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Landlord responsibilities vs tenant rights during winter

By George Hadgelias

Staying warm in winter is a right you deserve as a tenant, and one you’re required to provide as a landlord. But what are the rules when it comes to seeing a rental property through winter?

Under the Victorian government’s Residential Tenancies Act landlords must ensure that rented accommodation is maintained and in ‘good repair.’ So the onus is on the landlord to ensure gas heaters in their rental properties are maintained and safe.

“Renters are entitled to live in premises where any fixed appliances are safe to use and are maintained in good repair. Yet they must use these appliances according to instructions and report any faults immediately,” says Samuel Jenkin, Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Here’s everything landlords and tenants need to know about keeping their properties and themselves safe in winter.

Landlord responsibilities

Landlords, and the real estate agents they employ, should be do the following:

Maintain appliances

Gas heaters and hot water systems need to be serviced every two years. When faults are reported, they should be checked as a matter or urgency.

Piping systems should be checked every five years. Flue systems, especially those connected to decorative gas log fires, internal hot water heaters and space heaters, must also be examined regularly.

“If more than two years have passed since an appliance was last inspected, a rental provider should consider scheduling an inspection of the appliance as soon as possible to ensure it is operating safely,” Jenkin says.

If you, the landlord, fail on these maintenance checks it could potentially harm or kill tenants, cause property damage and leave you subject to civil liability and potentially costly litigation.

Landlord insurance policies could also be affected if poorly serviced appliances were have found to have caused damage.

It’s best to plan regular maintenance checks in advance, so they can be done at agreed upon intervals that work for both tenant and landlord.

If you don’t respond immediately to any request for repair of a gas leak, or any other urgent repair, your tenant can authorise an urgent repair of up to $1,800, which will need to be paid back immediately.

Use qualified tradespeople

When upgrading or repairing gas heaters, or taking on any other job that requires gasfitting or electrical work, landlords and agents must only use qualified tradespeople.

Gas appliances can only be installed, serviced or repaired by tradespeople registered or licensed by the Victorian Building Authority (VBA).

Note, not all plumbers are authorised to carry out gas installation. If you’re not sure, the tradie’s photo ID card will specify the type of work they’re eligible to do.

Keep records

Lastly, landlords are required to keep a clear recored of all safety checks and maintenance work carried out on a gas or electrical installation.

Tenant responsibilities and rights

Tenants are entitled to working heating appliances in winter, but they’re also responsible for using them appropriately.

Here’s a list of responsibilities that lie with the tenant, as well as their rights when it comes to keeping warm safely:

Use appliances appropriately

It sounds obvious, but tenants should be using all heating appliances as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

If an appliance is damaged or faulty, you should stop using them immediately.

Allow reasonable access

If you have called a landlord or real estate agent to administer repairs, the tradie needs to be able to enter the property without delay, so you need to have clear access to your property for a truck or trades vehicle.

Report faults ASAP

Suspect a faulty heater? The malfunction needs to be reported to your landlord or agent as soon as possible. The ramifications could be serious if you leave it.

“Carbon monoxide leaks are hard to detect as the poisonous gas is tasteless, colourless and odourless and can result in death, serious injury or considerable property damage. It is vital that gas appliances are safe to use and are properly maintained,” Jenkin says.

If your landlord doesn’t respond promptly to your urgent query, you are within your rights to authorise and pay for repairs to the value of $1,800, and then seek reimbursement from your landlord.

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