Welcome to the latest edition of The Letterbox, NSW Fair Trading’s enewsletter about tenancy issues.

Natural disasters 

The people of NSW have seen the devastating effects of natural disasters with fires raging through bush land across the state in mid October.

Irreversible damage occurred to many properties.

What happens if you are a tenant and the rented property has been affected by a flood or a fire and is now partially or totally uninhabitable?

Tenants and landlords should be aware of their rights and responsibilities if the rented premises are affected in any way by a natural disaster.

This edition of The Letterbox will help you understand what happens with the tenancy if the premises are damaged or destroyed. What happens with the rent, repairs and access to the property? 

Back to top

Answers to your questions about natural disasters

Q: Last week we had a really bad hail storm and it has left one room in the house uninhabitable. What are my rights as a tenant?

A: If the property is only partly uninhabitable you may make the decision to stay in the property while the repairs are being carried out. You should only consider doing this if the damage is relatively minor and there is no ongoing safety risk to you or anybody else.

Regardless of whether you move out temporarily or continue to live in the partially damaged property the landlord is responsible for maintaining the property, including cleaning or clearing any debris caused by a storm, fire or flood. The rent should be reduced. The level of rent payable will depend on the extent of the damage and the amount of use you have of the property. Any agreement in these situations should be put in writing, including how long and how much the rent will be reduced.

Tenants can find more information on the Natural disasters page of the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Q: If the rented premises are totally uninhabitable after a natural disaster, what options do the tenant and landlord have to end the tenancy? 

A: The tenancy agreement does not automatically end if a rental property becomes uninhabitable after a natural disaster. The landlord and the tenant need to come to an agreement about the tenancy.

Either party can give a termination notice in writing to end the tenancy. The notice, once served, can take effect immediately or can specify a later date. If the tenancy is ended permanently, no rent is payable from the date of the notice. Any rent already paid in advance must be fully refunded.

Another option is for the tenant to move out temporarily and return once the property is liveable again. No rent is payable during this period. If appropriate, both parties can also decide to formally end the agreement and re-sign a new agreement after the repairs are complete. The tenant should be aware that in this scenario a higher rent could be included in the new agreement.

If an agreement about the tenancy can’t be reached an application to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal can be made.

For more information go to the Natural disasters page for landlords on the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Q: My tenant’s washing machine leaked everywhere overnight, ruining the flooring in the next room. Is this classified as a natural disaster and does the landlord have to repair the flooring?

A: A leaking machine is not considered to be a natural disaster. The responsibility for repairing the floors will depend on the cause of the leak. If the leak was caused due to negligence of the tenant, then the cost of repairing the flooring may fall on the tenant.

Go to the Getting repairs done page of the Fair Trading website for more information.

Back to top

Q: How quickly does the landlord need to make repairs to the property after a natural disaster?

A: There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how quickly repairs should occur after a natural disaster. The first step is to assess the extent of the damage and the repairs needed. Your landlord or their agent should perform an inspection of the property as soon as it is safe to do so and document the repairs needed.

The tenant should be present for this inspection as this will give you the opportunity to discuss the timeframes needed to perform the repairs. Generally, damage caused by a serious storm, fire or flood are considered to be urgent and repairs should be completed as soon as possible.

If you believe the landlord is not acting quickly enough on needed repairs you can apply to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. You can also arrange for up to the value of $1,000 of work yourself and be reimbursed. Go to the Getting repairs done page on the Fair Trading website for more information.

Landlords, agents and tenants should keep in mind that the demand for qualified tradespeople may be limited after a natural disaster, which will affect the timeframes for repairs.

When arranging repairs, be alert for potential scammers looking to take advantage of residents in the wake of a natural disaster. You should always check a tradesperson holds the right licence. Before you hire you should do a free home building licence check on the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Q: In the case of a natural disaster is my landlord required to provide me with two days’ notice to access the property for repairs?

A: It depends on the urgency of the repairs. If the repairs are considered to be urgent, then a notice period does not apply and the landlord can organise for repairs to be done. Damage caused by a serious storm, fire or flood are usually considered to be urgent repairs. It is courteous for your landlord to provide advanced notice if you are still living there.

If the repairs are deemed to be non-urgent then a minimum notice period of two days applies. In some instances it may be in your best interest to contact the landlord to agree on a shorter notice period in order to get the repairs completed sooner.

Tenants can find more information is available on the Natural disasters page of the Fair Trading website.

 Back to top

Q: Recently, I became aware that the house I am renting was affected by a flood two years ago. Is my landlord required to tell me about this?

A: A landlord is required to tell you about flooding to the house if he or she was aware it had occurred. This applies where the rental premise was subject to flooding or bushfire in the five years prior to entering into a tenancy agreement.

If the landlord knew of the flooding and did not disclose it to you before you signed the agreement, then you may be able to seek compensation. Further information is available on the Natural disasters page of the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Warning! Do not deal with unlicensed tradespeople

If your rented home has been affected by a natural disaster and is need of urgent repairs, it is important you only contract licensed tradespeople to do the work.

Beware of shonky wannabe tradespeople and door-to-door travelling conmen trying to make a quick buck. You can check to see if a tradesperson is licenced by doing a free home building licence check on the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Know how to keep kids safe around windows?

NSW Fair Trading has two great new YouTube videos on child window safety, presented by DIY guru and TV personality Rob Palmer. These bite-sized videos deliver a simple yet vital message – window locks could save your child’s life and can be easy and cheap to install!

Watch Window locks save lives and How to install window locks on YouTube today.

Did you know new laws have recently been passed that aim to prevent children falling from windows? For more details, go to the Window and balcony safety page on the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Release of strata title law reforms position paper

Following more than two years of consultation with the community and industry representatives, Fair Trading released a position paper setting out the NSW Government’s reforms of the strata title laws.

The Strata and Community Title Law Reform Position Paper highlights 70 proposed changes to the current laws.

These reforms focus on improving the everyday things that people living in strata care about, including building a culture of community and cooperation and supporting democratic and accountable decision-making. Importantly, the reforms also seek to empower strata communities to chart their own future.

The reforms follow an extensive consultation process which attracted more than 1,200 online comments and 1,900 written submissions.

For more information on the review and to download the position paper, go to the Reform of the strata and community scheme laws page on the Fair Trading website.

Back to top

Swimming pools to be registered

Drowning is one of the major causes of death for children in NSW under the age of five. Each year around 10 children drown in backyard swimming pools and many more suffer brain damage and other serious injuries associated with near-drowning experiences.

To help keep you up-to-date with pool safety messages and inspection requirements your local council needs to know where pools are located in your neighbourhood. If there is a swimming pool in your back yard you need to register it. You can register it with the NSW Government's Swimming pool register website.

For more information about swimming pool safety please go to the Division of Local Government website.

Back to top

Living in a boarding house

New laws now protect people living in boarding houses in NSW.

If you live in a ‘registrable’ boarding house, new laws mean that you now have a set of basic rights called occupancy principles.  The new laws also provide for the following and more:

  • better living conditions at the boarding house
  • written occupancy agreement
  • a public register of all 'general' and 'assisted' boarding houses in NSW
  • assistance from the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal with boarding house disputes.

Need more info?

To order your copy of the information brochure 'Living in a boarding house?' or for more details about the new laws, go to the Living in a boarding house page on the Fair Trading website or call 13 32 20.

Back to top

Subscribe to Fair Trading's enewsletters

Subscribe to The Letterbox and other free Fair Trading enewsletters.

Back to top