Update: ActewAGL no longer looks after the water for Canberra, Icon Water is now the utility for Canberra’s water and sewerage. Icon Water manages the water meters on all properties. All electricity and gas still go through ActewAGL. You can find the Icon Water website here and the ActewAGL website here.
Clauses 42-50 of your lease (see the standard lease on our website) will help answer who pays for electricity/water/gas.
Under clause 46, the tenant is responsible for all charges associated with consumption of services. However, other clauses provide exceptions, and say when the landlord pays.
Is it consumption?
Check whether the whole bill is for consumption, or whether there are other costs involved.
The landlord pays for the physical installation of services (clause 43). The landlord also pays for the annual supply charge for water and sewerage(clause 44). The landlord pays for all rates and taxes (clause 42(a)), which includes the ‘water abstraction charge’ on your water bills because that is a tax.
The tenant pays for the connection of all services in their name (clause 43(2)).
ACTEWAGL has an explanation of their bills here, there is a clear explanation on the second page that provides details of usage. Icon Water has an explanation of their bills here. If the Landlord or Agent is asking you to pay the bill you should be given a copy of the whole bill to enable you to clearly see the consumption costs you are paying for.
Did the landlord agree to pay for the service?
The landlord is responsible for a service if they agree to be responsible for it (clause 42(b)). If your lease says that the landlord pays for water, then your landlord has to pay for it. If the lease does not address the issue and you never talked about it, and the landlord doesn’t pass the bills on within a reasonable time, arguably the landlord has agreed to pay for the services.
If the landlord agreed to pay for a service, they can stop paying for it after the fixed term of your lease ends, but they have to tell you before they start charging you. The landlord should not just charge you a pile of past bills that you weren’t expecting. The landlord has to give you an opportunity to verify readings (clause 48(2)).
Are the premises separately metered?
This is an important question when there are multiple houses or buildings on the same block. You do not have to pay for services if the bills might include usage by other people who aren’t part of your tenancy agreement. If two houses on the same block are rented out under different tenancy agreements without separate metering for services, then the landlord has to pay for all services. Under clause 42(c) the lessor must pay for services for which there is no separate metering device, so that amounts consumed cannot be accurately determined.
If the premises are separately metered by ActewAGL or Icon Water, you should be able to find a separate meter on the property, and have an official ActewAGL or Icon Water bill. If the premises have some other sort of separate metering system, as a starting point you can argue that it is not accurate because it is not controlled by an impartial, accountable, expert body (Actew/Icon) but by the landlord. Gather what evidence you can about the meter itself. If your meter has a label on it saying that it cannot be relied on to give accurate readings (some meters have this) then take a photo of it as evidence for the Tribunal. If the landlord still thinks you should pay, they can apply to the Tribunal, and the Tribunal will decide whether the meter readings can be relied upon or not.
Was a reading carried out at the start and end of the tenancy?
You shouldn’t have to pay for bills that include consumption by other people before your tenancy agreement started or after it ended.
The landlord is responsible for all services up to the time of reading at the beginning of the tenancy (clause 42(d)). The landlord is also responsible for services after the reading at the end of the tenancy, if the tenant hasn’t used the services since the reading (clause 42(e)).
The landlord is responsible for undertaking the reading of services, unless they are connected in the tenant’s name (clause 48(1)). If the landlord doesn’t arrange a reading by the day after you move out, then the landlord pays from the previous reading (clause 49). So, if the landlord wants you to pay bills that aren’t in your name, the landlord has to get a reading done at the start and end of the tenancy. Otherwise, the landlord pays the bills before the first reading and after the last reading.
Has a repair issue increased the amount used?
If a leak has increased your water usage, or if flooding means that the carpet has to be dried out with blowers, there are two arguments as to why you shouldn’t have to pay the full water or electricity bill.
Firstly, a tenant is only liable for consumption of services. If services are used without your choice when you are not consuming them, eg water is bursting out a pipe and going down the street, then this is not consumption so you shouldn’t have to pay. If carpets are soaked through, then drying them out is a cost associated with repairing them, and the landlord is responsible for repairs.
Secondly, a tenant is entitled to compensation for any loss they would suffer as a result of the landlord’s breach of the tenancy agreement. The landlord is in breach if they haven’t provided or maintained the premises in a reasonable state of repair, or if they haven’t carried out repairs within the required time after you notify them of the repair issue (within 4 weeks for standard repairs, and as soon as necessary for urgent repairs). If the landlord’s breach causes an increase to your services bills, that increase should be paid by the landlord, not you. However you must be able to show that you contacted the landlord about the need for repairs.
Take a look at your past bills and estimate how the repair issue has increased the bill. Companies that hire out carpet blowers can often give you a written estimate of electricity usage. You can also take photos of your meters.
For information about how to cut usage and costs go to ACTSmart