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Property Hawk

Who is responsible for the water bill?

Firstly, who legally is responsible for paying the water bill, the landlord or the tenant?

Well, one pleasant surprise for me recently was the discovery that my water company, Severn Trent, no longer charges landlords for the period inbetween occupation by their tenants.  Some other water companies have different policies, Thames Water for example, will only not charge if the property is empty of furniture and undergoing refurbishment.  It appears that each water company applies their own rules, so a landlord will have to check with their water company for the exact details.

One thing to note is that even if the tenants are in occupation and stop paying the water bill then you as the landlord may still be in the firing line for a water company to try and reclaim the costs thanks to the introduction of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 landlords can now be responsible for the tenants water bills.

From 1st January 2015 a landlord is required to provide information to their Water company if both of the following apply:

  • they own a residential property occupied by the tenant
  • water is supplied to the property by Welsh Water or Dee Valley Water (properties supplied by these companies are subject to these rules whether they are in Wales, or in England).

The information a landlord needs to provide is:

  • the full names of all the tenants (this does not include children) and, if you have been given the information, their dates of birth
  • the date they all became occupiers of the property if the date was after 1 January 2015.

Now all this doesn't sound too onerous but if a landlord doesn't provide this information within 21 days of 1st January 2015, or of the start, or change of occupation after that date, even if your agreement with the tenant is that they will pay the water bill, both the landlord and the tenant will be liable for the whole bill. This is known as joint and several liability. Landlords will end their liability if they supply the information to the water company.

How do landlords inform their water company of a change of tenant?

To make all this data sharing much easier the water companies have got together to provide their own portal called Landlord Tap which enables landlords to manage their tenants details.

In their words:

"Landlord TAP is an easy to use website that allows Landlords and Managing Agents, of properties in England & Wales, to provide water companies with details of those responsible for the payment of water and/or sewerage charges for their tenanted properties."

The website enables landlords to add properties to their portfolio and then tell the respective water companies about changes to their tenant details, including changes of tenancy,  when the property becomes empty and even when they stop managing a property.

Landlords and tenants who is responsible for the water meter?

One alternative to a water bill is a water meter.  Water meters are often preferred by a tenant in situations where they are a single occupant or have an anticipated low level of water usage.  The problem for a landlord who may intend to move back into the property is that after 12 months the water meter cannot be removed potentially saddling the landlord occupier with much higher bills if they were to decide to move in permanently.  In addition, if a water meter is removed from a tenanted property the costs can be expensive.  We have written before about the implications for tenants with water meters.

One of the problems for a landlord is that the  Water Industry Act 1999 is that section 11 prohibits tenancy agreements from being used to stop tenants who pay their own water bills from choosing a meter.

 Landlord problems with water

For many landlords water problems are a fact of life.  As sure as eggs are eggs eventually a landlords will get a leak in their tenanted property or conversely a blockage.  So what to do and who is responsible?  Well, firstly it's worth mentioning that there are certain things that you can do to avoid the problems.  Firstly, get a good plumber.  I've had recent experience of a rubbish one.  if you do get a poor plumber that can store up problems for the future.  A poorly designed plumbing solution where plumbing and drainage standards are not adhered to which are set out in Part H of the building regulations on drainage and waste disposal will store up all sorts of future leaks and blockages.

It is possible to insure yourself against the costs of blockages and leaks in your property using a specialist insurance policy provided through the likes of Homeserve  

Plumber- how much should a landlord pay?

 Plumbing work and plumbers are not cheap particularly if you have to get an emergency plumber out of normal business hours.  So how much should a landlord pay for a plumber?

When it all goes wrong and there is a leak in the rental property then there is often some confusion about who is responsible for paying for the costs of the water damage. 

Legionairres what are a landlords responsibilities?

One issue that has come to the fore is the responsibility of landlords to ensure the health and safety of their tenants by keeping the rental property safe and free from hazards.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on their own website have reminded landlords of their responsibility in relation to Legionairres disease.  They define a landlord as anyone who rents out a property they own under a lease or a licence that is shorter than seven years. The relevant piece of legislation is:

Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) makes provision for relevant health and safety legislation to apply to landlords to ensure a duty of care is shown to their tenants’ with regard to their health and safety.  The general duties require under section 3(2) that "It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.".   Landlords, under Section 53 of HSWA are regarded as being self-employed and tenants fall into the class of “other persons (not being his employees)”.  If you rent out a property, you have legal responsibilities to ensure you conduct your undertaking in such a way that your tenant(s) are not exposed to health and safety risks.

Property Hawk has already covered a landlord responsibility for legionnaires disease.

We have also discussed in the Forum the landlords responsibility for a risk assessment for legionnaires disease.

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