A serious issue seems to arise from the provisions of the Water Boards’ Regulations since the omission to pay a water consumption bill is criminalised and the owner of a property is jointly and severally liable for any amount due, including additional charges, penalties and interest, in addition to the consumer’s guarantee deposit.
The fact that the water meter is not in the name of the owner or the consumption is made by another person, physical or legal, does not change the liability of the owner or his successor. Therefore, the issue affects an owner who rents his property or an owner who has sold it but the transfer has not taken place. Similarly, it affects the new owner – buyer if the previous owner or his tenant left an unpaid bill.
The relevant provision in the Water Supply Regulations states that if a consumer who is not the owner of a property, abandons it without having paid the bill, the owner of the property is jointly liable and obliged for payment, in addition to the guarantee deposit of the consumer. In the case of a sale, transfer or disposal of a property, which is supplied by the Water Board, before the payment of any sum, the liability for payment lies with both the previous owner and his successor, jointly with the consumer but also between them.
Failure to pay any amount due constitutes an offence, for which a penalty of up to €500 is provided in addition to paying the fees and charges. The fact that a person was not aware of the consumption or the transfer of the meter does not release him from the offence. The Supreme Court in a judgment issued on 19.4.2018 refers to the appellant owner of a property who disputed his conviction in a criminal charge regarding the offence of omitting to pay a water bill and he was found guilty together with the tenant who was the registered consumer.
The court of first instance imposed a fine of €100 on each of them and ordered them to pay equal shares of €2,685.10 in consumption charges and legal costs. The owner questioned the correctness of his conviction and argued that because at the time he was not the consumer and did not know the water bill had been transferred to the tenant’s name, the Board had an obligation to look for the tenant who had abandoned the premises leaving the water bill unpaid, before taking any steps against him. The Supreme Court upheld the approach of the court of first instance which held that the allegation of the owner that he was not aware of the transfer of the bill in the tenant’s name did not constitute a defence.
The appellant, as the court of first instance correctly decided, being one of the owners of the property, submitted an application to the Board for water supply and the said premises were connected to the water network. Thereafter, he signed a tenancy agreement and the tenant transferred the bill to his name and paid the relevant deposit. The Board, because there was an amount due, issued an invoice and then cut off the water supply, which was reconnected at the request of the appellant. Due to the fact that the invoice was not paid, the Board held the amount of the deposit, but no other amount was paid. The Supreme Court concluded that it was correctly decided that the owner had omitted to pay the amount due, which constitutes a violation of the provisions of the law, his conviction and the order for payment were correct and the penalty imposed deemed appropriate.