Property repairs and maintenance are a leading cause of argy-bargy between landlords and tenants (and not a lot of fun for the property manager in the middle). Why? Because often the parties are unclear who is responsible for what.
Ask landlords, tenants and property managers what is the number one bone of contention at a rental property and chances are they’ll say repairs and maintenance. All parties enter the ring with differing priorities. In one corner, the tenants want everything in their home to be working and in good condition, a repair may not be considered urgent but they still want it fixed. In the other corner is the landlord who usually needs to bear the cost of the repairs and maintenance – and, unless the repair is urgent or an emergency, will often put off the work if money is tight. And then there’s the property manager refereeing and trying to keep both sides happy.
Before anyone decides to go a few rounds, it helps to know just who is responsible for what aspect of maintenance.
Landlord responsibilities – this is what you need to know:
- Before a tenancy commences, the landlord needs to ensure the property is safe, clean and fit for occupancy.
- It’s in the best interests of both landlords and tenants to complete a thorough inspection and condition report prior to the tenant moving in, so any outstanding repairs can be documented and agreements made about when repairs will be addressed.
- Precisely what the landlord’s repair and maintenance obligations are should be detailed in the tenancy agreement, so all parties know where they stand.
- Legislation may assign responsibility for certain maintenance matters, such as responsibility for changing batteries and testing smoke alarms.
- The landlord is responsible for keeping the premises in a reasonable state of repair and ensuring it complies with building, health and safety laws. As such, they are responsible for making major repairs, such as fixing electrical, water or gas problems, and arranging repairs to doors and windows, ceilings, roofs and flooring. Basically, if it is structural or utility based, it is generally (see below) the landlord’s responsibility to get it fixed in a timely manner.
- Legislation exists in all states and territories outlining timeframes for urgent and emergency repairs, and landlords and their property managers must meet these or potentially face penalties. Emergency/urgent repairs can include things like gas leaks, burst water pipes or serious water leaks, a blocked or broken toilet, serious roof leak, serious storm, fire, flood or impact damage, dangerous electrical faults, or breakdown of an essential service like hot water, cooking, heating or cooling appliances.
- Repairs that are not classified as emergency or urgent are routine repairs. Once notified of routine repair requirements, landlords and property managers should address these within legislated timeframes (if applicable) or as agreed with tenants.
Tenant responsibilities – this is what you need to know:
- The tenant is responsible for keeping the premises clean and hygienic. The tenant must also prevent potential maintenance issues arising, for example by regularly putting out the bins so as to not attract rats, using an exhaust fan in the bathroom to stop mould forming or mopping up spills on wooden floors to stop the boards from rotting.
- The tenancy agreement should outline the tenant’s responsibilities for maintenance inside and outside the property, such as looking after the garden or pool.
- Tenants are also obliged to inform the landlord or property manager of issues that may cause damage such as water leaks or a damaged gutter. If they fail to do so, they could be held liable for costs.
- While the landlord is generally responsible for making repairs, there is one major exception – if the tenant (their children, pets or guests) caused the damage. In this case, the tenant is responsible for making the repairs, ensuring the repair is made to an adequate standard, by licensed tradies where applicable, and for paying for the work.
- In the event of an emergency, the tenancy agreement should provide guidance as to what to do (e.g. who to contact and how to reach them afterhours). The agreement may also provide a procedure for dealing with emergency repairs, such as providing a list of specific tradies to call and a dollar limit for how much can be authorised before getting the landlord’s approval. If information about emergency repairs is not detailed in the agreement and the tenant can’t reach the landlord or property manager, they can arrange the repairs and seek reimbursement from the landlord. The timeframe for reimbursement is often legislated and the tenant should provide documents to support their claim such as an invoice or receipt and a short letter stating what happened. But it should be noted that, in most jurisdictions, landlords are only liable for emergency repairs up to a certain value and tenants should not exceed this figure when contracting their own tradies to undertake repairs unless they are willing to pay the difference. Landlords and property managers can also apply to tribunal if they think they have a good reason not to pay for the emergency repairs.
- When it comes to routine repairs, the tenant should put the request in writing to the landlord or property manager. If they agree to the request, they should have the repairs carried out within a reasonable time. If the repairs are not carried out in a timely manner, the tenant may be able to issue a Notice to Remedy Breach. However, the tenant must not withhold paying their rent until the repairs are made, as this is a breach of the tenancy agreement – only a tribunal or court can order compensation to be paid to a tenant or require the rent to the paid to the authority until the repairs are complete.
While landlord insurance does not cover routine maintenance and repair costs, it may respond to damage caused by insured events such as fire, storm and flood.
It is a condition of practically all building insurance policies that the property be adequately maintained. Failure to do so can mean a reduced payout or denial of any insurance claim. For example, if there was a storm, and heavy rain came through the roof and damaged the ceiling, the repairs may not be covered if it was found that the water came in because the roof had not been properly maintained (e.g. there were cracked or loose tiles).
There is another aspect to rental repairs that concerns landlord insurance providers. That of who makes the repairs.
Many landlords and tenants consider themselves dab hands with the power tools and think a spot of DIY is in order. They need to think again. Repairs made by unskilled, unlicensed or uninsured drill-wielders pose risks. There is the risk that:
- further damage will result if the person doesn’t know what they are doing (especially where structural or roofing repairs are concerned);
- the repair will result in safety issues or be illegal (e.g. some work must be performed by licensed trades such as an electrician or plumber);
- the person carrying out the job will injure themselves or another (liability risk) – every year around 25,000 people seek treatment related to ladder falls, nail gun injuries and accidents with lawnmowers and power tools, and around 3,000 people are hospitalised as a result of an injury from a DIY job.
These are risks most insurers are not willing to cover.
Any repairs at the investment property should be carried out by experienced, insured and (where applicable) licensed tradies. Just because a trip to Bunnings can yield everything needed to undertake pretty much any task – and a quick Google can provide a step-by-step video tutorial – it doesn’t mean just anyone should give it a crack. At least, they shouldn’t if they want to maintain insurance cover.
It’s important to know that if a tenant causes damage or, worse still, is injured while undertaking repairs at the rental, the landlord’s insurance may not cover their liability. Damage or injury caused or suffered by landlords undertaking repairs is also unlikely to be covered. So the best advice for the DIY inclined is to “step away from the power tools” and call in the professionals.
At EBM RentCover we empower landlords and property professionals with the tools and knowledge needed to make informed decisions about landlord insurance.
Article published by EBM Insurance