I was recently contacted by one of Property Hawk’s longest standing users concerned that she was being made the scapegoat for a tenant’s failure to pay their water bill.
Her water company was threatening to take her to court for non payment of the tenant’s debt. This tenant had left her rental property two years ago and unbeknown to her without paying the bill.
Her situation highlights concerns of many landlords over the aggressive tactics of some water companies as they seek to stem the flow of funds from bill dodging tenants.
It all started when the landlord was written to by a representative of Wessex Water threatening her with court action unless she paid the outstanding amount within 72 hours. Fearing the worst, she immediately phoned the number given in the letter. She spoke with an operative who had already decided that she was a debt dodging criminal. Despite her trying to explain that it was not her water bill because the property was tenanted; he categorically refused to accept her tenancy agreement as proof of her tenant's responsibility. He insisted instead that she prove that she lived elsewhere other than the rental property. He even suggested that she might be living with her tenant. The operative insisted that he would need to see her passport and a rental agreement for the property that she was living in abroad at the time of the tenancy. He gave her 7 days to produce this ‘evidence’ or he insisted he would see her in court.
Despite repeated requests to explain why she as the landlord was legally responsible for her tenants’ debt, the operative refused to answer this straightforward question.
Legal advice taken by our landlord revealed that there needs to be a contract between the water company and the property owner or landlord before the water company can start collecting monies directly from the landlord. Without this contract the water company shouldn’t have approached the landlord direct for payment. In addition the following also applies:
The collecting company should have provided the relevant statutory instrument which shows they have the right to collect the outstanding amounts from her as the landlord rather than pursue the tenant.
They have an obligation to be polite.
They have to give far more than 72 hours to pay any bill.
Without a contract between the landlord and the water company and with continued intimidation:-
They can be prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1977
They can be prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act 1988
Aggressive collection techniques
Following further investigation it is apparent that Wessex Water Company had in this case outsourced the debt collection to a specialist debt collection company. MIL Collections. They have a reputation for their ‘aggressive’ collection techniques.
Unbowed by their approach our heroic landlord went back to the MIL Collections. This time MIL were suddenly interested in seeing a copy of the original tenancy agreement (they hadn’t been before).
They still refused to provide details of the relevant statutory instrument which stated that they had the right to approach her as the landlord for payment.
Our landlord duly forwarded the tenancy agreement to the collections company.
Then; finally the good news. MIL Collections backed down and conceded that she had no responsibility for payment of the outstanding water bill. How many landlords would be as tenacious as our heroic landlady and how many; unsure of their rights would have just paid up because of not wishing to have a pending court case hanging over them?
Worrying developments for landlords
This case comes at a worrying time for landlords.
The water companies under increasing pressure from the regulator OFWAT to cut bills are now looking at landlords to take on the responsibility for tenants unpaid water bills.
Our view is this is wholly unjust. I do have some sympathy with water companies that are saddled with unpaid and untraceable debts by footloose tenants. But it is completely unacceptable that a landlord is made responsible for the financial indiscretions of their tenants. What next – landlords being responsible for their tenants’ grocery bill or unpaid credit card debt.
Let’s stop this latest attack on landlords in its’ tracks. Sign this petition against the move by water companies to force landlords to pay for their tenants unpaid bills.
Have you had a similar experience? If so we want to know.
For further information on the published water review
Thank you for this excellent case study. Many thanks for highlighting landlord's rights.
I also had a similar experience recently in which a debt collection company threatened to take me to court on behalf of Southern Water for the non payment of a bill by a former tenant. When I threatened back to send invoices and demand payment for every contact they made for this ridiculous demand, their threats have now turned into requests.
Debt collection company: Advantis Credit (http://www.advantiscredit.com)
My feeling is that they try with bully boy tactics to begin with as they get paid on results - and many landlords probably give in.
To be fair, I faxed them the tenancy agreement to start with but as it turned out, they probably misplaced it and started to pursue me again 2 months later. But now their threats to take me to court have turned into gentle requests to close this chapter.
And I am quite enjoying ignoring their 'requests' so far.
I had pretty much this a few weeks ago. I got a letter to my HOME address not my office telling me I was liable for the water rates / bill on one of my properties for the past year or so. I explained that I was the owner and landlord but not the consumer of water services there and that it was my tenants bill / debt.
I was put through to their "collections dept." The lady there told me I would need to provide proof of the tenants occupation by providing them with a copy of the tenancy agreement. I said I was happy to do this on the payment of a £25.00 admin fee. She said "well that won't be happening" to which I replied "then you won't be getting a copy will you". She then accused me of being obstructive, bear in mind I have already told her the name of the tenant by this time. I said I was not being obstructive simply charging our standard fee for the duplication of a tenancy agreement. She questioned the fee as if that was relevent. I told her I am fed up with dealing with utility companies chasing tenant debts. She then had the auldacity to say "well what do you think its like for me I'm doing it all day". I took the opportunity to reminder her it was her job and to be greatful she had one, where as for me it was an inconvenience that I didn't have to suffer.
I bid her good day and hung up.
It is interesting for me that they wrot to me at my home address. Clearly their databases are linked.
Thanks for the feedback. I do feel sorry for the water companies which since the government have changed the rules to prevent them turning off the water for those that don't pay its a scammers charter. But it's not the landlords fault either. Chris
Yes of course it is. In this case they only have them selves to blame. The old tenant must have told them he had moved so with a little joined up thinking why didn't they just send out a welcome letter to the new tenant? And if they did and got no feedback why did they leave it a year. I jump on debts ASAP. Surely it would be better to say something along the lines of if we don't hear from an occupier of this property in 30 days we will terminate the supply to safeguard the empty property from flood or something like that. That would initiate a response sooner or later!.
As they can't turn the water off, can't they restrict the flow to say 30 gallons a day? that would make it very inconvenient to fill a kettle, or indeed use any mains fed shower, but would still leave water to flush the loo or bathe but would require some inconvenient water management in an storage tank based systems.
I have a boat and my wife and I can get by on 150 gallons a week with careful management.
How do I stand? (water rates)
I converted the firstfloor of my business premises a few years ago into a one bedroom first floor flat which I rent out. For some reason the builder did not 'split' the water supply.........so I continued to pay for the whole of the building (including the flat) The Water Board were never told.
There had only ever been one water bill for the whole of the property which I pay........ my business premises on ground floor and the first floor flat above me.
My tenant does not pay water rates as I still pay for the whole of the building.......A SITUATION I AM HAPPY WITH.......
The short term assured contract states that the tenant is responsible for the water rates...but I am happy to pay them for the whole of the building (again, which includes the first floor flat..)
I look forward to any comments you may have.
Hi, I read your article about the practice of water companies chasing landlord’s over their tenants’ arrears with interest. I have had a similar experience recently with Thames Water over arrears on two of my properties. In both cases the periods Thames Water were claiming for corresponded to current tenancies but for some reason they had been unable to identify who was living in the properties and so came to me for payment. In one case, my details had been passed to the Moorcroft debt collection company despite the fact that I had provided the tenant’s details to Thames Water some months previously. In the other, the tenant had been paying the water rates by direct debit for 10 months before Thames Water tried to bill me for the same period. In my case the situation was resolved relatively quickly once my tenants contacted Thames Water and the Moorcroft Group. But not before I had a rather frustrating conversation with an intransigent Thames Water operative about my responsibility for tenants’ debts and Moorcroft insisting that I must send them a copy of the tenancy agreement to establish that I wasn’t responsible for the arrears.
What I have found more difficult is to get to the bottom of why Thames Water thought these two accounts were in arrears in the first place. Despite lengthy correspondence with them I’m still little further forward in understanding why they passed my details to a debt collection agency, why no final demand notice was issued before they did so, why they insisted that I was responsible for the so-called debts and how they could have been taking direct debits from my tenant whilst at the same time insisting they didn’t know who the tenant was and that the rates were in arrears. Needless to say, no apology has been forthcoming from Thames Water.
Apart from the questionable practise of claiming tenants’ arrears from landlords, my experience also highlights another issue; water companies may be making claims against landlords for erroneous arrears. I was able to contact my tenants and establish the true position, others may not be so fortunate.
Dear Property Hawk
I believe we have had a worse experience than the one which a landlord faced from Wessex Water.
Our tenant refused to pay his water bills anda water bill in my name was sent to the tenants address.
Of course the tenant simply dispiosed of the bills and i never even knew they existed. South West Water then took the the matter to Northampton court which is an on-line county court option.
Again I never saw nor received any court papers. a court judgement was entered against me for more than £700 worth of water bills. the first i knew was when a debt advisory comapny contacted me at my business adress and informed me that ?i had a judgement gainst me.
I immediately filed fro the judgement to be set aside but South West Water employed a barrister to fight the case, claiming that if they cannot recover water charges froma tenant they can recover them from the owner of the property. I have supplied South west water compies of the tenancy agreement which clearly states that they tenant is responsible for his own water bills, yet still south West Water will not concede.
The case has at present been adjourned and at present I have a county Court Judgement against me as the landlord.
We had a tenant who moved in and did not pay any bills, including rent, from day one despite being ’checked’ by a large letting agency. The water bill was not paid for a year, but how do water companies allow a bill to go unpaid for so long? Surely, a more robust collection regime would avoid such cases, and prevent the companies pursuing landlords. I feel that water companies must accept some blame for not being more proactive in chasing debts..
I had a tenant in my property from December 2002 to October 2009, nearly seven years.
The West Kent Water company have presented me with a bill for over £450.00 covering the entire 7
year period. I have a copy of their schedule of the bills, raised on a regular basis, not one of them paid.
I suspect there was an accounting error that has come to light and with the tenant no longer in the property
they have come to me 9 years after she moved in.
I am receiving regular, sometime daily phone calls, I have been polite on every occasion and explained to each
caller my situation. I have sent the water company and the collection agency copies of the AST and they have
told me that it was only valid for the first six months and that I should have issued a new one every following
six months to keep the tenancy valid.
My latest letter from them this week is threatening bailiffs and court action. They refuse to acknowledge that
it is not my responsibility. I do not know how to stop them, have they got a case here?
I hope you find this useful and if you have any advice I would welcome it.
It is quite simple to avoid such issues ALL you have to do as the landlord is inform the water company of the tenant details when they take on the tenancy.
You then inform the water company when they leave; leaving liability in the landlord's name until a new tenant arrives.
I have had wrongun tenants who have not paid their water bills.
At no time has a water company EVER sought recovery from me as I have informed them of the correct tenant details etc.
Indeed one of my properties has 2 water companies!
I keep them informed and have not had any issues with them despite their not being paid by the requisite tenant.
What you should ensure you do is issue a letter advising that an AST is proceeding onto a SPT if indeed it does as the original AST will have expired.
This gives you proof of tenancy continuance should there be any dispute. as to bill liability
Advantis Credit pursued me on behalf of Severn Trent Water for the debt of a previous tenant – not the current tenant who’d been there for months. I was threatened with bailiffs and so on. Advantis continually moved the goal posts when I provided the info they previously requested; all this despite STW never contacting me before passing the debt to Advantis.
Fed up of Advantis continually making life difficult; I went back to STW and asked them to explain why I was liable when I had advised in writing of the previous tenant’s departure and his forwarding address. STW conceded that as I had written to them (twice) including all contact info that they had failed to use; that the error was wholly theirs and they deinstructed Advantis immediately. My experience is that the instructing body is of more reasonable behaviour than the money chasing debt agency.
I am not a landlord but my daughter and her partner moved into a 1 bedroomed flat a year ago. After six months she received her first water bill of eight hundred and sixty pounds. This just cant be right and we questioned it with Anglian water who insist it is right. She has not been able to pay this and she has now received her second bill this is for the year and is now nine hundred plus. How can she then have only used an additional one hundred pounds worth of water for the second six months. The water board are threatening to take her to court. I think she is paying the previous tenants bill they apparently did not pay any of their bills. What can she do about it. They froze the bill while sending instructions to see if she had a leak but apparently that is not the case so now they will take her to court.
I can’t thank you enough, your link to the water complaints dept paid off.
I received an email confirming that the debts has been withdrawn and
offering me an apology. It has been a very unpleasant experience and
I am glad it is behind me now.
Thank heavens for web sites like yours, it’s a great service.