Tenants and their responsibility

November 29, 2017

The Consumer Council of Fiji has innumerable times spoken out on issues pertaining to landlord and tenancy.

Most of the cases which are talked about involves the tenants suffering at the hands of mean and insensitive landlords.

However, there are a handful of cases where tenants behave irresponsibly.Landlord and Tenancy is one of the top complaints received by the Council and since January 2017 to date, a total of 444 complaints pertaining to this issue have been received.

Nature of complaints range from non-refund of rental bonds, no timely repairs done, landlords not issuing receipts and unfair tenancy agreements.

Absconding tenants who leave behind hefty unpaid utility bills upon vacating the rented premises is also one of the issues the Council has come across.

In such cases, tenants hurriedly and secretly leave without settling their water and electricity bills. This is a reality that is experienced in the real estate industry. Tenants are getting away without paying their bills.

Consumers are reminded that landlord’s should not be expected to pay someone else’s bills. Tenants must be responsible enough to pay their dues before moving out.

The Council received a complaint where John was leasing his property to Raj and his wife. John had changed the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) billing addresses to Raj’s name, so he could pay the bills directly.As per the utility account history, tenants were paying bills in a timely manner until they received a high water bill due to leakages in early 2015.

The couple quickly decided to move out of the premises without clearing the water bills, mounting to thousands of dollars.

The landlord was extremely shocked when he was slapped with disconnection notices followed by the high sums due for payment. A frustrated John then resorted to the Council for advice on what could be done in regards to the matter at hand.

The Council ascertained that the Water Authority of Fiji Promulgation 2007 holds the property owners liable to make payments for arrears in the water bills. Section 34 of the Promulgation provides:“(1) The owner of premises to which services are provided by the Authority is liable to pay any rates due to the Authority in respect of such services.(2) If any rates remain unpaid at the expiry of 30 days from the date on which the rates fall due the Authority may charge the prescribed interest on the amount of the unpaid sum from the date they fall due until the date of payment.(3) The Authority may fix and allow discounts for prompt payment of rates, fees and charges.”

In light of the above provision, WAF held the landlord accountable for the arrears amassed by the tenants because it was the landlord who had authorized WAF to change the billing address.

As per the legislation, the authorized holder of the account would be responsible irrespective of the changes made to the billing addresses and names.

The legislation holds the owner accountable and not the tenant.The Council encourages tenants to exercise responsibility at all times and ensure that they do the right thing by paying their accrued bills before vacating the premises.

In the present situation, John had the option to make a claim in Small Claims Tribunal.

If the tenants consume water, then they must make their business to pay the debt incurred by them.Tenancy agreements are signed between tenants and landlords.

Most contracts clearly state that tenants will be responsible for the unpaid bills.Landlords can make deductions from the rental bond paid by the tenants at the initial stages of the tenancy.

While institutions such as the Consumer Council of Fiji will continue to fight for consumer rights when it comes to unfair market practices, it is only fair that consumers comprehend their responsibilities and be ethical in their dealings with landlords.