Owners and committees often have questions about how water usage is charged and how water meters can be installed. There are a number of issues to consider if a body corporate is looking at installing individual water meters.
The following information answers some of the frequently asked questions about water usage and charges, installing individual water meters and maintenance of meters.
This article provides general advice only and lot owners or bodies corporate need to seek their own advice, as each case depends on its facts.
What are the rules for water meters in relation to bodies corporate established before 1 January 2008?
Before 1 January 2008, it was not mandatory to install water sub-meters within multi-unit premises.
Many schemes built before 1 January 2008 have no individual sub-meters installed, Instead, there is usually a single main water meter installed near the boundary of the property. A water utility service provider charges for water supplied to both the common property and the lots within the scheme. Each owner usually receives an individual water bill from the water utility service provider based on the contribution schedule lot entitlements. Sometimes the body corporate takes on the liability for the whole water bill. In this case, the body corporate pays the water provider and charges each owner according to contribution schedule lot entitlement or equally for their share of the total water bill.
How is water charged in my body corporate when there are no individual meters or only some lots have meters?
If a utility service provider (water company or local council) is billing the owners directly, and there is no practicable way for the utility service provider to measure water use, a lot owner is liable to pay a proportional share of the total water bill for the scheme based on the contribution schedule lot entitlements (Section 196, Act). For example, if there are 20 lots in a scheme, and each owner has equal lot entitlements, the proportion of the bill paid by each owner would be five per cent (i.e.,1/20 of total bill).
Section 196 also provides that the body corporate could vote by ordinary resolution to take on the liability for the total water bill by arrangement with the utility service provider. If this occurs, the body corporate pays the water bill to the utility service provider out of the contributions paid by owners.
Where the body corporate has taken on the liability for the total water bill, the following can apply:
- If all the lots have individual sub-meters, the body corporate must bill each owner by measured usage.
- If there are only some lots with meters, the body corporate can levy the lot owners with meters by the measured usage. The lots without meters must be shared either equally or proportionately among the lot owners according to the contribution schedule lot entitlements for each lot.
How is water charged when there are individual meters on all the lots?
The body corporate is liable for a charge for water supplied to the common property, provided the supply is separately metered and separately charged to the body corporate. A lot owner is liable for a charge for water supplied to the owner’s lot, provided the supply is separately metered and separately charged to the lot owner (Section 195, Act).
What if we have sub-meters but the water supplier does not read individual meters?
If there is no practicable way available to the water supplier to separately measure the water supplied to each lot or to the common property, the body corporate may, by arrangement with the water supplier, take on the liability for the lot owners.
Under this arrangement, the body corporate may choose to levy the lot owners individually, if it has a way of measuring the supply. For example, the water supplier may choose not to enter the scheme land to read individual meters and instead issues the body corporate one bill based on total usage. The body corporate could decide to arrange to have the individual meters read to calculate each lot owner’s share of the total usage. The body corporate would then levy each owner accordingly, based on individual usage.
This scenario could also apply if there is a separate common property water meter and in circumstances where not all the lots have meters. The body corporate could still take on the liability for the whole water bill and read those meters that have been installed. The owners’ lots with meters would be charged for usage and the owners’ lots that do not have meters would be charged either equally or proportionally by contribution schedule lot entitlements.
What if there are no individual meters and some lots within the body corporate scheme have several occupiers and other lots do not?
The number of occupiers in a lot does not affect how a body corporate must charge for each owner’s share of the water bill. There is no ability under the Act for a body corporate to charge for water based on the number of occupants (or tenants).
This is also the case for lots that have gardens, pools or spas requiring water.
Our scheme was established before 1 January 2008. Is it too late to install water sub-meters?
Installing individual water meters (or sub-meters) may not be financially or practically feasible for older bodies corporate.
Factors that owners or the body corporate may need to consider to determine viability include:
- where the sub-meters would be located
- accessibility of the pipes where the meters would need to be installed
- whether installed meters could be read in that location
- whether other owners have an interest
- cost of installation or upgrading/replacing old non-compliant meters.
Owners are free to make their own enquiries about the feasibility and obtain quotes regarding the installation of individual water meters within the scheme.
Do lot owners pay for sub-meters to be installed or is that a body corporate expense?
To answer this question, you will need to establish whether the meters need to be installed on common property pipes or owners’ pipes.
You can work out who owns the pipes by looking at the utility infrastructure maintenance page.
If meters are being installed on common property pipes, the body corporate is usually responsible for cost of the improvement to common property. The body corporate will probably need a vote at general meeting to authorise the expenditure and work. The type of motion required depends on the cost of the meter installation and is explained clearly in the table on the improvements to common property webpage (Section 186, Standard Module).
The body corporate will need to vote to install a meter for common property water usage if there is not already a separate common property meter, regardless of whether the individual meters are being installed on common property pipes or owners’ pipes.
If the meters are to be located on the owners’ pipes, the body corporate can offer to supply the service to install the meter. If an owner agrees to using the service to have a meter installed, the body corporate can carry out the work and seek reimbursement of their individual cost from each owner that agrees to the service (Section 210, Standard Module).
A body corporate cannot force all owners to install sub-meters inside the boundaries of their lots. Refer to the first question in this article for how the body corporate would need to bill for water if not every lot gets a meter installed.
Who is responsible for the maintenance of water meters?
An owner is only responsible for utility infrastructure that meets all three of these points:
- supplies a utility service to only one lot; and
- is within the boundaries of the lot; and
- is not within a boundary structure for the lot.
However, if a utility infrastructure device has been installed on the common property by a lot owner and it services only their lot, they are usually responsible for the ongoing maintenance and/or replacement (Section 180 (4), Standard Module).
An exception to the above is that water meters installed in bodies corporate established after 1 January 2008 will not be part of common property. Meters that measure water supplied to a community titles scheme will usually remain the property of the provider supplying the water.
You can read other information about who can install water meters.
Author: Jane Wilson – Queensland Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management.