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Renters, landlords, and water meters

by Conor Hill
As every Wellingtonian knows, our water is in a complete mess. Pipes are busting, projects are blowing out, and change seems achingly slow. Luckily our Mayor, and the boffins at Wellington Water, have released reports with the same solution: water meters and volumetric charging. Unluckily, this solution ignores the half of Wellingtonians who rent.

The theory behind charging for water seems pretty sound. People who are using a lot will have an incentive to reduce their water use. In turn, there is less requirement for expensive water infrastructure, and less stress on wastewater facilities, as less is flushed down the drain.

Theoretically it’s cheaper overall than our current system and better for the environment.

So, how do things change for the better in practice?

There are two classic examples used. The first is that leaks on private property will be fixed, as the person is now paying for water. The second is that excessive discretionary use of water – swimming pools, car washing and the like – will decrease as people are now paying for water.

So far so good. Yet no one knows how this will all work for the half of Wellingtonians who rent.

There are two options. The first is that the landlord pays water charges. In this situation, renters have no incentive to cut back on any excessive water use. This half of Wellington can continue on using water as they have been, with no incentive to conserve water – washing cars, filling the paddling pool, etc, etc. Water would continue to be wasted.

The second option is that the renter pays, as they generally do for other utilities like power and internet. This could be worse. If there is a significant leak on the property, landlords have no commercial need to fix it. Renters would end up paying for all this wasted water and the leak wouldn’t be fixed. Water would continue to be wasted.

Regardless of who we charge for water, landlords or renters, water will continue to be wasted in tenanted properties under this model. It’s an issue that needs resolving.

It’s a real shame that ratepayers have just paid for two reports which work on the assumption that everyone owns their own home. Ignoring half of Wellington won’t solve our water issues.

Andy Foster on mayoral water report
Wellington Water receives report on water meters

21 comments:

  1. Ian Apperley, 16. December 2020, 9:29

    You can rest assured that these costs will be on top of the 23% rate increase that is being discussed. You can also thank the WCC for “gifting” the pipes from road to house some years back to the residents so that any leaks are now their responsibility, not the Council’s.

    One thing is for certain, costs are going to keep going up. So … that average rates bill of $5,000 this year is probably going to be closer to $6,100 next year, and then with further rates increases and water metering, it could be somewhere around $7,500 – $8,000 the year after that.

     
  2. Concerned Wellingtonian, 16. December 2020, 9:52

    I hope that left-wing councillors will think about property-owners when they vote for their feel-good projects next year. I am tired of the attitude that rate increases won’t affect renters.

     
  3. Andrew Haddleton, 16. December 2020, 9:58

    In Auckland we had a water meter in our rented house. The bill was in three parts; water use, wastewater and the fixed charge for infrastructure. The tenant pays for the first two and the landlord the fixed charge.

     
  4. Ms Green, 16. December 2020, 12:50

    Thanks Andrew – this is just the way Auckland structured its rates and user charges. Seems potentially a big load onto whoever was /is paying.

    Conor – Good try! Rich (and not so rich) people will always wash their monstrous cars – all of them, and fill their swimming pools and endlessly irrigate their water hungry planted gardens, regardless of the costs. Leaks will not stop with user charges … What about the huge puddle outside the Willis Bond development in Dixon St? Who pays for that? Not sure about “less being flushed down the drain.” It’s not that simple.

    P.S. Some landlords and some tenants are responsible citizens – they know to save water and they do. The problem would appear to rest more with the infrastructure. Now if everyone had water tanks … then they would know how to save water!

     
  5. Conor, 16. December 2020, 12:58

    Ian – just to keep some perspective, that average rates bill includes commercial premises. The median residential rate would be closer to $3,000.

     
  6. Toni, 16. December 2020, 13:29

    If we pay for our water, then I would expect we get a rebate on our rates.

     
  7. Julienz, 16. December 2020, 16:30

    Toni – from p.14 of the taskforce report:
    “Wellington City residential ratepayers are currently levied for their water services as part of their rates assessment through a combination of uniform (i.e. per household) and property value-based charges. For a house with a capital value of $800,000, the share of the rates attributable to the three waters services is around $1,275 per year.”
    I would expect this amount would be levied by the new water company and hopefully WCC rates reduced accordingly (subject of course to the recently discussed 23% increase).

    I do see Conor’s point that finding the sweet spot for renters will be a challenge, unscrupulous landlords might not pass on the rates reduction but make tenants responsible for water charges which would be a windfall gain to the landlord. However, if the cost of water stayed with the landlord then there is no incentive for tenants to use water responsibly, not that those in small apartments in the city with no carparks will have cars to clean, nor I imagine swimming pools to fill. I would expect the Tenancy Tribunal would be likely adjudicate in favour of tenants if the leaky pipes scenario came about.

     
  8. Michael, 17. December 2020, 0:23

    Wouldn’t/shouldn’t the renter be charged for the water usage only, and the landlord pays the other charges like supply. The renter should be billed directly from the water company therefore the landlord cannot manipulate the bill.

     
  9. WickedLandlord, 17. December 2020, 8:21

    Other parts of NZ have had user-pays for water for some time. Don’t expect to see much of a rates rebate, it’s a windfall gain for the council, no-one else. (If you don’t want your rates to go up, stop electing socialists who think rates can be used for whatever their latest fad is instead of infrastructure – but that is a digression.)
    The point I wanted to make is that it works out fine with renters paying for water. If there is a leak on premise, and I had one a year ago, the renter soon let’s you know about it. It’s in your own interests as a landlord to get it seen to, so you do.

     
  10. aom, 17. December 2020, 9:25

    WickedLandlord: You have to be taken to task over the snide ‘socialist’ remark. The socialists are more likely to be the volunteers who compensate for the Council’s reluctance to look after its community facilities, like parks, reserves and the community halls that are a disappearing feature of local communities. The expensive ‘latest fads’ are most likely those that burnish the income potential of the commercial sector, by way of conference facilities, stadia, festivals etc. One only has to think about the incessant bleatings of the Chamber of Commerce and fellow travelers who always want more expenditure (and rates reductions of course) for ‘public’ amenities. Even facilities like the (closed) library and performance centres had to be designed by exclusive (i.e. expensive) architectural firms to wow visitors and audiences to be siphoned into the city’s accommodation. One could continue with typical examples of the ‘reverse socialism’ but you can extend the list yourself – if you dare.

     
  11. cam5far, 17. December 2020, 12:16

    When we purchased a property within a new apartment/shop complex in Wellington, the water for that complex was metered. What we discovered was the WCC water charge for the whole complex was being billed to the shop and the apartments were being charged for their water via their rates bill. Not sure why this happened but it may well have been a breakdown in communication by the developer. Anyway once this was sorted the water rates for the whole complex went down by about $700. This was for 7 properties including one commercial. There was no issue with WCC in sorting this out. Since then there have been leaks at the complex, fixed before WCC advised us and we applied to WCC for a rebate on the water charge which was provided.

    We now live in Kapiti where there is metered water and there are no longer water shortages. The Council has a requirement that all properties in their catchment have:
    – 10,000 litre rainwater storage solution, connecting to all toilets and outdoor taps; or
    – 4,000 litre rainwater storage, connecting to toilets and outdoor taps and a greywaterdiversion device.
    A big advantage to metering is Council staff can identify leaks and either repair it or advise the homeowner there is a problem.

    The property we purchased is on a small section 358 m2 and we have 2 storage tanks for outdoor taps and toilets. They automatically top up when the tank drops below a certain level. Our current quarterly bill is $67.25, the amount varies slightly each quarter. Our annual rates are $3643.62 which excludes water and rubbish. In comparison, a similar valued house in Wellington is being charged $3403.93 including water and rubbish.

    The difference between the Councils is noticeable. Here they have regular maintenance schedules, contractors come through prior to a storm and clean out the drains to reduce the risk of flooding, and they have now held a couple of meetings with citizens re climate change to start the conversation. In my opinion there is not the WCC bullshit and they don’t seem to think Central Government should be bailing them out. The question is: how did the landlords/tenants in Kapiti manage the change to metered water?

     
  12. WickedLandlord, 17. December 2020, 12:18

    Well, by my count @AOM at least eight councillors count as socialists, so if you have a problem you should take it up with them. For my part I would be happy to see councils restrict themselves to providing infrastructure and that’s that. It was the Clark Labour government that provided councils with the power of general competency, which means they can do whatever they can get away with.

     
  13. Groggy, 17. December 2020, 12:22

    AOM all these expensive fads have been approved by the Green and Labour dominated councils we have had for the past decade. Wickedlandlord’s comment has been borne out by their actions.

     
  14. M, 18. December 2020, 20:24

    Metered water may be cheaper for me, but I would hate to burden bigger families with an increase when they may not be able to afford it.
    Adding meters to every household in Wellington is not fixing the pipe problem … if anything it’s taking money away from fixing the pipes.

     
  15. M, 19. December 2020, 10:24

    @conor. Really $3000? Add another $1000. Or – if the median is $3000 – is there more affordable housing than we think?

     
  16. Ray Chung, 22. December 2020, 20:29

    Conor, generally, I’m comfortable with user-pay systems so if meters are going to save water, that’s well and good but I wonder how much it’ll save? I wash my car every Christmas, whether it needs it or not so not washing it annually isn’t going to save much water. Then you talk about swimming pools, how many of these are there in Wellington? My brother had one in Khandallah but the water never warmed up sufficiently for him to use it so he filled it in. I suspect that there wouldn’t be many pools in Wellington at all so that’s not going to be a huge water saving. Then you say the meters will help find water leaks but I report at least three water leaks to the council every week that I find when walking around the neighbourhood and two of these were reported over three years ago and still haven’t been repaired. Many leaks in my neighbourhood are between the street toby and house toby and whenever these occur, it seems to me that the house owner attends to these with urgency. There have been numerous reports of between 25%-35% of all water is Wellington being lost through leaky pipes so don’t you think these should be repaired first?

    I also agree that a majority of the councillors think nothing of continuing to spend ratepayers’ money like they’ve discovered the money tree. All their vanity projects should be put on hold until our infrastructure is fixed. I’m vociferously against huge rate increases; they should live within their budget and freeze all optional expenditure and have a cap on salaries and staffing levels in the council. Ratepayers and especially those on fixed incomes should not have to pay for councillors’ largesse!

     
  17. TrevorH, 23. December 2020, 6:19

    Well said (again) Ray Chung. I deeply resent any new form of levy for water services when it seems the money we have already been paying through our rates for depreciation and funding of water infrastructure renewal has been “significantly” diverted to “other projects” (see Andy Foster’s report of 11 December). What were these “other projects? A convention centre? Bike lanes? Sister city junkets (pre-COVID)? There seems to be a prima facie case that the Public Finance Act has not been complied with by the Council and we accordingly find ourselves facing a 3 waters catastrophe. If this is the case, Commissioners must be brought in to rectify the situation. How much will Wellingtonians put up with?

     
  18. Mike Mellor, 23. December 2020, 13:56

    Ray C: “if meters are going to save water, that’s well and good but I wonder how much it’ll save?” Some information on this is here.

    Examples quoted are metered Auckland (which has quite a few swimming pools!) using 30% less water per head than unmetered Wellington, and the Kapiti Coast has seen a 26% reduction in water demand since meters were introduced. So it looks as if you should be reasonably comfortable with user-pays for water.

     
  19. Claire, 23. December 2020, 15:24

    Water meters at least will ring-fence the money going to overall water provision and maintenance. But I would object if we end up paying more than the flat rate. If we save water we should pay less. The WCC has been negligent and incompetent in using water funds for other things.

     
  20. Tony Jansen, 3. January 2021, 11:28

    Wicked Landlord and AOM, I don’t think you have any understanding of socialism. The Labour Party is a centrist neo liberal party. Nothing could be further from socialism I am afraid. The Greens are more left wing but that didn’t stop them voting for Shelly Bay did it? In fact our Councillors represent quite well who we are as a society and have voted accordingly.
    Lose the ideological clapttrap and just stick the the facts. The points you make stand up on there own. Anything else just muddies the waters.

     
  21. Malcolm, 10. January 2021, 21:57

    Why not make it law that every new dwelling and there are lots of them must have water tanks in the roof to catch the rain water. These can then be used for the toilet, the bathroom and the laundry. It may even make the house that is been built cheaper as you won’t need half the roof. Charging ratepayers for water is just another way of privatisation and only those who sell the water grab all the gains. If you can’t think of better ways, then step aside and bring in fresh minds not more consultants.