If unable to pursue tenant, who pays for water usage debt?

Deverell asks:
(updated on Tuesday, May 20th 2008)

If tenants run up a substantial amount of water usage debt and it's not recoverable by me even though the tenancy tribunal has given an order, is it my responsibility to pay for it because the water bill is in my name and not the tenants. Where is the fairness in this because I believe that it should be user pays because I have no control over the usage. e.g. electricity, phone, sky etc etc If I don't pay for this my name gets recorded onto Baycorp and other credit check institutes and my name gets tarnished. Can any Lawyer shed some light on this please.

Our Experts Answer:

The tenant may be responsible for charges for water supplied to the property if:
• the premises have a separate water meter
• the tenancy agreement states that the tenant will pay for metered water, and
• the water supplier charges for water provided to the premises on a metered basis.

All three of these conditions must be met before the tenant has to pay for water supplied to the property. Often, the water supplier requires the water bill to be held in the name of the property owner. This means that the owner/landlord is responsible to the water supplier for payment of the bill. The tenant then has to reimburse the landlord for these charges. You may wish to discuss with your water supplier whether the account can be transferred to your tenant’s name.

A landlord may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to recover costs from the tenant for water usage, if the tenant is legally obliged to pay but does not. If the tenant then does not voluntarily comply with the Tenancy Tribunal order, then the landlord may choose to enforce the order either via an independent debt collections agency, or via the Collections Unit at the District Court. If you already have a Tenancy Tribunal order, you can contact your local Collections Unit to discuss your options for enforcement. Other expenses, such as electricity, telephone and other services the tenant wishes to engage, are usually paid for by the tenant. They are usually able to have these accounts in their own name. This means that they will be accountable to the supplier for paying the bill. A landlord is not generally obliged to hold the accounts for these services in their own name, but will be responsible for paying the bills to the supplier if they do choose this option. I recommend that you contact the suppliers to discuss having the accounts closed or transferred to the tenants.

The Department of Building and Housing provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.


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