Water usage charges for tenants are an issue for property managers on a daily basis and in some cases the problem comes from the landlord being unaware that there are quite strict and clear rules regarding the charging of water usage under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. Section 39 states:
39: Water usage charges payable by tenant
1. A tenant must pay the water usage charges for the residential premises, but only if:
• the premises are separately metered or the premises are not connected to a water supply service and water is delivered to the premises by vehicle, and
• the premises contain water efficiency measures prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this section, and
• the charges do not exceed the amount payable by the landlord for water used by the tenant.
2. A tenant is not required to pay the water usage charges unless the landlord gives the tenant a copy of the part of the water supply authority’s bill setting out the charges, or other evidence of the cost of water used by the tenant.
3. A landlord must give the tenant not less than 21 days to pay the water usage charges.
4. A tenant is not required to pay the water usage charges if the landlord fails to request payment from the tenant within 3 months of the issue of the bill for those charges by the water supply authority.
5. Subsection (4) does not prevent a landlord from taking action to recover an amount of water usage charges later than 3 months after the issue of a bill for those charges, if the landlord first sought payment of the amount within 3 months after the issue of the bill.
6. A landlord must ensure that the tenant receives the benefit of, or an amount equivalent to, any rebate received by the landlord in respect of any water usage charges payable or paid by the tenant.
7. Note: Tenants under social housing tenancy agreements may be subject to different provisions in relation to the payment of charges for water usage (see Division 3 of Part 7).
8. This section is a term of every residential tenancy agreement.
The term “separately metered” causes some confusion for landlords with properties like granny flats or multiple dwellings and the Residential Tenancies Amendment Review assists in the clarification:
Separately metered means that there is, in respect of residential premises, a meter:
A. that satisfies an Australian Standard prescribed by the regulations dealing with electrical, gas, oil or water metering equipment, and
B. that has been installed in accordance with the manufacturers instructions for installation or industry practice, and
C. that measures the quantity of electricity, gas, oil or water that is supplied to, or used at, only those residential premises, and
D. that enables a separate bill to be issued by the supplier for all charges for the supply, and use of the electricity, gas, oil or water at those residential premises, and…
Let’s look again at s39(2) – A tenant is not required to pay the water usage unless the landlord gives the tenant a copy of the water supply authority’s bill setting out the charges, or other evidence of the cost of water used by the tenant.
The clear understanding of this subsection is that for the tenant to be required to pay the water usage they need to be given a copy of the water authority’s bill, not just some calculation that the landlord has done due to a meter reading they have obtained from the Bunnings meter reader they have installed.
Further to the separate meter, is the requirement for water saving devices to be installed. This requirement came into place with the 2010 Act and landlords had an implementation period to install those water saving devices. These devices have been further defined and clarified under the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010 as the following:
11: Water efficiency measures required for payment of usage charges by tenants: s 39(1)(b) of Act
The prescribed water efficiency measures that residential premises are required to contain before a tenant can be required to pay water usage charges for the premises are as follows:
A. all showerheads on the premises must have a maximum flow rate of 9 litres per minute,
B. all internal cold water taps and single mixer taps for kitchen sinks or bathroom hand basins on the premises must have a maximum flow rate of 9 litres per minute,
C. there must be no leaking taps on the premises at the commencement of the residential tenancy agreement or when the water efficiency measures are installed, whichever is the later.
Note: Taps and showerheads having a maximum flow rate of 9 litres per minute have a 3 star water efficiency rating.
To ensure your landlords are able to charge water usage charges it is imperative that the requirements of the Residential Tenancies Act are followed.