Getting into a tizz about who is responsible for what at a rental property is a headache no-one needs – and one many landlords and tenants experience. Misunderstandings about responsibilities for tasks around the property – from gardening to appliance repairs – are commonplace.
If you’re wondering why a landlord insurance provider is talking about responsibilities, it’s because upkeep at the property can impact insurance cover. For example, there’s an obligation in practically all building insurance policies to adequately maintain the premises. So if there’s a dispute about who is supposed to do what, and it doesn’t get done, then there could be ramifications for the insurance in the event of a claim. Another obligation is to ‘act to prevent further loss’ – so it’s important to know exactly who needs to act. And, of course, there could be issues with legal liability cover if a landlord or tenant fails in their duty of care because they assumed it was the duty of the other!
Here’s the answer to the question, “who’s responsible”, for a few important tasks at a rental.
Gardens and lawns
Garden maintenance can be a thorny issue. If the tenants are green-fingered, they may love getting out into the garden, but if they aren’t, it may be a task they avoid.
To reduce the risk of the garden becoming a jungle or a wasteland, the lease agreement should clearly state who (landlord or tenant) is responsible for which aspects of upkeep.
The tenant is usually responsible for general garden maintenance – like mowing and edging the lawn, weeding, raking leaves, fertilising, pruning plants, trimming hedges, watering and so on. Unless the tenancy agreement specifically states otherwise, garden and outdoor areas are typically the tenant’s responsibility and the tenant is responsible for ensuring the garden is maintained to a standard set at the beginning of the tenancy.
The tenant also has a responsibility to report any issues to the landlord/property manager. This might include potential blockages or water leaks in the guttering, an insect infestation of the plants, flooding of the yard, or plants withering for an unknown reason. If an issue is fairly obvious and the tenant fails to report it, the tenant may be liable for any damage caused.
Responsibility for major gardening works and repairs (such as landscaping, pruning trees, fixing faulty reticulation, significant trimmings, uprooting trees and so on) lies with the landlord. Any garden job that demands ‘specialist skills’ (for example, tree lopping) is also considered the responsibility of the landlord.
The owner is also usually responsible for things such as the planting of the garden (if tenants want to add their own plants, they need landlord permission), providing hoses and sprinklers, maintaining the reticulation system, cleaning gutters and tree maintenance. If any plants or gardening equipment at the property are damaged during the tenancy, it’s also the landlord who is responsible for replacing them, unless the damage was caused by the tenant.
When it comes to responsibility for remedying a pest infestation – and that might be rats, mice, ants, termites, cockroaches, bees, wasps, possums, nesting birds, spiders, snakes, silverfish, bedbugs or fleas – it’s often not a cut and dried matter. In most circumstances, the party responsible for the infestation is the one responsible for fixing it. But it can be hard to determine who caused the pest problem.
If there is no mention of pest control in the lease agreement, the tenancy legislation might help determine responsibility. Most acts state that the tenant must take reasonable care of the premises and keep the premises reasonably clean. If they fail to do this and a pest infestation results (for example, uncleanliness brings in mice or rats, or their pet brings in fleas), then they may be liable.
It’s the landlord’s responsibility to provide a premises in a clean and habitable state, free from pests. In most cases, this means the landlord is responsible for pest and vermin control unless the tenant’s poor housekeeping has caused the infestation. It should also be noted that landlords are almost always responsible for termites/white ants, regardless of when the outbreak occurs.
Insurance note: Pests and vermin are generally standard exclusions in landlord insurance policies. This means that the cost of management or repairing damage caused by an infestation or outbreak is not covered by insurance and the financial obligation rests with whomever is responsible for the pest problem.
Landlords have an obligation to provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair during the tenancy. As a result, they are generally responsible for organising and/or paying for repairs and maintenance. However, tenants are responsible for repairing damage they, their children, pets or guests have caused.
Landlords are responsible for attending to urgent and emergency repairs within the legislated timeframes. What constitutes an urgent repair varies by jurisdiction (be sure to consult the local laws) but generally refer to those that are necessary to supply or restore an essential service (gas, electricity, sewerage/septics/other wastewater treatment, water and a functioning refrigerator if supplied with the premises), or to avoid exposing a person to the risk of injury, exposing property to damage, or causing the tenant undue hardship or inconvenience.
Most landlords provide their property manager with authority to act on their behalf, but if the landlord is self-managing and the tenant cannot get in touch with them to sort an urgent repair then, in most jurisdictions (always check the rules in your state or territory), the tenant has a duty to get the necessary repairs done and recoup the cost from their landlord.
Insurance note: Attending to urgent/emergency repairs may be required to fulfil the obligation to act to prevent further loss. Check with the insurance provider to see if they need to authorise emergency repairs – at EBM RentCover we don’t need to pre-approve emergency repairs but do need the receipts for a claim.
Landlords are required to keep the rental premises in a reasonable state of repair during the tenancy and comply with building, health and safety laws. They are responsible for the upkeep of the property, for example plumbing and the maintenance of contents already provided such as the stove, hot water system, or air-conditioner.
Tenants are responsible for basic household maintenance like replacing light globes, vacuuming, cleaning windows, dusting and removing cobwebs inside and out.
A note about mould: If there is mould or mildew caused by faults in gutters or other fixtures, then the landlord must fix it. On the other hand, the tenant must ensure there is adequate ventilation throughout to help avoid mould problems occurring.
Insurance note: Policyholders must adequately maintain the premises to safeguard insurance cover. If the property is neglected, any claim may be reduced or denied.
It’s up to the property owner to provide a safe and secure property for the tenant to reside in. This means landlords are responsible for ensuring that rental property security standards are met. The requirements vary by jurisdiction (always check the legislation) but often relate to measures such as door locks, window locks and exterior lights. This also means that landlords are responsible for maintaining those security devices.
Should a tenant wish to install additional security, they generally need the landlord’s permission and would then be responsible for the upkeep.
In most states and territories (always check local legislation), smoke alarms complying with Australian Standards must be fitted in all rental properties and in accordance with the Building Code of Australia.
It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure the rental property is fitted and equipped with functioning smoke alarms that are compliant with the relevant state or territory legislation. This means, landlords are responsible for supplying the smoke alarm(s) and for their installation.
Landlords are generally responsible for maintaining the smoke alarms. In most cases, landlords are also responsible for installing a new battery for each smoke alarm at the start of each new tenancy and for replacing batteries in ‘hard-wired’ smoke alarm systems that have a battery back-up.
Tenants are responsible for cleaning, testing and the replacement of batteries in battery-powered smoke alarms (except in SA where landlords are responsible unless otherwise stated in the tenancy agreement). The tenant must notify the landlord if there are problems with the smoke alarm so that repairs can be carried out or the alarm replaced as soon as possible.
While some states (such as Victoria and Tasmania) require heating to be provided in a rental property, there is no requirement for landlords to provide air-conditioning.
If a landlord does provide air-conditioning at the premises, who is responsible for general maintenance (such as cleaning) should be detailed in the lease agreement.
Legislation requires that landlords are responsible for keeping fittings and appliances included in the rental property in working order. As such, a landlord will usually be responsible for maintaining the units/system, such as servicing and repairs. However, if repairs are required due to something the tenant has done or failed to do, then they are responsible for paying for those repairs. Tenants are also generally responsible for cleaning the air filters.
When it comes to repairing or replacing broken appliances, the responsibility rests with whomever owns it.
A rental property must have working electrical, heat and plumbing systems. This means landlords are responsible for issues like failures in the gas, electricity or water supply and a breakdown of any essential service for hot water, cooking, heating, cooling, laundering and any permanent fixture that is broken and causing a substantial problem.
However, there is no law that requires a landlord to provide appliances at the premises. Despite this, some landlords will supply appliances for their tenant’s use such as a refrigerator, stove/oven, dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer or microwave. If the appliance is supplied by the landlord, then they are responsible for maintaining it.
Any individual appliance owned by the tenant is not the responsibility of the landlord.
Insurance note: Whether replacement or repair to landlord-owned appliances is covered by insurance will depend on the policy and on the cause of the damage (e.g. must be the result of an insured event). Appliances that have worn out or simply stopped working are not usually covered.
Landlords are responsible for ensuring that the rental is safe and habitable. This means they must ensure that the plumbing is safe and in a suitable condition for use by tenants. In the event of a plumbing emergency (for example, burst water pipe, serious leak or broken toilet system), the landlord must arrange repairs within legislated timeframes.
Tenants also have a responsibility to prevent unnecessary issues from occurring. If they are responsible for a plumbing issue, for example a clogged toilet, then they are likely to be responsible for the repair.
To avoid a property equivalent of “he said, she said”, it’s important to understand obligations as far as legislation is concerned and to set out responsibilities in the tenancy agreement. A good property manager will make sure all parties clearly understand their responsibilities, and with the help of a comprehensive property condition report and regular inspections, ensure these responsibilities are met.
With clarity about who is responsible for what, there’s less chance of arguments – and less risk of jeopardising insurance cover.
*While we have taken care to ensure the information above is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances and legislation after the displayed date may impact the accuracy of this article. If you need us we are here, contact 1800 661 662 if you have any questions.
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