How to settle a utilities payment dispute with your commercial landlord

Published 28 Sep 2018

Normally lease terms and conditions are spelled out in black and white so there's no confusion between landlords and commercial tenants over expectations and responsibilities.

This is particularly important for aspects of the rental relationship such as who pays rates and utilities bills. While most commercial leases contain the same clauses, the responsibility for utilities bills can often go either way between tenant and landlord. And if this isn't precisely determined from the outset, it can lead to a commercial dispute.

How can you settle a disagreement with your commercial landlord over utilities charges?

First steps

If you find that your small business' utilities have been cut off, it's important to first check with the provider to see if there are any ongoing interruptions. If not, it may be due to an outstanding bill. Utilities providers often only discuss these details with the account holder, so you'll need to re-check your lease to see who's in charge of your business' utilities.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW can help you during these early stages. You may be able to negotiate a temporary halt on the utilities account issue to get services back short-term. However, in the long term you'll need to figure out a way to approach your commercial landlord with the issue. 

Bringing the dispute to your landlord

Make your landlord aware as early as possible about a utilities charge issue. If your lease clearly states it's the landlord's responsibility to cover payments, you should ask them to pay the fees within a reasonable timeframe. However, if it's your duty to make up utilities costs, you'll need to provide a written response to the landlord explaining why you didn't pay. If you don't believe the utilities clause in your lease is fair given all the circumstances, or you think you've been overcharged, make these reasons clear.

A face-to-face meeting and editing both copies of the commercial contract should end the issue. If you need help with mediation, the NSW Small Business Commissioner can provide a tribunal to help streamline the process.

Seeking legal representation

However, if this process is unsuccessful, you can potentially bring your dispute before the NSW court. To begin this process, you'll need the help of expert legal representation. We have a team with years of experience in commercial lease and contract disputes. For more information on our commercial law expertise, contact Malouf Solicitors today.

Please call us on 02 8833 2000 to speak with a lawyer

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