If you’re renting a property and something needs to be repaired, a quick phone call or email to your landlord or real estate agent will usually resolve the problem.
But what happens if something happens that renders the property unsafe? Or what if the property becomes unliveable? Worse still, what if you can’t get the problem solved?
We’ve put together a guide to help you spot and avoid potentially unsafe or unliveable rental properties and how to navigate these issues if they do arise.
Who is responsible for what?
Property owners/managers (i.e., your landlord or real estate agent) and tenants in Queensland both have responsibilities for the upkeep of a rental property.
As a tenant, you must keep the property clean and free from damage. When you move out, the property should be in the same condition as when you moved in.
An exception is made for wear and tear, the deterioration from ‘normal use’ of a property over time. This is different from damage, which occurs from careless or negligent behaviour.
Carpet pile flattening in a high foot traffic area would usually constitute wear and tear; a rip in the carpet from a pet scratching would be considered damage.
Property owners/managers have a responsibility to ensure a property is ‘fit to live in’ and in a ‘good state of repair’. They are responsible for maintenance and must organise repairs within a reasonable timeframe.
They must also ensure the property is compliant with relevant health and safety laws and have a duty of care under common law to ensure the premises is safe. This could include:
- Compliance with the Building Code of Australia
- Making sure pool fences meet requirements
- Installing and maintaining smoke alarms
- Ensuring an electrical safety switch is installed.
What to look out for when you inspect a rental property
Prevention is better than cure, and there are things you can do to identify and avoid potentially unsafe properties.
You can’t identify every problem before it happens, but these steps will help you find a safe and well-maintained home. Before you sign a lease agreement:
- During the inspection, look out for potential dangers, such as excessive mould, damp walls, rotting or damaged floorboards or decking, exposed wires or evidence of pests.
- Asbestos is a building material common in many homes built before 1990. It can become dangerous if it is damaged and fibres are released. Ask if the property contains asbestos—the owner is usually responsible for making it safe.
- Natural disasters don’t automatically mean the end of a tenancy (more about that later). Before you move in, contact your local council or check their website to see if the property is in a flood zone (see here for Brisbane City Council flood maps).
- Everyone should feel safe and secure at home. Make sure at minimum that there are locks on all of the doors and ground floor windows. You can check crime statistics for the area here on the QLD police website.
- Lastly, if you’re renting through a real estate agency, check online reviews as to whether the agent is trust-worthy and responsive.
What to do after you move in?
The property owner or manager must prepare, sign and provide you with a copy of a condition report at the start of your tenancy. This details which parts of the property are clean, undamaged and working.
If something isn’t noted, then money could be taken out of your bond to fix it at the end of the lease. As such, it’s important you ensure the report is accurate.
If there’s something amiss that isn’t mentioned (or anything you disagree with), write it in the comments section. Send it back to your landlord or real estate agent, along with any photos you have taken.
After you’ve moved in, do the following to help keep the property safe:
- Promptly report any safety or maintenance issues (it’s best to do this in writing)
- Keep the property tidy to minimise trip hazards and avoid pests
- Take our contents insurance to safeguard your possessions
- Run a business from home? Seek written permission from your landlord and contact your insurance company (there may be additional insurance you need)
- Ensure there is adequate, working lighting (see here for who is responsible)
What happens if the property becomes unsafe?
There are two types of repairs: routine and emergency. Generally, things that make a property unsafe fall under the category of emergency repairs. This could include:
- Faulty smoke alarms, electrical switches or wiring
- Serious storm, flood, fire or impact damage
- Anything else that could injure someone or damage property
Contact the property manager or owner (or the nominated repairer listed on the tenancy agreement) as soon as possible to request repairs. Do this in writing so you have a record.
Example email to landlord or property agent to report safety issue
Dear [Rental Agent],
I am writing to express my concerns about the safety of the property I am currently renting from you. There are issues that I believe need to be addressed in order to make the property safe for myself and any other occupants.
[List the issues that you have noticed that you believe need to be addressed. For example: "The smoke detectors in the property are not working and have not been replaced for several months." or "There is a large hole in the floor of the garage that poses a tripping hazard."]
I have attached some photos showing the issue.
I understand that these issues may not have been caused by you or your company, but as the the landlord is responsible for ensuring the property is safe for tenants, I would appreciate it if you could take steps to address these issues as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sincerely, [Your Name]
If you can’t get hold of them and it's genuinely unsafe, you can arrange for a ‘qualified person’ to carry out emergency repairs, providing the total cost is no more than the equivalent of four weeks rent.
What if it becomes unliveable?
In Queensland a property is defined as unliveable if it is either:
- is fully or partially destroyed (for example, due to a natural disaster)
- can no longer be used lawfully as a residence (due to health and safety risks such as exposed asbestos or if the building has been condemned)
The first thing to be aware of, is that just because the property is unliveable, doesn’t mean your lease automatically ends. You must continue to pay rent until the lease ends.
(Note: the lease can also end if you’re issued a notice to leave or if the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal—otherwise known as QCAT—makes an order).
If you decide you want to stay and the owner/manager agrees, you may be able to agree on a rent reduction. In this situation, the property owner or manager is responsible for repairs.
What if you can’t come to an agreement?
Most of the time, tenants and landlords will agree who is responsible and take prompt action when a property becomes unliveable or unsafe.
Should that not happen and emergency repairs aren’t made in a timely manner (or if you have been unable to contact the nominated repairer or arrange emergency repairs yourself), then you can make an urgent application to QCAT for a repair order.
If you and the property manager/owner don’t agree about the responsibility for the repair, or if you’ve not been reimbursed for repairs within seven days, then you can apply to QCAT for a resolution.
Sometimes there can be disagreement about whether a property is unliveable. If you can’t come to an agreement, you can apply for dispute resolution.
Once again, make sure you document your communications with relevant bodies. Communicate in writing, or send a follow up email detailing anything discussed in the phone and ask for the other party to agree it is an accurate record of the call.
What if you injure yourself?
If you suffer a physical or physiological injury at the place you are renting, you may be able entitled to compensation. You may be able to make a public liability claim if you can demonstrate that someone (such as the landlord) has been negligent.
Examples of this could be the landlord refusing to repair defects that they have been notified about (or that they knew about or should have known about), or not taking prompt and reasonable action to prevent an injury.
If you have suffered an injury from a poorly maintained rental property, talk to our team today.