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Decidedly Drippy Water Bills

Friday, August 24, 2012

The latest Department Of Building And Housing (DBH) information sheet on water charges confirms what we had summised for our members back in February.  Simply put any portion of the water bill can be passed on to your tenant so long as you can attribute that portion to your tenant's occupancy of your property.  If it is a charge that you will have to pay irrespective of whether the property is occupied (i.e. capital/infrastructure cost) then you (i.e. the landlord) will have to pay for that charge.  Read this article for further clarification.    

What if your tenant does not reimburse you for the water charge

Scotney Williams, Principal of Tenancy Practice Services, says that the only thing you can do is to issue a 14-day notice.  Indeed, this is precisely the advice given in the DBH information sheet. 
If a tenant fails to pay the water charges the tenant may be in breach of their tenancy agreement and the landlord can issue the tenant with a 14 days’ notice to remedy the breach. Refusal to remedy a breach of a tenancy agreement can result in a Tenancy Tribunal application.
David Whitburn, President of the Auckland Property Investors' Association, points out a vital fallacy in this arrangement, "A typical monthly bill will be less than $100, how much time should landlords reasonably spend chasing a two-figure debt?"  He futher adds, "Lodgement fee for a Tribunal hearing is $20.44 per application which makes enforcing a two-figure debt through the Tribunal infeasible.  The economics just does not add up." 
Many of our members have also pointed out that it is not a landlord's role to act as a debt collector for water companies.  We are also baffled at the official explanations given to us by Watercare (a Council-Controlled Organisation) and local authorities regarding the treatment of water.  If power companies can bill tenants direct, they why can't water companies follow suit?  The Auckland Property Investors' Association continues to maintain that the current regime is inequitious for landlords. 

What is the Auckland Property Investors' Association doing about the water situation? 

The APIA board, under the leadership of President David Whitburn, has been lobbying hard at bringing about changes in billing regimes by WaterCare since the start of the year.  We had met with Len Brown, the Auckland Council and representatives of WaterCare to discuss our members' concerns.  So far no parties are motivated to change the situation. 
Because the Auckland Property Investors' Association has no official lobbying arm, we contract the New Zealand Property Investors' Federation to represent landlords' interests at the central government level.  As such, we have contacted the NZPIF to request that their dedicated lobbyist make water bills a priority. 
At the local level, we urge members to write to your local MPs highlighting the inherent injustice of water billing practice in New Zealand.  In the next week we will be circulating local MP details and provide members with letter template suggestions. 

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