Running toilet leads to bill dispute

Tania asks:
(updated on Sunday, July 12th 2015)

When I went to visit my tenants I noticed the toilet was running. They had not noticed this. I advised them to turn off the valve and said I would contact a plumber. The next working day we had a personal emergency and forgot all about contacting anyone. Three weeks later my tenants contacted me and asked where I was on the repair. 

I had totally forgotten and contacted a plumber. Unfortunately, this was the week before Xmas. The plumber said he would try and get there but couldn't guarantee it. I asked my tenants if they would like to organise their own tradesman but they declined. The plumber eventually arrived (following another call after Xmas) and the repair was made.

Now my tenants are disputing the water bill and want us to pay quite a large portion. As they hadn't even noticed the leak prior to my pointing it out, I am not sure how long it had been going for before I noticed it. My tenants are also not sure if, while they were away for two weeks holiday over Xmas, they remembered to turn the valve off. But they are saying they shouldn't have had to.

Our Experts Answer:

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (the Act), landlords are responsible for ensuring the premises are provided and maintained in a reasonable state of repair having regard to the age and character of the premises. Tenants have an obligation to ensure they notify the landlord of any damage to the premises or of the need for any repairs (as soon as possible after discovery). Where both parties have fulfilled their obligations under the Act (e.g. the tenant has notified the landlord of the problem, and the landlord has fixed the problem as soon as they know or have been made aware), responsibility for increased costs that are incurred as a result of the problem becomes less certain.

In such cases, and depending on the circumstances of the situation, the landlord may only be responsible for additional costs from the date the landlord knows or is made aware of the maintenance or repair issue. Similarly, where additional costs are incurred as a result of both parties not fulfilling their obligations under the Act (for example the tenant has not notified the landlord as soon as they have become aware of the problem, and the landlord has not carried out the necessary maintenance or repairs), both parties may bear some liability for the additional costs as a result of their inaction.

Where tenants have incurred additional expenses due to a repair issue where it can be established the landlord breached their responsibility to provide or maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair, they may choose to approach the landlord seeking reimbursement for the additional expenses. It is recommended in the first instance that both parties try to reach an agreement directly.

If you are unable to reach an agreement as to where the responsibility for the extra charge lies or the amount of reimbursement, either party may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved. To discuss your situation further, or for information about applying to the Tenancy Tribunal, you can visit the Ministry’s website (www.tenancy.govt.nz), or call 0800 TENANCY (0800 836 262) between 8.00am-5.30pm Monday to Friday to speak with a member of our Tenancy Advice team.

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