Multi-tenancy power split?

Question from Denise updated on 11th July 2012:

We rent a three-bedroom house. On the same property is a double garage that has been converted into a studio flat. About two months ago, a tenant moved in who works from home and is there 24/7. We noticed a sudden increase in our power usage and bills. One night after receiving a large power bill, we decided to switch off the mains power, sure enough, the flat's power went out too. We emailed the landlord and asked her politely to please explain. She told us that there is a sub meter in the flat and has asked us for the power bills to reimburse us $10 a week from the day the neighbour moved in to settle the matter. We find this completely unacceptable since we have no way of knowing how much power has been used by the neighbour, we haven't seen a meter reading from the flat, we were never informed of the shared power situation and it is not in our lease. She is now threatening to give us notice if we don't comply with her demands. What do we do now?

Our expert Megan Martin responded:

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act), tenants are responsible for all outgoings that are exclusively attributable to their occupation of the premises. If charges include outgoings for another premises and it cannot be determined what charges belong to which premises, then it may be considered that the charges are not exclusively attributable to the tenants’ occupation of the premises and are therefore not payable by the tenant. If there is a sub meter that measures the power used by the flat, making it possible to determine the usage of each dwelling, then I suggest you speak to your landlord about how payment of power bills will be managed. It may not be possible to determine the previous usage of each dwelling. If you do not consider reimbursement of $10 per week to be reasonable then I recommend you discuss with your landlord what reimbursement you would be satisfied with. If you and your landlord cannot agree on how power bills will be managed in future and how you will be reimbursed for power used by the flat since your neighbour moved in, then either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved. If a landlord gives a tenant notice to end the tenancy because the tenant has exercised their rights under the tenancy agreement or the Act, the tenant may apply to the Tribunal. The Tribunal may deem the landlord’s notice to be retaliatory and of no effect. The tenant’s application to the Tribunal must be made within 14 working days’ after receipt of the notice terminating the tenancy. To discuss your situation further, or for information about applying to the Tenancy Tribunal, you can visit the Department of Building and Housing website (www.dbh.govt.nz), or call 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262).

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.

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