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Repairs – Who’s responsible for what?

By George Hadgelias

Both landlords and tenants have the responsibility of maintaining a rental property. But who’s responsible for what?

Prior to the tenant moving in the landlord should ensure the property is well-repaired and fit for living at the start of tenancy. The property must be safe and suitable for tenants, but what is legally deemed as satisfactory and what meets a tenants standard of living could differ.

During the tenancy most landlords are responsible for maintaining the rented premises to a reasonable state of repair. At all times tenants must take reasonable action to prevent any potential maintenance issues arising by keeping the premises clean and hygienic, for example: attending to spills immediately to prevent floor rot and to not invite pests or vermin, and often keeping the garden clean and tidy so pests aren’t attracted.

In most cases the landlord is responsible for all repairs to the building structure, including doors, windows, ceilings, roof, and similar. What is required will be laid out in the Tenancy Agreement and it’s vital both parties have read and understood what’s required from them.

What classifies as ’emergency’?

Emergency repairs normally include the following, though state laws can differ. As a guide the following tend to be included:

  • 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 which make the premises inhabitable.

If the situation is not classified as an emergency repair it is then considered a routine repair (see below).

Carrying out emergency repairs

The Tenancy Agreement should include information about what to do in an emergency. This usually details the point of contact in an emergency situation, being either the landlord or the agent and how to contact them after hours. There may be contact details within the agreement nominating repairers for specific problems to be fixed e.g. a plumber or electrician.

It’s a good idea for landlords or agents to have an emergency contact list already prepared for a tenant at the start of the tenancy.

If the emergency contact person cannot be contacted

Permission for the tenant to arrange for a suitably qualified person to carry out the repairs is usually given, to a maximum value of two weeks rent. They can pay the repairer and get the landlord or agent to pay them back, or ask the repairer to bill the landlord or agent directly.

If the tenant pays for the emergency repairs

If the tenant pays for the emergency repairs, it’s often normal practice for the landlord or agent to pay them back, or pay the bill within seven days. But it is important for this to be clearly outlined in the Tenancy Agreement so both parties are clear.

Usually the tenant must provide a copy of the invoice or receipt, plus a short letter stating what happened and what amount is to be paid, if this amount is not reimbursed or paid within seven days the tenant can make an urgent application to the tribunal for an order.

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

Routine repairs

All repair requests from a tenant should be in writing. The landlord or agent would thereafter agree and carry out the repair/s within a reasonable time. If however, the landlord refuses to carry out the repair work, the tenant may issue a Notice to Remedy Breach giving the landlord seven days notice to carry out the said repairs.

If nothing develops, the tenant can then seek advice from the tribunal. The tribunal will make a decision generally in the form of compensation, or allows for rent to be paid to the tribunal until repair work is complete.

In all circumstances, the tenant should continue paying rent regularly. Non payment of rent is a breach of the tenancy agreement and provides grounds for the landlord to terminate the tenancy.

It’s crucial to read the contract

Ultimately, it’s crucial for both parties to read and re-read their Tenancy Agreement before signing it to make sure maintenance responsibilities are noted down. All agents and landlords may vary in the details so you can’t rely on the last contract you had. If you have any questions make sure your speak to your agent or seek professional help.

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