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Q&A Bushfire advice relating to rental properties

 

Ending a lease
Rental bonds
Rent
Repairs and utility services
Lost documents/lease agreements

 

 

Ending a lease following a disaster

 

Ending the lease when the property has been destroyed

 

  • If the property has been destroyed or is unfit to live in, the lease is considered to have ended and each part is released from their obligations under the agreement.

  

Ending the lease when the property is still intact

 

  • If the property is still intact but the tenant no longer wishes to live there, they must negotiate with the owner to end the lease.
  • If the property owner does not agree to terminate the lease, the tenant can end a lease of no fixed term by giving the owner 14 days’ notice of their intention to vacate.
  • If a tenant leaves the property without the owner’s agreement before this notice period has expired or prior to the end of a fixed-term lease, they are considered to be breaking the lease and will be responsible for paying continued rent and associated re-letting costs.
  • If there is a dispute about ending a tenancy or you are unsure what to do in this situation, contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99.

 

Alternative accommodation after the property has been destroyed

 

  • A property owner is not legally obliged to provide alternative accommodation for a tenant if the property has been destroyed.
  • The responsibilities of both parties end with the termination of the tenancy.

 

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Rental bonds

 

 

Bond refunds

 

  • If the property was destroyed or is unfit to live in and the lease has ended, either the tenant or the property owner can complete a bond claim form and ask the other party to sign it. If either party will not agree to sign the form, it can still be lodged by the other party and will be reviewed by the Residential Tenancy Commissioner as a dispute.
  • If the property was not destroyed but the tenancy is to end, the usual arrangements for the return of the bond apply. The property owner may make a claim against the bond for lost rent, re-advertising costs and re-letting fees. Any cleaning or repair costs claimed by the owner must relate to damage caused by the tenants and does not extend to damage caused by the disaster.
  • Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading can assist on a case-by-case basis with other issues including loss of rental records or inability to contact the tenant, property owner or agent.

 

Compensation for tenant possessions destroyed or damaged in a disaster

 

  • Normally, a tenant is responsible for their own contents insurance.
  • Unless the property owner can be shown to be negligent, the tenant will bear the cost of any loss or damage to their possessions.

 

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Rent

 

 

Ceasing rent payments for a property that is uninhabitable

 

  • If a property has been destroyed or is uninhabitable, tenants should contact their property owner or agent and ask for the direct debit to be cancelled. If the owner or agent cannot be contacted or is not willing to assist, a tenant can ask their financial institution to stop the payments.
  • If a tenant is unsuccessful in contacting the other parties, or in having the payments stopped, they should contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99.

 

What happens if rent has been paid in advance?

 

There may be instances where a rental property has been destroyed or has become uninhabitable, and the tenant has paid rent in advance for a period that covers the time after the property has been destroyed or has become uninhabitable.

 

 

A property is considered uninhabitable where any of the basic services have been disabled such as the supply of electricity or water, or where there is a risk to the health of the occupant by continuing to occupy the premises.

 

 

If the tenant has paid rent in advance and the property can no longer be lived in, then the owner is not entitled to keep that rent and is obliged to repay that rent to the tenant. The tenant should ask the property owner to refund the money to them, and if the owner does not cooperate the tenant should contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99.

 

 

If the owner refuses to return the rent paid in advance, the tenant can take action to recover the money through the Magistrates Court.

 

Reducing the rent because the property has become damaged

 

  • If a disaster has caused damage to the property and/or any services or facilities, the tenant and property owner may negotiate to reduce the rent until the property is fully restored.

 

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Repairs and utility services

 

 

Responsibility for cleaning and clearing debris caused by a disaster

 

  • The property owner is responsible for maintaining the property, including cleaning or clearing any debris caused by a disaster.
  • Before arranging cleaning, the property owner should contact the local authorities and/or emergency services, who may already have a cleaning program in place.
  • The tenant is only responsible for any cleaning and rubbish removal that arises from their use of the property.

 

Repairs to a damaged property

 

  • If the damage caused by a disaster is relatively minor, the tenant can serve a notice to the property owner for the repairs to be carried out within 28 days. If repairs are urgently required, the tenant should contact their property owner immediately to advise that urgent repairs are needed and explain what work is required.
  • Please be aware that despite the best efforts of property owners and tenants it may be difficult to get tradesmen to your property immediately after a disaster, as many properties are likely to need repair at this time and this may cause delays.
  • However, the tenant should contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99 if the property owner does not arrange urgent repairs when the tenant has requested them.

 

Property owner inspection of damage to a rental property

 

  • If a property has been destroyed or damaged so that it is unfit to live in, a property owner can inspect it at any time, as long as they have the permission of local authorities to access the site.
  • The property owner should contact the police or emergency services before travelling to a disaster area.
  • Following a disaster, a property owner can inspect the property at any time, without the tenant’s permission. However, if the property is still leased and the tenant is living there, it is advisable for the owner to provide the tenant with notice of their intention to visit and if possible agree on a suitable time.

 

Responsibility for arranging for utility services to be restored

 

  • If a utility service (electricity, gas, water or telephone) has been cut off because of damage to the property, the property owner is responsible for repairing the property so that the service can be restored.
  • If there is no damage to the property, the tenant is responsible for contacting the utility company to arrange for services to be restored.

 

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Lost documents relating to the tenancy

 

  • It is likely that some property owners and tenants affected by a disaster will have lost their documentation relating to the lease agreement. This may mean that where there is a dispute about ending the tenancy or the terms of the agreement that it is not possible to review a copy of the lease and associated documents.
  • In this situation, tenants and property owners are advised to contact Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading on 1300 65 44 99 who can provide advice on how best to proceed.