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QCAT: A timely reminder about water charging

Jul 2016

A recent Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) case has highlighted the importance of providing timely water use charges to tenants.

In handing down orders, QCAT senior member Peta Stilgoe OAM said a tenant is entitled to be made aware of the cost of water consumption as and when the invoices fall due.

However, in this case the property manager billed nine months’ of water charges in one invoice.

"[The property manager] sent tenants an invoice on 5 March 2016 for the period July 2014 to February 2015," Ms Stilgoe said

"Behind that invoice was a part copy of Urban Utilities’ bill for the period July 2014 to October 2014.

"Handwritten notations on the invoice suggest that [the property manager] obtained a final reading and then calculated the amount payable by reference to the rates on the Urban Utilities’ invoice."

Instead, the property manager should have sent invoices to the tenants in October 2014 and January 2015 following receipt of Urban Utilities’ invoices.

Ms Stilgoe recognised the challenging nature of recovering water use charges.

"The timing of invoices for water charges, when payment is due and when a breach arises for failure to pay for water is a vexed question for owners, tenants and the tribunal," Ms Stilgoe said.

There are no prescribed requirements for invoice time-frames, although the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Regulation 2009 states that tenants "must pay the amount of the [water consumption] charge to the lessor within 1 month of the lessor giving the tenant copies of relevant documents about the incurring of the amount".

In this case, the tenancy agreement detailed quarterly invoicing arrangements.

The property owner’s submission of water charges contravened this arrangement.

Ms Stilgoe stated it was "unreasonable for a lessor to withhold water charges, issue an invoice that covers a significant period and a significant amount, and then be surprised if the tenant cannot, or will not, pay the full amount.

"A tenant is entitled to be made aware of the cost of water consumption as and when the invoices fall due."

QCAT advises property managers, owners and tenants to be aware of their rights and obligations through review of:

  • the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (particularly sections 166 and 169) and its regulation
  • the Residential Tenancies Authority’s water charging fact sheet
  • QCAT decisions in residential tenancy matters at the Supreme Court Library Queensland’s website.

For more information, contact QCAT.