Changes to the way landlords charge for water usage

The Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (the Act) has altered the way in which landlords can recover water usage charges from tenants.

There are two aspects to this:
1. issues relating to the premises;
2. and the provision of bills to the tenant and how payment is enforced.

Which premises are covered?

Section 39 of the Act provides that 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, but 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.

Premises subject to tenancy agreements signed after 31 January 2011 must have the prescribed measures installed before tenants can be required to pay water usage.

The transitional provisions of the Act provide that where a landlord has premises which were tenanted prior to 31 January 2011, they have 12 months to install the prescribed water efficiency measures but can continue to recover water usage charges in the meantime.

How to recover water usage from tenants

You must follow all the steps below if you wish to charge tenants for water usage. These steps now apply to all tenancies for which you are able to recover water usage.

  • A tenant is not required to pay the water usage charge if the landlord fails to request payment from the tenant within three (3) months of the issue of the bill by the water supply authority.
  • A tenant is not required to pay the water usage charge unless the landlord gives the tenant a copy of the part of the water supply authority’s bill which sets out the water usage charge.
  • The tenant must be given not less than 21 days to pay the water usage charge.

Provided that the tenant has been given a copy of a water bill within three (3) months of the issue of the bill by the water supply authority, the landlord will be able to enforce payment of the water usage charges at a later time – such as towards the end of the tenancy.

There are two other important points to note:

  • 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 (different provisions may apply for social housing tenants); and
  • The amount of water usage that the landlord seeks to recover from the tenant can’t exceed the amount the landlord must pay for the tenant’s water use.

What are the prescribed measures which must be installed?

The prescribed water efficiency measures are set out in clause 11 of the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010. These are:

All showerheads on the premises must have a maximum flow rate of nine (9) litres per minute.
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 nine (9) litres per minute*.
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.
*Taps and showerheads having a maximum flow rate of nine (9) litres per minute have a 3-star water efficiency rating.

Conclusion

There has been a lot of discussion about how we can make these requirements work because, even though you might send a plumber out and have the taps changed, who at the end of the tenancy is going to be able to sign off that the tenant has not tampered with or removed any internal flow control devices or changed the showerhead to something else?

Therefore, with internal devices, to ensure you are in a position to protect your landlord, you may need to have a plumber attend the property every time you change the tenancy in order to give a report that the property complies with the legislative requirements.

There are many flow-restricting devices on the market, however there is an adaptor on the market that can be fitted to the pipe-work in the cupboard under the sink. This adaptor will change the flow rate for the tap to a nominated flow rate and you can then easily see, at any time, whether the adaptor is still there.

The product is called Con-Serv flow control valve and may be something that you wish to talk to your plumber about. Find out more about Con-Serv

If you adopt this sort of approach, there is no need to call the plumber back to measure the flow rate again. This particular adaptor can also be screwed to the pipe-work before the shower rose is attached, eliminating the need to replace the shower rose.

It also means that all of those taps that cannot be converted by other water saving devices because of their shape or age, do not need to be replaced because the adaptor fits to the pipe-work and not to the tap itself.

Source: REINSW (2010) http://www.reinsw.com.au/default.aspx?ArticleID=8356

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