Damage and repairs are facts of life in rental properties. With potentially dozens of renters calling a property home throughout its life as a rental, it’s inevitable that things will break down, fall apart or need replacing.
But what happens when the landlord refuses to make repairs?
While the rules and advice can differ from state to state, there are some common guidelines you should follow to ensure your house is returned to a liveable state as quickly as possible.
Here are some of the options available to you.
It’s important to first understand who’s responsible for any damage in a rental property: You or the landlord.
As the tenant, you’re expected to keep the property clean and tidy, and you’re generally responsible for fixing anything that you damage during the course of your tenancy.
However, you’re best to notify the landlord if you’ve damaged something, and work with them to fix it, rather than attempting to have the work done yourself.
Landlords, on the other hand, are responsible for fixing any part of the property that has broken down or fallen into disrepair through age, malfunction or general wear and tear.
If you’ve tried contacting the landlord or agent but have received no response, don’t stop there.
Continue trying to contact them, and document those attempts by saving emails, text messages, phone records and photos, in case you need them at a later date.
Tenants Union of Victoria spokeswoman Devon LaSalle says for non-urgent repairs, renters should immediately write to their landlord to notify them of the repairs required, but if those notifications go unactioned, they should write to their state’s consumer affairs body.
“If the repairs have not been completed within 14 days, they can put in a request to Consumer Affairs Victoria for a report to be created about the repairs and sent to the landlord or agent,” LaSalle says.
Should that report still fail to yield a resolution, in most states you can apply to a tribunal to try to force the landlord to act.
“If a report has been created and the repairs are still not completed, the tenant then has 60 days from the date of the report to apply with VCAT to get the repairs done,” LaSalle says.
If your hot water service is broken or the central heating has given up the ghost in the middle of winter, that’s classified as an urgent repair, and you won’t want to wait 60 days for a potential resolution.
For urgent repairs, again you need to make reasonable attempts to contact the landlord or agent, but if they’re uncontactable then you’re able to take steps to get the problem fixed.
LaSalle says landlords have two days in which to rectify the issue, after which tenants can take action.
“The tenant can either apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an urgent repair, or organise for a professional to fix the issue and seek reimbursement from the landlord up to $1800 (including GST),” she says.
“We usually recommend that if a tenant hires a professional to complete repairs, they seek a few quotes so that they can prove that the expense was reasonable.”
Be aware that the maximum you can claim back from your landlord varies from state to state.
For example, Tenants NSW advises renters in New South Wales not to spend any more than $1000 on the repairs, as the landlord is only required to pay for reasonable costs up to that amount.
LaSalle says that the bottom line is that little that can be done to force a landlord to repair a property, even if ordered to by VCAT or another tribunal.
“Tenants have little recourse available other than to claim compensation under certain circumstances,” she says.
“Despite the landlord-tenant relationship being covered by the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), landlords are not currently required to maintain their rental properties with minimum health and safety standards in Victoria and are, therefore, not subject to the same penalties they would incur for other types of breaches under the ACL.”
Get to know about tenants rights with the realestate.com.au renters guide.