Damages - tenant or landlord to pay?

06 Mar 2012

If problems arise with rented properties, especially those in the residential sector, they frequently revolve around maintenance issues.

In most instances it is the landlord's duty to see that regular maintenance keeps the unit attractive and habitable, he says. However, he explains unless otherwise stated, it is also widely accepted in rental agreements that the tenant has to keep the premises clean, look after the garden (and the pool if there is one) and carry out repairs on any damaged or spoilt sections of the building where he has been responsible for the problem.

This is according to Tony Clarke, Managing Director of Rawson Properties and he says there is a real need to define clearly at the outset in lease agreements, exactly what maintenance is the responsibility of the landlord and what should be done by the tenant.

In most instances it is the landlord's duty to see that regular maintenance keeps the unit attractive and habitable, he says.

However, he explains unless otherwise stated, it is also widely accepted in rental agreements that the tenant has to keep the premises clean, look after the garden (and the pool if there is one) and carry out repairs on any damaged or spoilt sections of the building where he has been responsible for the problem.

Asked for examples, Clarke says that if a tenant cracks an oven door, blocks a drain, breaks a window or fails to mow a lawn he can legitimately be warned that it is his duty to do so within a reasonable time span. The tenant can also be charged with resultant damages due to neglecting to carry out such maintenance.

Furthermore, Clarke says if a tenant fails to report a problem to the landlord or his agent and the damage then escalates (as for example when a minor leak becomes a flood) the tenant can be held responsible for all the subsequent repairs and costs.

Similarly, if the landlord is advised but does not respond promptly in putting the damage right, he too can be held fully responsible for all subsequent damage to the tenant’s property (such as furniture).

He says bad tenants in sectional title schemes are likely to find themselves fined by the body corporate for neglecting to put damages right or for poor maintenance. In some instances, he adds, in order to avoid these fines being increased the landlord may pay them himself - but he is then entitled to sue the tenant for repayment plus interest if it was the tenant's negligence that caused the problem.

A good landlord or rental agent will make sure that the tenant understands these conditions on signing the lease and will keep sufficient checks on him to step in fast if the condition of the unit begins deteriorating, says Clarke.

“Open communication and swift action on maintenance are the keys to satisfactory landlord-tenant relationships - and this is a lesson we at the Rawson Rentals division take great pains to inculcate with our Rental franchisees and agents.” 

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