write a polite but firm letter to your real estate agent reminding them of the agreement that was stipulated in your lease. Quote directly from your own copy and include a photo of the relevant paragraph. We don't imagine they'll continue to pursue it when presented with this evidence.

If they still try to weasel out of the agreement, the next step is to contact the tenancy tribunal or union in your state. Below are some links to the organisations that can help you to settle the dispute, along with each state's tenants' union:

For future peace of mind, bone up on this tenancy guide: it includes tips that will help you to avoid getting screwed over when renting an apartment. If anyone has additional advice to share, let DE know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    But before you do this, here's a story from my personal experience.

    When we moved out of our rental, we were handed a bill for 'water services.' While we weren't required to pay the actual periodic water bills that came in, we were responsible for paying for the water to be connected and the continual provision of service for the time we were living there.

    Before you raise a stink, ensure this bill isn't for that.

      Where were you living?
      I know that's illegal in SA, ACT, QLD, VIC, and NSW. It's the responsibility of the landlord to pay for water to be connected to the premises (and it's illegal to rent a residential property without it). They can pass on usage though, if the property meets water efficiency requirements. Didn't check NT or WA though.

    When the payment for water laws became active in Queensland , the agent sent me a letter that the rules had changed, though they didn't take effect until my next lease. My next lease had the added clause, and said it would only charge me for excess water usage above a certain amount so the owner was bearing the ongoing costs. This May we've been in the same rental house for 10 years and have never paid for excess water.

    The house is about to be sold, so my question is about the next lease renewal, can the new owners put up the rent, (probably) and thus by how much?

    FYI: I followed the link in the article to 'Tenants Union of Queensland' and found it has been redirected and they have a new name. http://tenantsqld.org.au/

    At least in QLD, if you are charging the tenant for water services, you must have a water wise certificate for the house. If the house isn't fitted with water saving devices, I doubt that they would have the required certificate.

    If you kick up too much of a fuss with the real estate (regardless if you're right), they can mark you down as a troublemaker and put you on a blacklist. Subsequent applications for tenancy with that agency in the future will be disregarded.

      You can also ask for your name to be removed from that blacklist or argue against it being put on there in the first place or rent from a private owner with no real estate company in between. I have taken companies to the tribunal or whatever it's called and it hasn't affected me in the slightest.

    In NSW landlords can charge for water usage so long as the following minimum criteria are met:

    * The rental premises must be individually metered (or water is delivered by vehicle, such as those with water tanks on rural properties), and
    * The charges must not exceed the amount billed for water usage by the water supplier, and
    * The rental premises must meet required 'water efficiency' standards.

    http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/ftw/Tenants_and_home_owners/Being_a_landlord/During_a_tenancy/Passing_on_water_charges.page

      This third clause is newer than the others.
      From experience, we have lived in the same house in NSW for almost 10 years. Up until this year we were always charged, and paid for our water usage, the house has its own meter and we were never charged more than the usage (except when the managing agent stuffed up). Earlier this year the property sold and we signed a new lease with the new owners, and no longer have to pay for water usage as the house is not water efficient. Saves us about $900 a year. :)

    I'd tell them get stuffed but in a polite way since its clear you are in the right. Things get a little tricky in a apartment situation like myself where the body corporate recently sent complains out due to the insane amounts of water usage lately (not generated by me for sure, I have pointed out the two units that are probably the culprits given that they are both home to large families definitely must be illegal due to the fact these apartments are only 2 bedroom).

      Hi, The culprits, high water users in the units are probably filling up a tanker outside to sell the water to someone else, if anyone has issues with water bills look at the information for your state not another state as may and will be different, if you live in a flat, unit, townhouse where there is no separate water meter, you don't have to pay for water consumption, consumer affairs are the people to talk to, the landlord must give you a copy of the water rates bill showing your water expenses and cannot charge a higher amount. its plain and simple the tenant has to pay for the consumption costs you occur. and the landlord cannot go outside the consumer affairs laws that govern your State, thanks.

    Question that I feel is related.
    Our landlord is trying to get us to pay the water rates. She keeps sending us a a bill that has both the water rates and the consumption on the same bill, our lease stipulates that we only have to pay for the water consumption. we tried to ask her but she said pay all of it, we tried to ask the Water Corporation but her name is on the account and she has requested that no one but her has access, we're at a stalemate now. not sure what to do.

      tiffster, don't pay the water rates account, you only have to pay for water usage and only if you have a separate water meter for your unit, consumer affairs are the people to go to, the landlord is out of line and cannot under any circumstances make you pay,

    If an Agent blacklists you for kicking up a fuss then you need to kick up a fuss! Serious poor Property Management if that happens to anyone.
    This is a pro tenant agent talking.

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