PDA

View Full Version : Water included in rent - now welcome letter received from South West Water



Bumblebea
22-09-2011, 07:09 AM
Hi guys - I really would appreciate some advice from you as I'm not sure how to deal with this.

My apologies for the essay. Abridged version:

Alongside my rent payments under an AST my original landlord asked that we pay a top up for water rates which we have done ever since March 2003.

Last week, we received a letter from South West Water welcoming my husband as a customer.

Our new landlord, unbeknownst to us, had had a water meter fitted 2009. SWW told us last week that this didn't work sothere is no bill for the period 2009 to August 2011 when they fitted a new meter. This is when they were given my husband's name by the new landlord and we found out that our landlord wants us to pay the water company directly - he has at no point had a discussion with us about this.

We have, I believe a statutory periodic tenancy and are very grateful to be paying between £50 and £150 pcm (my estimate)below the market rent. We love our home and don't want to move.

So my questions are:

1. If we now, after we've discussed this with the landlord, have to pay for water directly to SWW (SWW have made us liable from 18.8.2011) does this constitute a rent increase if there is no corresponding reduction in our payments to the landlord or can he increase our rent as well?

2. If we do have to pay for water direct - do we need to be given a new agreement/would we be better off having a new agreement?

3. We have been paying our rent (plus water rates top up) to the new landlord for the last 3 years but he has not beenpaying anything over to the water company. Are we (technically)due a refund from him of those water rates payments (wouldn't want to push this unless the worst happens (i.e thathe asks for a rent increase that we cannot afford and we have to move out)?

Thank you in advance.

Full essay(!):
We moved into our flat(in a converted house) in 2003 with a 12 month AST. The tenancy agreement stated that bills are the responsibility of the tenant but the agreement between the landlord and ourselves was that we paid a top up for water rates (there were no meters in the property).

We have a receipt from the landlord for our deposit which also shows the first payment we made for water when we moved in and a subsequent letter showing the rent inclusive of water that we paid for the first 8 months. There were a couple of subsequent rent increases one of which I'm certain the landlord stated was due to water rates increasing but I will have to try and find this.

In 2008 my original landlord decided that he wanted to sellthe property "subject to the tenancies already in place". His letter stated that only a rent review was required and for us to sign a form contracting to rent the property for a further specific period or the tenancy could continue on a rolling month by month basis. We agreed a new rent and signed up for, I believe, a further two years. We do not have a copy of the form that we signed but there was no mention of any changes in any of the terms of our agreement.

A few weeks ago the gentleman who lives downstairs (and works for my landlord) advised that access to our flat would be needed as the landlord wanted to fit water meters. We assumed that the landlord would discuss this with us at some point but he didn't. The downstairs guy also made a comment in passing that our landlord had told him that we haven't been paying for water. I advised him that our rent includes water. he looked surprised (as were we!) but we didn't discuss it further.


Last weekend we received a letter from South West Water welcoming my husband as a new customer. I contacted them and was informed that separate water meters were fitted in the property in 2009. We had no idea that meters had been fitted as the landlord never discussed this with us. This presumably occurred when the landlord was doing renovations to the whole property (excluding our flat as we were the only tenants in the building at the time). I'm not too sure of the chronology so will need to ring SWW again to confirm the history but for a period they believed that no one was at the property (we never touched any of the letters that would occasionally turn up from them as they didn't have our name on and our water was included in the rent so they were none of our business). SWW said that they had believed that the property was vacant as there was no water use showing for the flat. They apparently sent someone round to cut off the supply but saw signs of habitation. The meter that was installed in August, that we believed was the first to be fitted turned out to be a replacement for the original faulty one (that we had no idea was even there)that didn't register water being used. On 9th September SWW received an email from my landlord informing them that my husband is the occupier and therefore responsible for the water bill, hence the letter we received.

All of this information has come to us through SWW.We have told them that our agreement is that water is included with our rent payments and they have advised us to approach our landlord. We have heard nothing from our landlord about this which leads my husband to believe that the landlord bought the property without knowing that, by virtue of our original agreement with our former landlord, he was liable to pay water rates (and subsequent bills)and not us. I think that he must have had an inkling (or should have done) as he would have known that the building was rated as a single property for the purposes of water when he arranged to have the meters fitted in 2009.

The other issue that we have is that the rent we pay has not been increased since 2008 just before the new landlord bought the property (and as his employee who lives downstairs keeps saying - don't ask him to do repairs as every time we mention something to him that he mentions to the landlord, our landlord says that he must remember to put our rent up) We are very lucky (and very grateful)to be paying what I believe to be less than the market rent for our home so I am certain that any discussions with the landlord will trigger a rent increase.

MrJohnnyB
22-09-2011, 08:07 AM
An interesting one. What does your original agreement say about utilities? Does it make reference to the landlord covering the cost of water? Water is probably the cheapest utility for drainage and water consumption living with one other person I pay circa £20 pcm.

How comprehensive research have you done that suggests you're paying a significantly lower rent than market average? what agents are quoting and what they're getting are two seperate things. I would not be held to ransome by this - particularly where repairs are involved because ultimately they benefit the value of the landlords reversionary interest - failure to undertake repairs often will have more serious long term implications.

westminster
22-09-2011, 08:12 AM
Alongside my rent payments under an AST my original landlord asked that we pay a top up for water rates which we have done ever since March 2003.


So have you continued to make these top up payments to the new LL since he bought the property?

Have you signed a new contract with the new LL?

Interlaken
22-09-2011, 08:14 AM
Too many words Bumble.

In your AST does it mention tenant paying utiilities - that means gas, water, electric? You need to sit and read it. It is usual for the tenant to pay utilities.
You mention a 'new landlord' - when did this happen or is he the original landlord? What are you renting - a room, a flat or a house? The rent seems VERY cheap.

MrJohnnyB
22-09-2011, 08:18 AM
Too many words Bumble.

In your AST does it mention tenant paying utiilities - that means gas, water, electric? You need to sit and read it. It is usual for the tenant to pay utilities.
You mention a 'new landlord' - when did this happen or is he the original landlord? What are you renting - a room, a flat or a house? The rent seems VERY cheap.

I see no reference to the rent being paid other than the value at which they think it is under market value. Furthermore, the original contract isn't actually overly relevant, if they've not been paying for water since the inception of the agreement then plainly it is an implied term of contract anyway. Just would be simpler if it explicitly stated such.

Interlaken
22-09-2011, 08:27 AM
Exactly JB.

westminster
22-09-2011, 10:29 AM
Furthermore, the original contract isn't actually overly relevant, if they've not been paying for water since the inception of the agreement then plainly it is an implied term of contract anyway.
Not if OP has since signed a new contract with the new LL and there was no 'off the record' agreement about the water bill this time.

In addition, the original agreement wasn't to pay nothing - OP says he agreed to pay a 'top up'. He does not say whether he has or hasn't been paying this to the new LL.

MrJohnnyB
22-09-2011, 10:32 AM
Not if OP has since signed a new contract with the new LL and there was no 'off the record' agreement about the water bill this time.

In addition, the original agreement wasn't to pay nothing - OP says he agreed to pay a 'top up'. He does not say whether he has or hasn't been paying this to the new LL.

Sorry my reference to the "Paying nothing" was in relation to paying the utility supplier direct as per the quote.

Bumblebea
23-09-2011, 00:36 AM
Hi guys - thanks for the responses.

MrJohnnyB - the original agreement says that utililities are the responsibility of the tenant, however alongside that we had the agreement with the original landlord to pay our flat's share of the property's water rates direct to him.

Regarding the rent, no extensive research - just anecdotal evidence and looking in papers/agents window but we only pay £450pcm for a large two bedroomed flat (albeit without central heating) in one of the nicest parts of town which seems to be the going rate for a one bedroomed flat in a less nice part. To be fair to the landlord he hasn't said anything directly about repairs - in fact we never hear from him at all (that's not a complaint BTW)

Westminster - the rent was reviewed by the previous landlord immediately prior to the new landlord buying the propertywith no mention of taking water out of the equation. There has been no rent review since then so we've been paying the same amount ever since rent+water in a single standing order to the landlord - the new landlord hasn't asked us to sign a new agreement - in fact we've never discussed the terms of our agreement.

Interlaken - the actual AST stated tenant responsible for utilities but we made additional payments, as requested by the original landlord, and evidenced in writing, direct to him, for water rates. The new landlord bought the property in 2008. We rent a two bedroomed flat.

I really appreciate you all putting your thoughts down like this. I think I've responded to all of your queries but please let me know if there is anything else that is unclear. I'd really value your opinions as I'm really not sure what to do for the best. Thank you.

mariner
23-09-2011, 02:00 AM
The info you request is hiden in the complete OP, Interlaken.
I suspect
Orig AST (LL1) made T resp for all utility bills & taxes. At this time whole property was subject to water rate system, so LL1 apportioned water rate by number of flats and added this cost £y/pcm rent of £x pcm. T defines £y as water rate top up. Water rates collected with rent are not part of rent, hence app sporadic increases in 'water top up' payments.
LL1 sold property to LL2 rent £x stayed the same but LL2 installed ind water meters in 2009. T continued to pay proportion of water rate.
SWW cancelled initial faulty initial water meter readings, but did they apply water rates?
Perhaps LL2 should have obtained Ts permission to install ind water meter but if other flats in block accepted could one flat decline given orig AST provision?
OP is in SPT so curr LL can issue a s13 notice for rent increase every 12 months so OP can either appeal or depart within timescale.
I have controlled ent Ts, I can increase their regular payments
to cover annual water rate increases without contravening registered fair rent provisions.

Bumblebea
26-09-2011, 05:41 AM
Hi Mariner

Apologies for the delay in responding.

We were never told that a water meter had been installed (in 2009) until I rang SWW when we received the letter from them the Friday before last. The landlord didn't approach is aboutit so we had no idea that they had been installed. Ours was the only flat in the building that was occupied at the time that he bought and renovated the house (he bought the property in 2008 so presumably knew that the property was rated, for the purposes of water, as one household).

South West Water didn't contact us at that time (2009)about rates either. When I phoned them they told us that they thought that the property was unoccupied since the meter had been installed and only realised someone was living here when they came round to cut off the supply and noticed signs of habitation. Presumably the landlord would have known about this too(?)but he still didn't say anything to us about water rates/meters etc.

So we have, for the last two years since our LL2 bought the property, been paying our water rates top up in with our rent as agreed with LL1 as we've had no discussions with LL2 to the contrary and no inkling until August of this year that anything was due to change.

The letter we got in September was certainly a surprise as although downstairs guy told us that water meters were being installed (he didn't say replaced)the landlord still hasn't said a thing.

I hope that makes things clearer. Does anyone have any idea about how we should approach this with our landlord?

1. If we now, after we've discussed this with the landlord, have to pay for water directly to SWW (SWW have made us liable from 18.8.2011) can this constitute a rent increase if there is no corresponding reduction in our payments to the landlord or can he increase our rent as well?

2. If we do have to pay for water direct - do we need to be given a new agreement/would we be better off having a new agreement?

3. We have been paying our rent (plus water rates top up) to the new landlord for the last 3 years but he has not beenpaying anything over to the water company. Are we (technically)due a refund from him of those water rates payments (wouldn't want to push this unless the worst happens (i.e thathe asks for a rent increase that we cannot afford and we have to move out)?

Thank you.

westminster
26-09-2011, 12:16 PM
So, are you saying that your tenancy contract says, for example, that rent is £500 pcm, and up to now you've been paying, for example, £520 pcm?

Now the water company has come along and said you're responsible for the water bill as from August, at the landlord's instigation.

If so, then you don't have to pay both the 'top up' and the water bill, i.e. you either reduce payments to £500 pcm (i.e. the rent due under the contract) and pay the water company direct, or you continue to pay £520 and the water bill goes to the LL.

Bumblebea
29-09-2011, 18:08 PM
Westminster - sorry for the delay in responding. You're spot on though. That's exactly it except that the LL1 last time he increased the rent didn't specify what the split was. I think he was just in a rush to sell the property to be honest - I guess I've got some negotiating to do.

Thanks for your input guys - if any of you have any other advice please don't hesitate.

westminster
01-10-2011, 12:53 PM
That's exactly it except that the LL1 last time he increased the rent didn't specify what the split was.
Then probably safe to assume that the top up amount remained the same.