Special levy charged for water meters at flats

Landlords at a Rosebank block of flats have been informed of a special levy to install water-saving meters – something that may start happening at many more blocks if proposed amendments to a City by-law are adopted.

One of the proposed amendments to the Water By-law calls for sub-metering on properties that have multiple accommodation units.

The Tatler looked into how the Cape Town’s water crisis is affecting blocks of flats, where body corporates get a water bill for the block instead of individual units.

Hassan Asmal, chairman of the trustees for Baxter Suites in Rosebank, emailed owners advising them that they were considering installing water meters at each flat.

“They will be prepaid meters as is the case with electricity. Vouchers will have to be purchased from supermarkets…

“There should be a proportionate reduction in the current levy relating to water use once the system is up and running.

“Other body corporates have achieved savings of up to 34% after they have installed meters for water,” wrote Mr Asmal.

He said in an email to flat owners they had no way of knowing how much water each flat was using because the block’s monthly water bill didn’t give a breakdown.

Mr Asmal said the trustees feared incurring heavy fines from falling foul of Level 6B restrictions, which limit an individual’s daily water consumption to just 50 litres a day.

The trustees are getting three quotes for the meters, expected to cost about R3000. In an email to Mr Asmal, Saville Penkin, of J & S Penkin, the block’s property management firm, poses questions about the plans.

“What will you do about recovery of sewerage charges which are interlinked to the water consumption? Is the present consumption excessive and does the body corporate risk its supply to be governed because of high consumption?

“Also, Baxter Suites consists of mainly bachelor or one-bedroom apartments which do not have gardens, so why the need to control the water to the extent that you are planning?” asks Mr Penkin.

Jacqui Savage, of Kirstenhof, says as a tenant in a complex she has had a prepaid meter installed and she is happy with it.

“Every morning I do a reading to see what my actual usage has been. It’s become almost an obsession, but in a positive way.

“I live with my two children and we are under 35 litres per person per day and strive to get it lower. I think the uncertainty of our normal daily water usage is much bigger than what we are capable of using.

“I strongly suggest that homes have prepaid water meters as they are more convenient,” said Ms Savage.

In the past most leases stated that water was included in the rent, but how will landlords be affected if meters are installed in flats? Who will pay for the water and is there any way to change a lease?

Marlon Shevelew, director of Marlon Shevelew and Associates Inc, Attorneys at Law, says Level 6B water restrictions do not change the terms of the lease or the obligations of the landlord and tenant unless they agree to change it.

In this event, such changes need to be in writing and signed by both the landlord and tenant as most (if not all) leases have a “non – variation clause” which does not allow changes to the lease unless it is both in writing and signed between the landlord and tenant.

However, if a tenant is using excessive water, they cannot object to water meters and their consequences. Landlord and tenant must work together to ensure compliance, says Mr Shevelew.

Cilna Steyn, managing director of SSLR Attorneys, says that regardless of the lease agreement, the tenant will always be responsible
for utility consumption on a premises.

However, the details in a lease agreement differ from landlord to landlord. She says if water is metered separately it is simple because those costs (if the lease agreement allows for it) are passed to the tenant.

“The principle of Vis Major (act of God) indemnifies parties against claims by one another for damages suffered as a result of an act of God,” says Ms Steyn.