Water meters – checking out the rules
Many green-minded and money-conscious tenants look to water meters to help them cut back the costs and their environmental impact.
However, there is often confusion between landlords, tenants, and agents as to what the rules are.
I recently heard about a case where a tenant wanted a water meter, approached the agent, but was told the landlord would probably say no. So, I decided to check out the rules on this.
Warnings from the CAB
The advice from the CAB is that if you’ve got a contract longer than 6 months then you should be able to do this.
It’s the same as if someone wanted to change electricity supplier or phone supplier. The contract is between the water provider and the consumer, not the landlord.
The problem for a tenant would be that they could get into a long dispute with the landlord and end up with a retaliatory eviction.
If you’re a tenant and worried about this, then you could always try phoning up and try to negotiate a lower tariff with the company if you have been unable to get a water meter.
Water meters and landlords – a typical scenario
A quick scan of the internet shows Water Metering is actually quite a common question.
The scenario tends to be that a landlord is thinking of moving back into the house at some point and thinks a water meter will mean higher water bills for themselves.
Part of the issue is that once a water meter has been in place for 12 months then it cannot be removed.
Water meters – forbidden fruit?
I read a post on a Landlords forum where a landlord said they had forbidden installing a water meter in the contract.
I have a massive problem with this type of clause as presumably it means tenants could also be forbidden from switching away from the awful and costly pre-payment meters for electricity and gas (it could be an unfair contract term – Ed).
I was on these (and a fixed water bill) for a few months in an old house and it was a costly nightmare. We also had to deal with moving in when the gas had been overspent for a while – something we didn’t realise until we moved in.
What the act says
A little more research on this turned up the law which allows tenants to install a water meter.
The Water Industry Act 1999 s11 says tenancy agreements cannot be used to stop tenants who pay their own water bills from choosing a meter.
A financial solution?
Landlords and agents might also want to bear in mind that a tenant with lower bills is someone who is less likely to get into financial trouble and struggle to pay the rent.
One person asking for advice on the Mumsnet site said she was struggling to pay the £11 a week water bill and her housing benefit already falls short of paying the rent.
Money Saving Expert says that, depending on the details and circumstances, a person could save around £200 a year by having a water meter. OFWAT estimates a conservative average saving of £74 a year. And the Consumer Council for Water has a handy calculator to help figure out what the likely savings would be.
Some messy situations
Another set of problems came to mind such as what happens in HMOs, places where the house has been leased to someone who is sub-letting, or where the lettings agent has an agreement with an energy company (water is a monopoly).
What if tenants just pay a flat all-inclusive rent? Another quick scan shows this looks very messy! I’m going to go away and do some more research on this and get back to you later.
But in the meantime – whats your view?