Unpaid tenants' water bills. Could landlords be responsible?

by Amer Siddiq of Property Portfolio Software

Under the terms of the new Flood and Water Management Act, landlords could soon be liable for their tenants’ unpaid water bills.

This change in policy has come about because of increasing numbers of people absconding from rental properties without settling their water bill and the government is proposing to make it compulsory for landlords to supply information about their tenants - or become liable for the account themselves.

Unfortunately for the water companies, nothing is exactly stacked in their favour: if the occupier of the property fails to pay the water rates bill, there is very little the water company can do as their hands are tied. They have to provide water to the property, irrespective of whether the tenant or owner has signed a contract, and landlords are not obliged to pass on any information about their tenants, which makes it difficult to trace the debtor.

Water companies are not even allowed to cut off water supply if the bill goes unpaid, so other than making threats, there is not a lot they can do.

How is the government planning on changing things?

Unpaid bills cost the water companies millions every year, which is costing the rest of us on average another £15 on our bills. But following numerous complaints to the government, changes in legislation are afoot to make it fairer for the water companies.

At present, nothing has been agreed and two different options are currently under consideration:

  1. Landlords will be made liable for the unpaid water bills left behind by their tenants unless they give the water company details of the tenants, including their full name, date of birth, and the date the tenancy began - all of which is information landlords should have anyway.

  2. The second option is a more ‘softly softly’ approach and landlords will be asked to provide the same information, but voluntarily.

How can I protect myself from a tenant’s debts?

The best way to cover your back is to take meter readings (where applicable) at the beginning and end of a tenancy and ask your tenant to sign a form agreeing the readings are correct. You should also inform all utility companies of any changes in tenant as a matter of course, as this makes it easier for the water companies to target the right debtors.

About this Article:

This article has been provided by Amer Siddiq from PropertyPortfolioSoftware.co.uk. They provide award winning property management software to help landlords get better organised.

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Published on: May 10, 2012

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