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Utility and service charges

Last updated: 29 Mar 2021

 

Responsibilities for household utility and service charges are allocated between the renter (or resident or Part 4A site tenant as the case may be) and housing provider by the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) (RTA). The allocations in the RTA cannot be overridden by agreement.

Practice tip: There is no automatic right to representation at the Tribunal in the applications outlined on this page. Accordingly, leave will be required under s 62(1)(c) Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic) for the applicant to be represented if the other party does not consent or is not represented by a professional advocate. See further Where do I go? What do I say?.

Renters

Renters’ obligations

A renter is liable for the following utility charges: s 52 RTA:

  • all charges for the supply or use of electricity, gas or oil in respect of the renter’s occupation of the rented premises that are separately metered, except for the installation costs and charges for the initial connection of the service to the rented premises. If the rented premises are not separately metered, the renter is not liable to pay these charges;
  • all charges for the use of any gas bottles (including the supply or hire of the gas bottles) in respect of the renter’s occupation of the rented premises; and
  • where the premises are separately metered:
  • the cost of all water supplied to the premises during the renter’s occupancy (if the cost is based solely on the amount of water supplied) – or only the part of the charge that is based on the amount of water supplied to the premises (if the cost is only partly based on the amount of water supplied); and
  • all sewage disposal charges.

If the rented premises are not separately metered, the renter is not liable to pay these charges.

Residential rental provider’s liabilities

Under s 53 RTA the residential rental provider is liable to pay for:

  • the installation costs and charges of the initial connection of any utility service to the rented premises;
  • all rates, taxes or charges payable under any Act (other than charges payable by the renter under Part 2 Division 4 RTA);
  • charges for the supply or use of electricity, gas (except bottled gas), oil, water and sewerage disposal, by the renter at the rented premises that are not separately metered;
  • charges related to the supply of sewerage services or the supply of drainage services, and charges related to the supply or hire of gas bottles, to the rented premises;
  • charges arising from a water supply service to separately metered rented premises that are not based on the amount of water supplied to the premises; and
  • water charges in respect of rented premises which are not separately metered, including sewerage disposal charges, costs and charges related to a water supply services and water supplied to the rented premises.

Excessive usage charges

A fault in infrastructure, fixtures or buildings at or connected to the rented premises may result in charges for excessive usage of utilities (for example, charges relating to a leaking underground water pipe).

Under s 53A RTA, the residential rental provider is liable for the part of the excessive charge that is in addition to the renter’s ordinary usage by the renter, provided that:

  • the renter notifies the provider as soon as practicable about the excessive charges and the fault; and
  • the fault was not caused by the renter’s act or omission.

The residential rental provider must reimburse a renter for any reasonable costs incurred for diagnosis of the fault by a suitably qualified person: s 53A(3) RTA.

The residential rental provider is not responsible for a fault caused by property that is the responsibility of a service provider: s 53A(4) RTA.

Where there is disagreement about excessive usage charges, the provider or renter may apply to the Tribunal to determine who is liable: s 53B RTA. In making a determination, the Tribunal must have regard to (s 53B(2) RTA):

  • whether the renter had knowledge of the fault;
  • whether the renter took reasonable steps to notify the residential rental provider or their agent of the fault;
  • whether the renter has been compensated by another person for any part of the excessive usage charges;
  • whether the residential rental provider has complied with the RTA in respect of any urgent repairs;
  • any diagnosis made by a water authority or other suitably qualified person in respect of the fault;
  • any maintenance and repairs conducted by the residential rental provider; and
  • any other matter the Tribunal considers appropriate.

Charges for non-complying appliances

A residential rental provider is liable to pay the cost of water, electricity or gas supplied to or used at the rented premises for as long as the residential rental provider is in breach of s 69 RTA or any law requiring the use of an appliance, fitting or fixture with a rate that is of or above a prescribed level of rating in the efficiency rating system: s 54 RTA.

The prescribed energy efficient levels are set out in regulation 24 of the Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021 (Vic) (Regulations).

Solar panels and the Solar Homes Program

The Solar Homes Program is a Victorian Government program which provides loans and rebates for the installation of a solar energy system. It is governed by the Renewable Energy (Jobs and Investment) Act 2017 (Vic).

If a renter wishes to participate in the Solar Homes Program, a renter and residential rental provider can enter into an agreement under which the renter is liable for a portion of the costs and charges for the installation of a solar energy system at the rented premises: s 53AA RTA.

The agreement must be consistent with the Solar Homes Program. Information about the requirements of the Solar Homes Program is available on the Solar Victoria page.

Rooming house residents

Charges

Under s 108 RTA, a rooming house operator may charge a resident for electricity, gas and water consumed in the room only if:

  • the room is separately metered;
  • the rooming house operator is responsible for the payment of the electricity, gas and water; and
  • the room is not a shared room.

The rooming house operator cannot charge the resident more than the amount paid to the utility supplier (i.e. they cannot profit from the charges).

The rooming house operator must provide the resident with a separate schedule of amounts relating to the services before the resident takes up occupancy, as well as an itemised account showing the resident’s individual use of the services: s 109 RTA.

An equivalent excessive usage caused by faults regime applies to rooming houses as that which applies to rentals (see above): see ss 120AA and 120AAB.

Caravan park residents and Part 4A site tenants

Caravan park residents (s 162 RTA) and Part 4A site tenants (s 206ZE RTA) are liable for:

  • if the services are separately metered, all charges made for the supply or use of electricity, gas, water, drainage and sewerage to a site;
  • all charges in respect of the supply or use of bottled gas; and
  • all charges in respect of installation and connection of services from a supply point to the site.

The caravan park owner (s 163 RTA) or Part 4A site owner (s 206ZF RTA) is liable for:

  • the installation costs and charges of the initial connection of any electricity, water or gas (including bottled gas) supply service to the site;
  • all rates, taxes or charges payable under any Act (other than charges payable by the renter under Part 4 Division 4 or Part 4A Division 4 RTA);
  • the cost of all services to a site if those services are not separately metered;
  • all charges arising from a water supply service to a separately metered site that are not based on the amount of water supplied or used;
  • all charges relating to the supply or use of sewerage and drainage services to or at a separately metered site that are not based on the extent of use of the services;
  • all charges relating to the pumping out and cleaning of sewage and septic tanks serving a caravan park or Part 4A site required for reasons other than damage caused by the resident or site tenant (see regulations 61 and 83 of the Regulations).

For caravan park residents, the caravan park owner is also liable for the cost of water, gas or electricity supplied to or used in a caravan for as long as the owner is in breach of s 181 RTA or a law require the use of an appliance, fitting or fixture which a rating that is above a prescribed level of rating in an efficiency rating system: s 164 RTA. The prescribed energy efficient levels are set out in regulation 62 of the Regulations.

An equivalent excessive usage caused by faults regime applies to caravan parks and Part 4A site tenants as that which applies to rentals (see above): see ss 180A, 180B, 206ZVB and 207ZVC.

SDA enrolled dwellings

Under s 498ZM(1) RTA, an SDA provider is liable for:

  • the installation costs and charges in respect of the initial connection to an SDA enrolled dwelling of any electricity, water, gas, bottled gas or oil supply service; and
  • all charges related to the supply of sewerage services or the supply or use of drainage services to or at the SDA enrolled dwelling; and
  • all rates, taxes or charges payable under any Act other than charges payable by the SDA resident under Part 12A RTA.

Liability for utility charges in respect of SDA enrolled dwellings is not otherwise prescribed by the RTA.

An SDA provider is prohibited from seeking payment or reimbursement for a cost or charge that is more than the relevant utility supplier would have charged the SDA resident: s 498ZN RTA.

The excessive usage caused by fault regime for SDA enrolled dwellings differs from other accommodation types. Under s 498ZM(2) RTA, if an SDA resident has been charged for excessive usage of a service at an SDA enrolled dwelling caused by a fault in infrastructure or any fixtures or buildings at or connected to the dwelling, the SDA provider is liable for that part of the charge that is additional to the amount of ordinary usage by the SDA resident. There is no notification requirement on the part of the SDA resident, nor an exception if the resident caused damage.

Director of Housing and housing agencies

The Director of Housing, an incorporated body that receives financial assistance from the Director of Housing to provide non-profit housing, or a registered housing agency may impose charges on renters or rooming house residents for water, central heating, laundry or utility services. However, they can only do so if it is not possible or practicable to measure the actual use of the service by that renter or resident: ss 57, 109A RTA.

The service charge must not exceed the cost of providing the service or facility to the renter or resident: ss 57(2A), 109A(2A) RTA.

The renter or resident must be provided with written notice of the charge and any changes to the amount charged, including particulars of any change in the cost of providing the services or facilities: ss 57(3A), 109A(3A).

The renter or resident can apply to the Tribunal for an order requiring the Director of Housing or the registered housing agency to withdraw or vary the amount of a service charge: ss 57(4A), 109A(3B) RTA.

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