Factsheet 23: Utilities


PDF Factsheet 23 [PDF]

As a tenant you have rights under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010. This factsheet explains the law in NSW about power, water and telecommunications services in rented premises.

Costs and charges – who pays

Under the terms of the standard residential tenancy agreement, the landlord agrees to pay the costs or charges for:

  • installation for initial connection to an electricity, water, gas, bottled gas supply service
  • supply of electricity or gas (except bottled gas) if the premises are not separately metered
  • supply or hire of gas bottles at the start of the tenancy
  • supply of a water service
  • supply of sewerage services (other than pump-out of septic tank)
  • maintenance of a gas supply, if the landlord does not provide gas appliances and the tenant does not use any gas.

You agree to pay for:

  • supply of electricity or gas (except bottled gas) if the premises are separately metered
  • supply of bottled gas
  • pumping out the septic tank.

Water usage charges are a special case – see below. Also see below about telephone, television and internet connections.

Electricity and gas

Where premises are separately metered, you pay for electricity or gas. If not, you cannot be charged for electricity or gas. (See sample letter 'Electricity bill – no separate meter'.)

If you are being charged for electricity or gas used in common areas or adjoining premises, you can negotiate with landlord for compensation. If this fails, apply to the NSW Civil and Adminstrative Tribunal (NCAT) for orders that the landlord do repairs in order to stop this from continuing and for compensation. Contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (TAAS) for help.

Bottled gas

If the premises are supplied by bottled gas, the landlord pays for the gas bottles at the start of the tenancy. They are responsible for upkeep of the connection to the premises. You pay for your gas usage.

Water usage – who pays

Premises are Who pays
Separately metered1 Water effiicient2
yes yes tenant
yes no landlord
no yes landlord
no no landlord

Note 1: Includes where premises are not connected to the water supply and water is delivered by vehicle.
Note 2: Premises have prescribed water efficiency measures installed.

Water efficiency

The legally prescribed water efficiency measures are:

  • a maximum flow-rate of 9 litres per minute for all internal cold-water taps and single mixer taps for kitchen and bathroom sinks and for all showerheads
  • no leaking taps at the start of the tenancy or when water efficiency measures are installed – whichever is later.

Billing for water usage

You are only required to pay for water usage if the landlord bills you correctly. They must:

  • give you a copy of the bill from the water supplier (or other evidence) showing the cost of water used
  • give you at least 21 days to pay
  • request payment within 3 months of receiving the bill from the supplier.

Unpaid water charges

If Sydney Water is the supplier and the landlord fails to pay the charges as required, you can pay the outstanding charges in lieu of rent. Receipts from Sydney Water count as rent receipts. (See sample letter 'Unpaid Sydney Water charges'.)

Social housing tenants

If the premises are not separately metered, you must pay for water usage as determined by ministerial guidelines.

Water tanks

For the premises to be habitable, the landlord should ensure the tank has water in it at the start of your tenancy. Note the water level on the condition report. You are responsible for refilling the tank, if needed.

The landlord is responsible for the tank's upkeep. Regularly check the tank, pipes and gutters and report any problems to the landlord/agent.

If they fail to do needed repairs and water is then lost or contaminated, you can apply to the NCAT for compensation for the cost of replacement water. You can also seek a rent reduction for withdrawal of facilities.

Septic tanks

You are responsible for pumping out the septic tank when it becomes full as a result of your usage.

A standard tank should need emptying every 3–5 years with normal usage. If a tank needs emptying a few months into the tenancy, it may be that it is faulty or the previous occupant did not empty it. Write to landlord/agent asking for it to be repaired or emptied.

Telephone, television and internet connections

A landlord is not required to provide telephone, television or internet connections with the premises.

Existing phone/TV/internet sockets are facilities provided with the premises for use of the tenant. As such, the landlord is obliged to provide such facilities in reasonable condition and to maintain them – unless this is specifically excluded in the tenancy agreement. (Also see Factsheet 06: Repairs and maintenance.)

In the case Varghese v Liang & Huang (Tenancy) [2008] NSWCTTT 973, the premises had a phone socket. The tenant assumed there was a working landline but there was not. The CTTT found that the landlord is responsible for ensuring a landline is available unless there is a specific exclusion in the tenancy agreement.

At the start of the tenancy, note on the condition report whether or not socket/s work. If they do not, negotiate with the landlord/agent about having them fixed. Get any agreement in writing.

Repairs

The landlord is responsible for repairs to a connection provided with the premises. However, as a customer of the supplier, you may have to arrange for the repairs, pay for them and then seek reimbursement from the landlord. Negotiate a written agreement with the landlord/agent in advance.

New connections

If you want a new connection installed you must have the landlord's consent. They must not unreasonably withhold consent if the work required for the installation is of a 'minor nature' (see the NSW Fair Trading factsheet 'Asking to make an alteration' at www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au).

You will have to pay for installation (although the landlord may agree to pay or contribute to the cost).

You pay for repairs to connections you have installed.

Landlord must not interfere with supply

A landlord/agent who interferes with the supply of gas, electricity, water, telecommunications or other services to the premises is in breach of the tenancy agreement (unless it is to avoid danger to any person or for maintenance or repairs).

You can apply to NCAT for order/s that:

  1. the landlord/agent stop interfering with supply
  2. the landlord/agent undertake repairs or take other action to restore supply
  3. you are compensated for interference with your reasonable peace, comfort and privacy.
  4. the rent is reduced for the time you were without a service due to interference by the landlord/agent.

For (a), (b) and (c) apply within 3 months of the breach. For (d) apply any time before the end of the tenancy. Contact your local TAAS for help.

Disputes over bills

If there is dispute over payment of an account and the supplier threatens disconnection, consider writing to them to explain the situation. Include supporting documentation. The following bodies may be of help:

January 2014

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Further help

The information in this factsheet:
• is intended as guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice
• applies to people who live in, or are affected by, the law as it applies in New South Wales, Australia.
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