Utilities - charges and responsibilities

21 Jun 2021

Tenants usually pay for services such as electricity, gas, phone and internet when renting a property. They may also be charged for water in some cases (conditions apply). In this episode of Talking Tenancies, we discuss the charges and responsibilities that apply to utilities in a rental property with Acting Customer Experience Team Leader, Jill Davidson.


Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA  

Guest: Jill Davidson – Customer Experience - RTA 

Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I’m your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland, with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.    

Tenants usually pay for services such as electricity, gas, phone and internet when renting a property. They may also be charged for water, in some cases, and conditions apply. Today's expert from the RTA is Jill Davidson from Customer Experience. Welcome, Jill. 

Guest: Thank you very much. 

Host: Now can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for? 

Guest: Certainly can. So, I am one of the Team Leaders within the RTA’s Contact Centre. My role here is a very busy one, but I would consider one of my main responsibilities is to support and champion the amazing work done for the Queensland community by our people on the front lines. So, I've honestly never worked with such an incredible group of people as I do here. 

Host: Yes, and I love working with your team. We pester you every day and keep you busy! Now today, we are talking about utilities within a rental property and what to look out for when it comes to charges and responsibilities as a tenant or managing party. Firstly, as a tenant, what do we need to look out for before signing a tenancy agreement in relation to utilities like electricity, gas, phone and internet? 

Guest: So Belinda, I would say that in amongst all the stress that comes with finding and starting a new tenancy, thinking about what utilities may or may not be connected at a potentially new property is the most commonly forgotten task. So, once upon a time—and I'm definitely showing my age, I think I did this last time too—it was really just as simple as asking if there was a TV antenna. 

Host: Yeah, oh, those were the days, I remember that. 

Guest: Is there a plug? Literally, that was all you had to look for. Where’s the plug? But now, not quite the same. So, we need to consider internet— so is it NBN, cable, ADSL—gas and or electricity, phone lines, solar, mobile phone coverage, pay TV. It's a long list. 

Host: It gets very complicated in today's age too, doesn’t it? There's so many technologies. 

Guest: Yeah, definitely. So, utility charges are one of those things that can and will differ between tenancies as well. It’s very easy, especially if you’ve been in one place for a long time, to just take it for granted—“It’s going to be there”. So, tenants really do need to make sure that they get some clarification on exactly what is there before they sign up. Just like any other aspects of a tenancy, if you're unsure of what's involved—the price around something or how things are calculated—definitely ask and make sure the agreed details are outlined in the tenancy agreement so you have a written record of it. And I just want to quickly note here that there's also different scenarios around solar power and water charges that should be clarified and agreed upon before the tenancy agreement is signed. But we'll cover that off in a bit more detail later. 

Host: Yeah. Now, there are cases where property manager/owners may pass on service charges to a tenant when on-supplying services. How's that one managed? 

Guest: So, a property manager or owner may decide to pass on service charges to the tenant. How that amount is calculated and paid must be agreed in advance and included in the tenancy agreement. So on the contract, a tenant cannot be charged more than the amount charged by the authorities supplying the service. Really important. It's an offence to overcharge for services and you can potentially be fined for that one. 

Host: Alright, so I've got a scenario for you. Let's say we're a tenant, and we sign a tenancy agreement for a rental property and later find out there’s no internet connection installed. What can be done? 

Guest: Happens all the time. So, in this case, the tenant should first check what internet service is available to them by calling a relevant provider. So as mentioned before, a property may not have NBN connection yet. It’s probably less likely now than a couple years ago, but you may only have an existing cable or ADSL there. So when you have a good idea of what you can get in the rental property, you want to make sure the speed of the services available is sufficient for the tasks that you’re going to be carrying out at home. A really important consideration nowadays, as we all know, is are you going to be working from home? Will the connection speed be sufficient? 






Host: Nothing worse. 

Guest: We see it every day with our own guys. So, if a general internet connection already exists and the tenant is charged a general connection fee on the first bill from their internet provider, standard stuff, be sure to find out what the cost of the connection is and factor that into your budget. 

Host: So, if it’s a new property, and the property’s never had internet or NBN connected before, this can get a little tricky. So, what happens there? 

Guest: OK, so the property manager or owner is not required to supply an internet connection at the rental premises. May not feel logical, but internet is not classified as an essential service, like electricity, yet. Yet. We'll just leave that there, yeah? So, a tenant may only apply for an internet or NBN service connection to be installed at the premises if the property owner or manager agrees. Very important. A tenant’s request for permission to install an internet connection must be in writing—email’s fine, it doesn't have to be complicated.  

If an installation is agreed, this should form part of the special terms in the tenancy agreement, or be included in a separate agreement that can be created. A new connection installation fee is usually charged. In some cases a new development charge may also apply if the premises are in a brand new area. It’s really important to discuss with the property owner or manager about who pays for the new connection and new development charge, because it could be considered an improvement to the property. Any agreement for compensating the tenant's internet connection and installation charges to the to the premises, again, should be recorded in writing as a special term of the agreement. So, property managers and owners really should have a good reason if they refuse to allow internet to be connected to the premises. 

Host: Yeah, and I think one recommendation there is really to do your research, because I know for me I built a new home and yeah, it doesn't have NBN or ADSL, and it's in its own special community. So you’ve got to be very careful where you are and what’s available. 

Guest: Absolutely.  

Host: So, in the instance where we have a tenant that might have a medical condition where they need a landline phone within the property and one does not exist, which many new homes like mine don't have nowadays, what happens there? 

Guest: Yep, mine doesn't either because it died. Didn't get it fixed because, hey, who needs a landline? 

Host: I've never had one. 

Guest: I find some people do. So, we'll break this one down into a few different scenarios. Similar to the internet connection, a landline connection does not have to be provided. It's always best to check to see if there's a connection before the start of the tenancy when you first do your initial inspection. And take into consideration that having a telephone line protruding from the wall does not necessarily mean there's an active connection.  That's my house—there’s a point there, it doesn’t work though. So, if there's an active connection, make sure it works, unlike mine. Any arrangement about telephone connections, including connection fees should be, again, outlined in the special terms of the tenancy agreement. If there's no active landline connection, a tenant should discuss the cost of connecting it with the property owner or manager, and any arrangements should be included as a special term, again, of the agreement, in the contract.  

If the tenancy has already started—so you've inspected, you've moved in, paid your bond et cetera—and then you as the tenant discovers that a landline connection, “Oh no, it's not actually there”, and no arrangement is made before the start of the tenancy, you should, as a tenant, follow the process for adding fixtures to the premises. You can find that on the website, adding fixtures to the premises. So request permission to install the connection, in writing. Update the tenancy agreement to include agreements for installation fees, connection fees, payment and any potential compensation. OK, so a property manager, again, should have a good reason if they refuse to allow a landline to be connected to the property.  

Finally, if this is something the tenant needs for a specific reason, such as a medical condition, the tenant should discuss the installation and cost of the connection with the property owner or manager. And owners and managers, they do have an obligation to ensure that the property is fit to live in, and not in breach of any health and safety regulations. 

Host: Yeah, absolutely. Now with solar power and rebates, property manager/owners often keep this in their name for the rebate. How should this be handled? 

Guest: This one is very, very, very common. It happens. We get a lot of calls and enquiries about this one. If a property has solar power, it is best for the tenant and the property manager or owner to negotiate how electricity will be charged before the start of the tenancy. You need to make sure everyone has clarity around the arrangements. Property owners need to consider their arrangement carefully before making any changes, because some accounts have lower tariffs that only remain in place if the account continues as it was first arranged. Being clear about any rebates at the start of the tenancy will avoid disputes later on. And as always, make sure agreed details for payments and/or rebates and arrangements are outlined in the agreement. 

Host: Yep. 

Guest: So, there's a few options when it comes to solar power and rebates. So generally the electricity account is in the property owner’s name. And there’s a few options, so I’ll just run through a couple of examples. It’s very basic though, work with me.  

So, they could pay the bill and ask the tenant to reimburse them the full amount minus the rebate. So, for example, there’s a $400 bill, minus $150 rebate, that's $250 payable by the tenant. They pay the bill and agree to pass on part of the rebate to the tenant, for example, $400 bill, $150 rebate. The property owner agrees to pass on 50% of the rebate, $75, meaning $325 payable by the tenant. Or they pay the account, receive the rebate, and they include the cost of the electricity service in the weekly rent. There’s are a few other common scenarios that I’ve heard about in my own conversations with customers, one of those is the property owner has the electricity account in their name, passes on the billable amount, but also claiming the rebate. So, this means that they're asking the tenant to reimburse them for the full amount, even though they have received a rebate or part of the amount. Now remember how we touched on before that the Queensland rental laws provide guidelines for service charging? It does state that when a service is in a property owner’s name, they cannot ask the tenant to pay more than the amount charged by the supply authority.  

Host: Exactly. 

Guest: Very important to get clear. You cannot ask a tenant to pay more than the amount charged by the supply authority. So, the Queensland legislation is silent on whether this amount charged—I'm doing air quotes—so the legislation is silent on whether the amount charged refers to the total cost of the service or the total cost, less the solar bonus. It also does not make specific reference to the scheme itself. This is one of the reasons why we really encourage tenants and property owners to discuss and agree on the details before the tenancy begins.

Another scenario is when, somehow, the tenant has the electricity account in their name when it’s a solar connection. This is a bit problematic because the bonus that was offered to property owners as part of the solar bonus rebate scheme will be affected if the account name changes. So we’ve heard of instances where a property owner makes the tenants set up their own electricity account for the solar power, and then they lose out on the bonus, and can't get the original tariff back. So as you can see, it's super important to ask the hard questions and get clarity from the beginning. So, you know what the arrangements are and what you're in for, especially with solar power and how this has been set up for billing. Make sure you get the agreed arrangement in writing and included in the agreement for your records. 

Host: That one sounds like a bit of a minefield, so, really, make sure you communicate on that one. 

Guest: Absolutely. 

Host: Now when we look at caravan parks, services like electricity, water, reticulated gas and sewage are connected by the property owner/manager. How are these handled for the tenant?  

Guest: So, in these cases, electricity, water, reticulated gas and sewage are connected to the park in the name of the park owner or manager. The park owner or manager can pass these costs on to the tenant by either including the cost of the services with the rent, or if the service is individually metered to the caravan, they can add a separate charge on top of the rent. If it’s individually metered, and billed in the park owner’s name, an additional weeks’ bond may be taken for electricity. This amount can’t be more than one week’s rent and must, again, be lodged with the RTA within 10 days. 

Host: Well, there’s a there’s a lot to take into account when it comes to utilities and charges and responsibilities when renting a property. And thank you so much, Jill, for helping us to get a greater understanding of our responsibilities when it comes to utilities within a rental property.  

Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.

Original publication on 21 Jun 2021
Last updated on 21 Jun 2021

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