High power bill problem

Colin asks:
(updated on Wednesday, May 15th 2013)

I have a three-bedroom house rented out with three people living in it. The tenants called to say their electricity bill for the last two months was over $2,000. Their electricity supplier  advised that the readings are correct and that the controlled rate (hot water) is excessively high. The tenants have asked to have the hot water cylinder checked out by a electrician. My question is firstly, if the hot water cylinder is found to be at fault for the excessive electricity usage then who is liable for the excess on the electricity bill? Also, if the hot water cylinder is found to be working correctly and no other electrical fault could be found as to what caused the high electricity usage (other than the tenants did actually use that much electricity) then can I charge the tenants for the cost of the electrician's work?

Our Experts Answer:

The cost of household electricity invariably increases during cold weather. The first thing you and/or your tenants need to check is the bill itself. Is it a detailed meter reading for only the two-month period? Was the previous bill an estimate, and this one a catch-up for a previous under-charge? Were there arrears due from a previous occupant which have been loaded onto the bill of the current occupant? In other words, is the bill valid and charging only for electricity used by your tenants within the charging period? Assuming the usage is correct and chargeable to your tenants, there are several questions to consider. How is the electricity being used? Four main uses within a house are cooking, heating, lighting and water heating. You say you have three tenants. Do they shower (and for how long and how often)? Do they take baths (and how deep and how often)? How often is the washing machine used? The dishwasher? Does anybody leave the hot tap running when shaving, for example? What sort of heating is used in the house? Is it timer-controlled, or on all the time? Are the tenants using a lot of lights? Are there any other uses (such as power tools in the garage)? Have you taken a look under the house for leaks? (A leak in a hot water pipe can be draining all your hot water away and causing more water to be heated to replace the lost water.) You say the power company has verified that the bill and the meter readings are correct. That leaves the usage. You have supplied a hot water cylinder, and it is expected to be working correctly. If you arrange an electrician at your expense, you are showing goodwill to the tenants. If the electrician finds no issues with the house (thermostat correct, no leaking pipes, no faulty elements in the oven, etc.) then the bill can be put down to the tenants’ usage. In that instance you can charge them for the electrician’s fees (but it’s over to you whether you want to add to their woes). If, however, there is a fault in your installation that has caused the excess bills, you should certainly reimburse the tenants. I suggest that you ask them to take as a yardstick the next couple of bills following repair, and work out what would be a fair reimbursement of excess costs for the previous two months.

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