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The Landlord's Guide To Renting

Part 1 -  Repairs

The landlord’s responsibility for habitable premises

The premises must be - reasonably clean and fit to live in when the key is handed over and maintained in good repair during the tenancy.

Under Tenancy Law -

  • Landlords are responsible for repair throughout the lease
  • Landlords cannot avoid their responsibility for repair, even if the tenant agrees
  • Landlords face rent reductions and must pay compensation if a tenant’s goods are damaged or if they fail to carry out repairs
  • There are different rules for initial repairs, urgent repairs and general repairs

Initial Repairs – before the tenancy

These initial repairs must be done to make the premises habitable before the key is handed over -

  • Operative electricity and water supply
  • Operative gas supply (only if gas appliances are installed)
  • Drainage and sewer pipes which are not blocked
  • Safe and operative light fittings, switches and power points
  • Light globes which work
  • An operative smoke alarm
  • Operative locks and security devices
  • Operative stove, hot water system
  • Operative dishwasher, microwave oven, range hood, exhaust fans, dryer, air conditioner, (if installed)
  • The swimming pool complies with safety requirements
  • Fixing leaking taps, installing water efficient nozzles (if water usage is to be charged)

A landlord is not required to install cable or satellite TV connections, or a telephone landline.

The landlord can promise the tenant to do initial repairs after the tenant moves in. In the Condition Report there is a box headed: Landlord’s promise to undertake work – where the repairs promised should be recorded. If the landlord fails to honour their promise, the tenant can ask for a rent reduction.

Urgent repairs – during the tenancy

This is the list of urgent repairs which the landlord must carry out urgently to keep the premises habitable for the tenant:

  1. a burst water pipe
  2. a leaking tap, toilet cistern, hot water heater
  3. a blocked or broken lavatory
  4. a serious roof leak
  5. a gas leak
  6. a dangerous electrical fault
  7. flooding or serious flood damage from roofs and gutter leakage, stormwater, floodwater, broken pipes, blocked drains, taps, burst hot water heaters
  8. serious storm or fire damage
  9. failure or breakdown of the electricity, water or gas supply
  10. failure or breakdown of hot water system, stove, cook top, range hood, and if installed, appliances such as air-conditioner, dishwasher, room heater, washing machine, clothes dryer, refrigerator
  11. fault or damage to door and window locks and security devices, security system, security screens, external doors, windows, fences, balcony railings

The tenant must notify the landlord when urgent repairs are required, and must contact the electrician, plumber or maintenance service whose details are recorded in the lease. If the tenant pays for the repairs, the landlord must reimburse the tenant the cost up to $1,000 within 14 days of the tenant providing receipts.

General repairs – during the tenancy

The landlord must carry out general repairs during the tenancy. According to the lease -

The landlord agrees … to keep the residential premises in a reasonable state of repair, considering the age of, the rent paid for and the prospective life of the premises

The Tribunal has described the landlord’s responsibility for general repairs as:

  • The landlord has a duty to carry out repairs, such as to remedy mould, fix water leaks and damp problems, and clean up the damage, such as drying soggy carpets, repainting blistering paint and replacing swelled cabinetry.
  • The tenant needs to notify the landlord of the repairs required and give the landlord a reasonable time to carry out the repairs.
  • The landlord must carry out the repairs within a reasonable time. What is a reasonable time will depend upon the type of repair required. The landlord is not responsible if the tenant’s actions or neglect have caused the damage.

Landlords prefer to repair, rather than to replace, not only to minimise the cash outlay but also because the cost is fully written off for tax purposes, whereas the cost of a replacement is depreciated over a number of years. Where a replacement is necessary because the stove, blind, or light fixture (for example) is beyond repair, the replacement should be of equivalent or better quality.

Landlords are also responsible to keep the premises free from vermin such as cockroach, ant and even rat infestations. The pest control is carried out at the cost of the landlord.

Is the tenant responsible to do anything?

Yes – under the lease, the tenant is responsible to keep the premises reasonably clean, to notify the landlord of any damage, to pay for any damage by occupants and visitors and to replace light globes and batteries for smoke detectors … but not to do any repairs unless they caused the damage.

Rent reductions and compensation

The Tribunal – the Tenancy Division of the Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal will order rent reductions, compensation for damage to goods and allow tenants to break their lease early without penalty, if the landlord has failed to provide premises fit for habitation.

The Tribunal takes into consideration these aspects –

  1. The cause of the problem, and the steps the landlord has taken to deal with the problem.
  2. A tenant or occupant will not be compensated “new for old”. They are compensated at current value. In case 2012/94, the Tribunal made these comments:
    “Personal possessions have an economic lifespan. The value is highest at the time of purchase. Over time, the value diminishes to the point that the goods no longer have any value other than sentimental value, not even an offer on EBay or as a donation to charity.”

Landlords have a great financial incentive to deal with mould because premises affected by mould may not be fit for habitation. Landlords cannot avoid responsibility by showing they have ‘done the best that they can’ – they are responsible to (a) deal with the problem, such as installing more powerful exhaust fans, shaving off the bases of bathroom and laundry doors to provide adequate airflow for the fans; and (b) to compensate the tenant for loss and damage to their goods.

The Tribunal considered mould in case 2012/109 which affected the lounge room, a bedroom and a bathroom. The Tribunal said that a rent reduction from $305 pw to $250 pw that the landlord had given was adequate. The Tribunal ordered the landlord pay compensation for a long list of items damaged by mould, including a three piece leather lounge, bike wear, king bed, golf bag, guitar cases, leather shoes, travel bag, and the extra electricity costs of heating, and purchasing and running a dehumidifier totalling $6,264. Part of the compensation was for water damage to the tenant’s goods which were stored in the garage which the landlord knew flooded, but failed to warn the tenant.

The Tribunal also confirmed that tenants cannot claim compensation for non-economic loss such as distress, discomfort, loss of enjoyment of home life and breach of privacy.

In other Tribunal decisions, such as case 2011/612, a rent reduction of 20% for the loss of use and enjoyment of kitchens or lounge rooms or bedrooms because of water penetration has been considered to be reasonable, and might be used as a guide.

The Landlord’s Guide to Renting has been produced by Cordato Partners Lawyers, as part of its Property Law practice. It contains a brief outline of the Tenancy Law.

Because it is a general guide, is not intended to be relied upon for any specific tenancy situation. For those situations professional advice should be obtained.

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