This information is a guide and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

Utility charges

Services to your home such as electricity, gas, oil, water and sewerage are called ‘utility’ services. This page explains your responsibilities for connecting and disconnecting these services. It also explains which costs are your responsibility, and those costs that the rental provider (landlord) is responsible for.

Problems paying your bills

Do not use short-term loans

Do not use short term-loans to pay your utility bills. These loans have huge interest rates, fees and charges, which could get you deep into debt. Find out more on the Moneysmart website.

Talk to your utility company

Utility companies have special financial hardship teams that can work with you if you are having trouble paying your bills.

Ask your utility company about a payment plan or no-interest no-fee loans instead.

Who else can help?

There is help out there with paying bills, including information, where to get assistance and concessions.

Advice and help with paying bills

These websites and services have useful information and advice on where to get help with paying bills.

Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria

Concessions

These websites provide information about concessions and utility relief grants available from the Victorian Government.

If you are eligible for the utility relief grants you must contact your electricity, gas or water retail company, which will start the application.

Problems with utility services

If you have a problem with a utility service, you should contact the utility company. If they do not fix the problem you can contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria (EWOV) on 1800 500 509. Its services are free.

Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria website

What the law says

The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 contains laws on who is responsible for various utility costs and charges for rental properties.

The Act includes laws on rental providers’ (landlords’) responsibilities, including their liabilities for:

  • Initial connection costs
  • Various utility charges and costs
  • Excessive usage charges caused by faults
  • Charges resulting from non-complying appliances

The Act also includes laws on:

  • Renters’ responsibilities and their liabilities for various utility costs and charges
  • Reimbursements, and limits on reimbursements, if you have paid for something that was the rental providers’ liability or the other way round
  • Services charges for public or community housing
  • Agreements about installing solar systems
  • Making modifications to rental properties

Separate meters

It is important to know if you have a separate meter for utilities connected to your home as this can affect who is responsible for some charges.

A separate meter is one that measures the utility supply to your home only. For example, some blocks of flats have separate water meters for each flat, while others have just one meter to measure the amount of water used by the entire block of flats.

You can find out if you have a separate meter by contacting the utility company.

Telephone and internet

There is no minimum standard requiring rental properties to have a telephone line or the internet connected.

However, you are entitled to ask if you can make modifications to the property to give you access to telecommunication services [section 64].

You will need to get the rental provider’s consent before you make these modifications, but they cannot unreasonably refuse to give their consent for this purpose. If they do refuse, you can apply to VCAT for an order that the consent of the rental provider is not required [section 64].

The rental provider will be responsible for the initial connection costs for fixed internet and telecommunications connections, including through the NBN [section 53, regulation 22].

You will be responsible for the ongoing costs and charges for the supply of these services.

For more information see our pages Modifications and Minimum standards.

Solar energy systems

If you want a solar energy system installed under the Victorian Solar Homes Program, you and the rental provider can enter into an agreement about this. However, unlike other initial connection costs, the agreement can set out that you will be liable for some installation costs and charges [section 53AA].

Any agreement you come to with the rental provider about this needs to be consistent with the Solar Homes Program [section 53AA].

Rental providers’ responsibilities

The rental provider (landlord) is responsible for:

  • Initial connection costs and charges for utilities connected to the property
  • Excessive usage charges caused by faults, though there are requirements renters need to follow and the rental provider is not liable if the fault was caused by any property that is the responsibility of the provider of the utility or service
  • Charges resulting from replacement appliances that do not meet certain standards
  • All rates and taxes, and they must indemnify renters against any of these costs
  • Other costs and charges relating to utilities at the property, which vary depending on whether or not there are separate meters at the property for the utilities [sections 53, 53A,54 and 58]

Note that sections in brackets, such as [section 53], refer to sections in Victoria’s Residential Tenancies Act 1997. See the Resources section at the bottom of this page for links.

Separate meter

If the property has a separate meter the rental provider is responsible for the cost of:

  • Water supply services, excluding your water usage
  • Sewer and drainage services, excluding sewerage disposal charges
  • The initial supply or hire of gas bottles
  • Pumping out or cleaning sewage and septic tanks, unless this is needed because of damage caused by you
  • Water cartage charges for refilling fire-safety water tanks, and for drinking water unless related to your water usage [section 53, regulation 22]

Note that regulations in brackets, such as [regulation 22], refer to regulations in Victoria’s Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021.

No separate meter

If there is no separate meter at the property, the rental provider is also responsible for:

  • Charges for the supply or use of electricity, gas (except bottled gas) or oil
  • Water charges, including all sewage disposal charges, and water supplied to the property with the supply service costs [section 53]

Initial connection costs

Initial connection costs are charged when a service is connected to a property for the very first time. The rental provider is responsible for the initial connection costs for:

  • Electricity
  • Water
  • Gas, including bottled gas
  • Oil
  • Fixed internet and telecommunications connections, including through the NBN [section 53, regulation 22]

If the rental provider tries to pass on these charges to you, you do not have to pay them. If you have paid for any initial connection costs you can take steps to be reimbursed for anything you have spent.  See the section headed Reimbursement on this page.

Excessive usage charges

Who is responsible

If you have received a utility bill with excessive usage charges, and these have been caused by a fault in the building’s infrastructure or any fixtures or buildings at, or connected to, the property, the rental provider is responsible for the part of the bill that is additional to an amount you would ordinarily be billed.

This is provided that you told them, as soon as practicable, about the:

  • Excessive usage charges
  • Fault that caused the excessive usage

However, the rental provider is not responsible if the fault was caused by anything you did, or anything you should have done but did not do [section 53A].

Example

For example, if there is a water leak in an underground pipe connected to the property that caused your water bill to double, and you told the rental provider about the leak as soon as you found out about it, the rental provider needs to pay half your bill.

If you have already paid the bill the rental provider needs to reimburse you for the excessive costs. They also need to reimburse you for any reasonable costs you may have paid for to have a suitably qualified person find the fault – for example, if you paid a plumber to find the leak. See the section headed Reimbursement on this page.

If the fault was caused by anything that is the responsibility of the utility or service company, the rental provider is not responsible for any excess usage charges [section 53A]. In this situation you should contact the utility or service company or the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria.

If there is a rupture or leak you should also report this to your water company or gas distributor immediately. See the Victorian Government’s Energy Safe Victoria website for more information.

Non-complying appliances

If an appliance, fitting or fixture at the property uses or supplies water, electricity or gas needs to be replaced, the rental provider must make sure the replacement meets a prescribed minimum rating in an efficiency rating system [section 69].

This is a duty of the rental provider under the law. If the replacement does not meet the required rating standard you can give the rental provider a notice of breach of duty asking them to fix this. See our page on Landlord breaches.

The rental provider is liable to pay the cost of water, electricity or gas supplied to or used at the property if the replacement appliance, fixture or fitting does not meet the required standards, even if these costs would usually be your responsibility [section 54].

If the rental provider refuses to pay these costs you can apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for an order that they have to pay [sections 54 and 452].

If you have paid for costs the rental provider is responsible for you can take steps to be reimbursed. See the section headed Reimbursement on this page.

Arranging your own repairs

If you have arranged for urgent repairs yourself to replace an appliance, fixture of fitting that uses or supplies water, electricity or gas, you also need to make sure the replacement meets the required rating standards [section 72]. See our page Repairs and maintenance for information on arranging urgent repairs yourself and getting reimbursed for them.

Required rating standards

For gas space heaters and non-ducted air conditioners and heat pumps, which are not ducted through the whole house, the minimum rating is a 2-star heating rating [regulations 23 and 24].

For water appliances, fixtures and fittings the minimum rating is a 3-star rating in a Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme, with dishwashers also needing to have a 3-star energy rating [regulations 23 and 24].

If the nature or the age of the property means a 3-star WELS rated replacement cannot be installed, or will not operate properly if it is installed, then a lower-rated replacement can be installed. The replacement needs to have the highest WELS rating that will operate effectively. For example, if, due to the age of the plumbing, a 3-star rated tap will not produce sufficient water pressure then a 2-star rated tap may be installed [regulations 23 and 24].

Renters’ responsibilities

Separate meter

If the property is separately metered, you are responsible for the costs and charges for:

  • The supply or use of electricity, gas or oil, including supply charges and reconnection fees
  • Water consumed
  • Sewerage disposal charges
  • The use of bottled gas [section 52]

If the rental provider pays a bill that you are responsible for, you will be required to pay them back. See the section headed Reimbursement on this page.

You can negotiate an agreement with the rental provider that they pay any of these charges. For example, if the property has a large garden that the rental provider wants you to maintain, you could negotiate that they pay for the water consumption charges in return for you regularly watering the garden. You will need to get the agreement in writing, signed by the rental provider [section 53].

No separate meter

If there are no separate meters for electricity, gas, oil or water, the rental provider is responsible for the costs of that service or supply [section 53].

Public or community housing

For some public or community housing properties it may not be practical to install separate meters, for example in high-rise apartment buildings. In these circumstances the housing provider may ask you to pay a service charge for water, central heating, laundry or utility services or other facilities available to you.

If they want to do this, they need to give you written notice that there will be a service charge payable by you. The amount cannot be more than the cost of providing you with the service or facility [section 57].

If you think you have been incorrectly charged a service fee or charged the wrong amount, you can apply to VCAT for an order to stop the service fee or to change the amount [section 57].

Modifications

If you want to install energy-efficient appliances, fixtures or fittings you can try to negotiate with the rental provider that they pay for these or share their cost with you. If you come to an agreement about this, make sure you get it in writing and that it sets out what is to be done, when it is to be done and who is responsible for paying.

If you want to make any changes yourself, at your own cost, you may still need to get the rental provider’s consent first.

There are some changes you can make without consent, provided the property is not heritage listed. These are the installation of:

  • LED light globes, provided they do not need changed light fittings
  • A water-efficient shower head, provided you keep the original [section 64, regulation 26]

If you make any changes to the property, even with the rental provider’s written consent, when you move out may be required to return the property back to its original condition [section 64].

For more information your responsibilities when making modifications see our page Modifications.

Reimbursement

Reimbursement from the rental provider

If you have paid for any utility costs or charges that are the rental provider’s responsibility, the rental provider must reimburse you [section 55].

Send the rental provider a written request for reimbursement, attaching a copy of the bill and receipt or other evidence of payment as soon as possible.

The rental provider has 28 days from the time they get your request to reimburse you [section 55]. If they do not do so within this time you can apply to VCAT for an order that the rental provider must repay you [sections 55 and 452].

Cannot wait for reimbursement?

If you cannot afford to pay the bill and wait to be reimbursed, and the rental provider is refusing to pay, you should make an urgent application to VCAT for an order that the rental provider has to pay the bills for costs and charges they are liable for under the law [sections 53, 54, 55 and 452].

To avoid having your services disconnected or your bills being passed on to a debt collector, you should also contact the utility company’s hardship team to ask for the payment date to be extended until after VCAT has heard your application. If the utility company will not agree to extend the payment date you should contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria.

Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria website

Excessive usage charges

If you have received a bill with excessive usage charges, due to a fault, and the rental provider is refusing to pay the excessive charges, and any reasonable costs you incurred in trying to find the fault, to apply to VCAT you do not need to wait until 28 days have passed since you notified them. You can apply straight away, asking VCAT to make a decision about who is liable for the charges [section 53B].

In coming to a decision, VCAT will look at:

  • Whether you knew about the fault and took reasonable steps to notify the rental provider, or their agent, of the fault
  • Whether you have already been compensated by someone else for part of the excessive charges
  • Whether the rental provider has followed their duties under the law for any urgent repairs and any other maintenance and repairs carried out by them
  • Any diagnosis of the fault made by a water authority or other suitably qualified person
  • Anything else VCAT considers appropriate [section 53B]

If the bill has not yet been paid you should contact VCAT the same time you put in your application to them to ask for an urgent hearing.

To avoid having your services disconnected or your bills being passed on to a debt collector, you should also contact the utility company’s hardship team to ask for the payment date to be extended until VCAT has heard your application. If the utility company will not agree to extend the payment date you should contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman of Victoria.

Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria website

Reimbursement to rental provider

If the rental provider has paid for any utility costs that are your responsibility under the law, you will be required to pay them back.

They will need to send you a written request for reimbursement along with a copy of the bill and the receipt, or other evidence of their payment.  You will have 28 days from the time you get their written request to repay them [section 55].

Limits on reimbursements

If you would be entitled to a concession or rebate on the charges if the bill was in your name, the rental provider needs to deduct from the amount they can ask you to pay any concession or rebate you would have got [section 56].

However, this does not apply if the concession or rebate:

  • Needs to be claimed by you by the payment date in the bill, and the rental provider has given you an opportunity to claim it, but you have not done so
  • Is paid directly to you as a refund [Section 56]

It is an offence for a rental provider to ask you to reimburse them for costs or charges that are more than the amount the supplier would have charged you [section 56].

You can report offences to Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV), which can issue an infringement notice on the rental provider or agent if they have failed to follow the law.

Consumer Affairs Victoria

Moving in

When you move into a rental property, it is your responsibility to have the utility services connected in your name.

Some agents offer utility connection services, which are often included in the rental application form. Check all the terms and conditions before you decide if you want to use one of these services as there could be extra fees or terms and conditions about how your information can be used.

There is no obligation for you to use these sorts of services. You could end up with a better deal if you shop around and arrange for the utility connections yourself.

The law also says your rental agreement cannot include any terms that makes you use a particular third-party service provider, such as using a utility connection service or a specific utility company [section 27B, regulation 11].

The only exception to this is if there is an’ embedded energy network’, where power is supplied jointly, such as to all apartments in a building [section 27B, regulation 11].

If the property has an embedded energy network the rental provider must tell you this before you enter into a rental agreement, along with the name and contact details of the electricity company and details of the electricity charges, or where to find that information [section 30D, regulation 16].

See our pages on Before you sign and Rental agreements.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time before your move-in date to arrange for the utilities to be connected in your name.

It is not uncommon for electricity and gas companies to require at least 3 days’ notice. Many will only connect utilities on weekdays.

Internet providers often need more notice, with some able to arrange connection with 3 days’ notice and others needing 10-20 days.

You will also need to notify the water company of your move in date in advance so they can arrange for a meter reading to be carried out before you move in. This will avoid you being charged for any costs of the person who lived there before you.

Moving out

Some agents tell renters they need to keep the utilities connected for a period of time after they move out, usually saying this is needed for their final inspections or to show new renters the property.

You do not need to do this. You can, and should, arrange for the utilities to be disconnected on your move out date. If you do not disconnect the utilities you could end up with a bill that includes charges for the next person who moves into the property.

Make sure you arrange disconnections in advance as some utility companies will require notice to arrange for the disconnection and to book in a meter reading, which usually needs to be done for electricity, gas and water. There may also be disconnection fees. Check with your utility companies about these.

Resources

Related pages

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