Making sure a rental is fit for tenants

rental is fit for tenants

Making sure a rental is fit for tenants.

Making sure a property for rent is safe for tenants is the responsibility of the landlord (or their property manager). Failing in can land the landlord in legal hot water and also impact the insurance cover on the rental property. Want some safety tips for rentals? Keep reading…

Under common law, it is the duty of the landlord to take care of tenants as well as anyone the tenant invites into the property. If the landlord fails to ensure that the property is safe, they may be sued for negligence if an injury or death occurs as a result of this failure.

In practical terms, a rental property must be fit to live in before new tenants move in and must be maintained at an acceptable standard during the tenancy. This is not only a legal obligation and a benefit to tenants, but it also impacts the landlord’s insurance. A condition of cover is to ensure that all legal obligations, including those relating to safety and security, are met. It’s also a condition of cover that the property is adequately maintained.

If you are renting out a property, keep note of the following safety measures. They will not only help keep the tenant safe, but they may also help you avoid court or tribunal…

Minimum standards

Several jurisdictions have recently amended the residential tenancy legislation to include minimum standards for rental properties (refer to our guide). Minimum standards are the least permissible condition required to demonstrate a basic level of performance; in the case of rental property, this refers to liveability. It is a level of quality that is considered acceptable as a minimum, below which is unacceptable. Landlords and property managers should review the minimum standards in their state and ensure the property meets these before a tenant moves in.

Urgent repairs

Once a tenant has moved in, landlords (or the property manager) must attend to urgent or emergency repairs within the legislated timeframes. While what constitutes an urgent repair varies by jurisdiction, it’s usually considered urgent or an emergency if it involves an essential service, such as a burst water pipe or gas leak. Once a landlord or property manager is made aware of the need for an urgent repair, they must take action to contact a suitable repairer and arrange for them to fix the problem within the legislated timeframe. Note: A suitable repairer is someone who is suitably qualified, trained, or licensed to undertake the necessary work (e.g., a licensed electrician or licensed plumber).

Damage and maintenance

While emergency repairs must be completed within legal timeframes, other repairs and maintenance should be prioritised and completed in a timely manner. Addressing damage and general maintenance quickly not only reduces the risk of further damage and deterioration (preventing further loss is a condition of insurance cover) but also helps maintain a positive relationship with tenants.

Installations

Ensure installations like gas, water, and electricity are in good working order and fully functional. Regularly inspect and service any appliances by qualified and licensed professionals. Heating, plumbing/water, and electricity are typically considered essential services, and the property will not be deemed habitable if these systems aren’t working. In many jurisdictions, if such installations fail, it is considered an urgent repair.

Health hazards

Landlords should ensure the premises are free of health hazards like rising damp, mould, or pests and vermin. Regular inspections should also include checking for these hazards. If any are found, they should be remedied as soon as possible. If the presence of these hazards is due to tenant action or inaction (e.g., a lack of cleanliness resulting in pests or showering without ventilating the bathroom causing mould), inform the tenants in writing about the need to fix the problem. It's important to note that issues related to damp, mould, and pests are generally not covered by insurance.

Smoke alarms

In all jurisdictions, smoke alarms that comply with Australian Standards must be installed in all rental properties as per the Building Code of Australia. Specific requirements may vary across states and territories: some jurisdictions mandate hard-wired alarms, while others permit battery-operated detectors. The installation and maintenance specifics for smoke alarms are detailed in local tenancy legislation. For more details, refer to the respective regulations in ACT, NSW, NT, Queensland, SA, Tasmania, Victoria, and WA.

Security

In most states and territories, landlords are obligated to meet minimum security standards, encompassing aspects like door and window locks, as well as external lighting. Failure to comply could lead to liability if tenants suffer losses as a result, potentially affecting the landlord's insurance coverage. It's crucial for landlords to retrieve all sets of keys from departing tenants. Concerns over key security should prompt landlords to consider changing locks or adopting keyless entry systems to uphold property security and prevent unauthorized access.

The bottom line

Providing a home for another person comes with responsibilities. Landlords must be aware of their obligations, one of which is to provide a safe environment for renters, and fulfill them. Failing to do so can see the landlord in trouble with the tribunal/courts and also jeopardize the insurance cover on their rental property.