When the river runs dry… liability for water in tenancy

For many people, water just comes out of a tap on demand and we don’t give it any thought. But what about houses that rely on tank water?

After 30 years under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (‘the Act’), we are entitled to expect that all the issues between landlords and tenants have been litigated, the law is settled and it’s all cut and dried. Sadly, now that many regional areas of Victoria are facing water shortages, when it comes to tank water, tenants are still unclear what to expect.

The Act clearly states that where water supply is separately metered, the tenant is liable for the cost of the amount of water supplied during the tenancy. (see s52).

However, where there is no separate metering, the Act is not so clear. It states that the landlord is liable for “all costs and charges related to a water supply service and water supplied to rented premises that are not separately metered.” (s53(1)(d)).

So, is a refill for your empty water tank “a water supply service”? Does water cartage have a meter that is “approved by the relevant supplier of the utility” (s53(3))? On the other hand, filling up a tank sounds like it could fit into the term “water supplied to a rented premises”.

Compared to the bottled gas hire and use (in s52(1)(ii) and s52(e)), the costs and liability for water cartage isn’t clear. A landlord is liable for “all charges in respect of the use of bottled gas in the rented premises” so why isn’t this also mirrored in the water provision?

It’s important for legislative drafters to recognize the variety of living situations and places across Victoria. Unfortunately, VCAT hasn’t made this issue clear (or at least not in a published decision that we are aware of), so the question is open for argument.

Are you in a sub-standard rental property or concerned about water or utility access and costs? Do you have a story to tell? Have you been made to pay for water cartage through the drought?

Discussion will help drive the content of the new minimum standards in rental properties throughout Victoria.

Tenants Victoria would like to hear your stories about houses that didn’t meet your minimum standards, so we can make sure the new regulations raise accommodation standards across the state.

Please tell us your story so we can make sure the regulations work for the quarter of Victorians who rent their homes.

TAKEAWAY TIP

If you are thinking of renting a place that relies on tank water, make sure you include a term that the landlord is liable for the reasonable costs of any water cartage necessary to supply water to the premises (s53(2) & (3) Residential Tenancies Act).