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Rental repairs: Whose responsibility is it?

Posted by totofei on May 8, 2017
| 0

In a rental property, it’s expected that the landlord will pay for reasonable repairs – yet this doesn’t always go to plan.

Elizabeth Lopez, a property consultant at Biggin & Scott Brighton, said in an ideal world tenants would make maintenance and repair requests in writing.

Landlords would then promptly return calls with clear instructions about how they’d like to rectify the issue.

This doesn’t always happen and landlords may be slow to respond.

However, she said much of the hassle can be reduced upfront with an “Owner’s Instruction Form” that gives authority to the agent to fix any repairs up to a certain amount, such as $500.

Injury or loss resulting from a safety hazard that has not been attended to may give rise to a costly legal liability claim for the landlord.
Carolyn Parella, Terri Scheer Insurance

“If they agree to this then we can get straight onto getting the repair organised without waiting to hear back from an owner who may be slow to respond,” Lopez said.

When outside business hours, a tenant is given a list of preferred tradespeople to contact.

While many landlords will be happy to rely on the tradespeople recommended by their property manager, others may be keen to cut the costs and rectify the issue themselves.

Lopez said if a landlord has a registered business and works in the trade required, then it is fine for them to do the repairs themselves.

“What often happens is landlords fancy themselves as ‘handy’ and attempt to do repairs they are not qualified to do and the repair is not done properly – or they do this because they begrudge paying to have something fixed they think they can do themselves,” she said.

Yet some skilled tradespeople may still not choose to conduct repairs themselves, Laorence Nohra, chief executive of tradesman concierge service Tradebusters, said.

While they could save money this way, it may be wise not to, “especially if they want to separate themselves from having a relationship with the tenant”.

Terri Scheer Insurance executive manager Carolyn Parrella said landlords who do not attend to maintenance were exposing themselves to steep financial losses.

“Injury or loss resulting from a safety hazard that has not been attended to may give rise to a costly legal liability claim for the landlord,” Parrella warned.

Tenants may also decide to vacate when the lease expires, rather than stay, if maintenance isn’t forthcoming.

Landlord’s lot

The landlord is always required to attend to emergency repairs. If they are later found to be due to the negligence of the renter, the tenant will usually be required to pay.

The landlord must also attend to maintenance and repairs of anything broken, as notified by the tenant.

In some situations, light bulbs that are not standard may need to be replaced by the landlord. In most states and territories, tenants are responsible for replacing standard light bulbs.

Not the landlord’s responsibility

If a non-essential was broken prior to tenancy and was not indicated as being included – by either the listings photographs, the lease or the advertising itself – then a landlord does not have to fix it.

Tenants can make requests before they move into a property for extras such as airconditioning, fly screens or blinds, Lopez said.

“Tenants need to be aware if there is a lot of interest in the property that their application may not be viewed as favourably as others who have made no maintenance requests.”

Tenant’s time to pay

If damages have been caused through malicious activity or negligence, then the tenant may be expected to cough up the cash.

If a plumber is sent to the home to fix a broken toilet and finds it is blocked due to items stuffed into it, it would be the tenant’s fault.

“In this case the owner can refuse to be responsible for repair costs and the tenant would be asked to cover the costs,” Lopez said.

Some maintenance will be indicated in the lease as the tenant’s responsibility, this may include gardening, pool maintenance and similar.

Types of repairs and what to expect

Urgent repairs

Includes: Burst water services, blocked or broken toilets, serious roof leaks, gas leaks, storm or fire damage, electrical faults, flooding, issues causing the home to be unsafe or insecure, breakdown of stove or oven

Must be responded to immediately – usually tenancy laws indicate from 24 to 48 hours depending on state or territory and the type of repair. If the landlord does not respond, usually tenancy allows a tenant to organise an urgent repair themselves up to a certain value. In Victoria, this is authorised up to the amount of $1800, in NSW it is up to $1000. A tenant is expected to be compensated for any of these expenses if deemed reasonable. If you cannot afford to pay, or the value will go over this amount, tenants should apply to the Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Non-urgent repairs

Includes: Anything not considered urgent – for instance, a leaking tap or broken door handle.

The time frame for fixing is usually within 14 days. Tenants are expected to notify the property manager in writing, including the date and notice period for the repairs to take place. After this time, tenants should apply to tribunal if the repairs are not undertaken. The tribunal can make a notice forcing the landlord to make a repair and may order a rent reduction from the landlord if the home wasn’t up to the standard paid for. Tenants are urged to not stop paying rent as they may then face eviction.

Tenants should not leave it too long to claim at the tribunal for unpaid repair expenses or losses incurred due to the repairs – there is usually a time limit after the notification of repair to the landlord during which a tenant can make a claim.

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