'Duty of care' and rental properties

Duty of care

A recent case from across the Tasman has brought the safety obligations of landlords into the spotlight.
A family in the New Zealand town of Tuaka has been awarded NZ$7,525 from their landlord after renting a methamphetamine-contaminated home. The landlord had only just purchased the property and was not aware that the former tenants had used it as a drug lab, but was still required to reimburse the rent and pay for damaged belongings.

Closer to home, a case late last year saw a Sydney landlord ordered to pay more than $11,000 in compensation to a tenant whose flat was made unliveable by a chain-smoking neighbour. Although the problem stemmed from another property, the landlord was found to have not provided a safe place for the tenant to live.

Both these cases highlight the serious repercussions of landlords failing to meet their 'duty of care'. Common law dictates that landlords must guarantee the safety of their rental properties, including:

  • ensuring installations such as gas, electricity and heating are working;
  • ensuring any appliances they provide are installed and maintained safely;
  • treating potentially health-threatening issues such as rising damp;
  • maintaining the structure and exterior of the house; plus
  • any other matter that is detailed in the tenancy agreement.
In addition, each state and territory has other safety requirements that must be met. These can relate to a number of safety and security matters including:
  • smoke alarms;
  • locks;
  • entry doors and other external doors;
  • windows and balconies;
  • external lighting;
  • pests and vermin; and
  • swimming pools and spas.
Details can be found by visiting the website of the relevant government authority in each jurisdiction (e.g. Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs).
Remember, landlords are legally responsible for ensuring that the property they rent out is safe. EBM recommends property owners know what their legal obligations are in their state/territory and cautions that failure to comply could void insurance policies.