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Rental repairs – who is responsible for what?

By George Hadgelias

Landlords and tenants share responsibility for maintaining a rental property. But who’s responsible for what?

Before the tenant moves into the property, the landlord should ensure it’s in a good state of repair. It should be safe and clean and fit for tenancy.

During the tenancy, landlords are responsible for making major repairs; tenants, for keeping the premises clean and hygienic and preventing potential maintenance issues arising. For example, tenants should immediately attend to any spills, to prevent floor rot, and keep the garden clean and tidy, to keep out rats and other unwanted visitors.

In most cases, the landlord is responsible for any electric, water or gas problems, as well any repairs to the building’s doors, windows, ceilings and roofing. Generally, landlords are responsible, unless the property damage was inflicted by the tenants.

The landlord’s exact obligations will be laid out in the Tenancy Agreement, which is why it’s vital both parties read and understand the terms of the agreement before signing it.

What classifies as ’emergency’?

While state laws differ, emergency repairs generally include the following:

  • serious roof leaks
  • blocked or broken toilet systems
  • gas leaks
  • burst water services
  • serious storm, fire or impact damage
  • dangerous electrical faults
  • flooding or serious flood damage
  • failure or breakdown of essential services or appliances on the premises for hot water, cooking, heating. For example: disruption of gas, electricity or water supply, or other faults/damages that make the premises uninhabitable

If the repair is determined not to be an emergency, it is considered routine. How it’s classified ultimately determines how long the landlord has to address the problem.

What do I do in an emergency?

A Tenancy Agreement must include information about what to do in an emergency, including who to contact and how to reach them after hours.

Some agreements will also include the contact details of specific tradespeople.

In an emergency, the contacts included in your tenancy agreement are your first port of call.

What do I do when I can’t reach my landlord?

In the event you can’t get reach your landlord, you can make your own arrangements to have the repairs done and ask your landlord to reimburse the costs at a later date.

In most states, however, landlords are only liable for repairs up to a certain amount. And so tenants shouldn’t pay more than this amount when arranging repairs. For example, in Victoria, tenants shouldn’t pay more than $1,800; in Queensland, no more than two weeks’ rent.

Make sure you at least try to contact your landlord – and keep a record of your attempts to reach them – before contacting your own tradespeople.

How do I get my money back?

If you pay for emergency repairs, a landlord must pay you back. And it’s important that this is clearly outlined in the Tenancy Agreement, so that both parties understand their obligations.

When claiming for a reimbursement, you’ll need to provide a copy of the invoice or receipt, as well as a short letter stating what happened and the amount to be paid.

Landlords are obliged to reimburse the amount within a reasonable time frame. The exact period varies from state to state, but usually it’s no longer than 14 days; in some states, it’s seven.

The landlord or agent can also apply to the tribunal if they think they have good reason not to pay for the emergency repairs.

What happens if the repairs are routine?

In non-emergency situations, tenants should make repair requests in writing. Thereafter, the landlord or agent should agree and carry out the repair/s within a reasonable time.

If the landlord fails to carry out the repairs, the tenant may issue a Notice to Remedy Breach, which usually gives the landlord seven days notice to carry out the repairs.

If nothing comes out of this, the tenant can then write to Consumer Affairs, or seek advice from their state tribunal. The tribunal will generally either issue compensation, or require rent to be paid to the tribunal until the repairs are complete.

The tenant should continue to pay rent even when landlords fail to carry out repairs. Withholding rent is a breach of the tenancy agreement and provides grounds for the landlord to terminate the tenancy.

Always read the contract

Ultimately, it’s crucial that both parties read their Tenancy Agreement before signing it, to make sure maintenance responsibilities are understood.

No one lease is the same, so you shouldn’t assume your current landlord will address repairs in the same way as your previous landlord.

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