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There are two separate rented out properties on a working farm. We moved into one of these in 2015. Our neighbours had been tenants for several years previously. The landlord was the farmer, who rented the whole site from a local country estate and then sublet the houses. The estate were aware of this but chose not to get involved at the time..

Because the whole site was fed by one water supply, water costs were included in the rental agreement. Although it clearly states in our letting agreement (which was a generic document produced by a local estate agent) that we were responsible for water rates, it was fully agreed with the original landlord that the water was included and indeed we have genuinely never been charged or paid anything towards it. I believe our neighbours have an older rental agreement issued direct from the landlord which states this.

In 2020 the original landlord surrendered the whole farm and the estate took over the lettings of both houses. One of the first things they did was to replumb the water supply and put everything on individual meters.

Despite conversations about a new rental agreement direct with the estate this has not yet been offered and our original deposit paid is still being held in the name of the original landlord.

They have however presented us with a bill for nearly £1000 for backdated water supply dating from when they took the properties back "in house" and are now threatening legal action if it is not paid. This just states an amount of money required, but gives no indication how it has been calculated. As I understand it, our neighbours have not received any bill.

I'm not averse to contributing towards the water going forwards if necessary as long as the same arrangement is applied to our neighbours. Prior to this we had by agreement, not paid anything towards the water rates as it was included in the rent. Can they force payment in these circumstances and would "custom and practice" apply from our previous arrangement?

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On the basis of what you say it seems to me that there is at the very least an implied term in your existing contract that the water charges are included in your rent.
It will depend on evidence that you can show that this was indeed the case. Are you able to contact the farmer and get something in writing from him/her that this was the case.
That would be helpful.

If they want to change arrangement then they would have to negotiate a new agreement.

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Okay well I suggest that you get a statement which identifies him, you, your status in respect to the land and the property. How long you have been there, what your rental was and how the bills were arranged including the water charges.

Once you get that then we can look at this more closely but on the basis of what you say it seems to me that there is an implied term and that they would be prevented from seeking payment of arrears.

They could even be some difficulty for them negotiating payment in the future. You have a rental agreement I suppose. How long is this for?

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I also think that the statement should make specific reference to the agreement and the fact that it appears to require that you pay your water rates separately but why in fact the agreement was that this term would not be active and that the water charges should be included in the rent

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Yes but the important thing is that you need to show that there was an agreement between you and the landlord that the written term of the contract would be subordinate to a verbal agreement which had always been in place and that this verbal agreement was that the water charges would be included in the rent.

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