As a landlord, ensuring your tenants are living in a property where everything works adequately falls squarely on your shoulders.
But roles and responsibilities aren’t always cut and dried – especially when you add in emergencies.
The law differentiates between urgent and non-urgent repairs, but they can be easily misinterpreted by both tenants and landlords.
Tension caused by misunderstandings can create a serious rift in the tenant/landlord relationship, sometimes even leading to a dispute taken to court.
As an example, let’s look at these drama-creating scenarios:
- A tenant orders his own repairs without your knowledge because he deems the situation an emergency, even if legally it’s not (such as repairing a blocked shower drain, when there’s another functioning shower in the dwelling)
- Tenant and landlord disagree on what constitutes an ‘emergency’ (for example, the tenant may believe water damage after a storm is an urgent repair, while the landlord would expect only serious flood damage would be an emergency)
- A landlord delays repairs beyond what the tenant would deem appropriate (by leaving a tenant without a functional kitchen for three weeks during repairs).
The solution to each of these examples is preparation.
A wise landlord always has a plan – in writing – between himself, the property manager and the tenant, which outlines the procedure when emergencies occur.
Specifically, the agreement should cover the repairs that are deemed an emergency, the course of action should an emergency occur, and all the after-hours contact numbers for landlord or property manager.
It should also contain the contact details for your preferred tradesmen, so the tenant can contact them directly if they can’t reach you or the property manager in an emergency.
In this situation, the tenant can pay for the repairs and then ask for reimbursement from the landlord.
Each state and territory caps the amount a tenant can pay out of their pocket; for example, New South Wales only allows tenants to pay $1000 in emergency repairs.
This amount can be clearly stipulated in your lease agreement prepared by your property manager.
For basic repairs, a tenant should never hire the services of a tradesperson without the landlord’s permission.
This should also be well highlighted in the agreement.
Remember: your contract is not a one-size-fits-all document
It will need to be tailored to the state or territory the property is in, since each region has its own policies on emergency repairs.
For instance, in New South Wales, roles and responsibilities of ‘urgent’ repairs are dictated by the Department of Fair Trading, while in Queensland they come under the Residential Tenancies Authority.
If we look at the NSW Dept of Fair Trading list, urgent repairs constitute:
- a burst water service or a serious water service leak
- a blocked or broken toilet
- a serious roof leak
- a gas leak
- a dangerous electrical fault
- flooding or serious flood damage
- serious storm or fire damage
- a failure or breakdown of the gas, electricity or water supply to the premises
- a failure or breakdown of the hot water service
- a failure or breakdown of the stove or oven
- a failure or breakdown of a heater or air-conditioner
- a fault or damage which makes the premises unsafe or insecure.
In addition to an agreement that specifies all the above, there is also prevention via regular maintenance.
Make sure you’re aware of potential issues before they become an emergency.
If the tenant informs you that the only toilet in the dwelling is leaking, schedule a prompt repair.
Otherwise, you could be paying a plumber top dollar, after-hours rates when it finally gives up the ghost.
A contract protects you, the tenant and your property.
Getting it right can save money and distress for everyone involved.