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Keeping rental homes safe

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A home is not a haven unless it keeps its occupants safe. So, whose job is it to respond to household hazards?

When does a tenant have to report a safety issue? When is the landlord obligated to make repairs? Who should pay for the work, and are there limits on the cost?

This issue of The Letterbox will look at some of the common areas of confusion when working out who is responsible for issues in rental homes involving smoke alarms, unstable furniture, loose-fill asbestos insulation, mould and swimming pools.

Remember, if you have a safety issue you need to resolve, contact our tenancy complaint service to help negotiate a solution between those involved.

 

Answers to your questions on safe rental homes

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Q: I have two young children and I want to fix the furniture in my unit to the wall so that there’s no risk of bookcases and cabinets falling on them. However, my landlord is refusing to let me drill into the walls. What can I do?

A: Landlords cannot unreasonably refuse minor alterations

Explain to the landlord the reason for the alteration and provide reassurance that you will remove the fixture at your own cost and pay for any repairs related to the fixture when the tenancy ends. Make sure the landlord’s permission is recorded in writing. 

Check if walls contain asbestos  
Before drilling, check with the landlord if the wall contains asbestos fibro product. If it does, do not drill into the wall as asbestos fibres can be released if power tools are used. Inhaling asbestos fibres may cause asbestos-related disease and death. Instead, discuss the situation with a hardware or furniture store, or a licensed tradesperson, and try to find alternative ways of fixing the furniture. For more details about asbestos in the home, consult the Asbestos Awareness Website.

Reasonable refusal
The landlord may refuse requests concerning work which:

  • involves structural changes (eg. knocking out a wall)
  • is not reasonably capable of being rectified, repaired or removed
  • is not consistent with the nature of the property (eg. installing modern fixtures in a heritage property)
  • is banned under a law (such as a strata by‑law).

Unreasonable refusal 
If the landlord refuses your request, you may wish to clarify the reason why the request was refused. If you think the refusal was unreasonable and you can't resolve the disagreement with them, you can contact our free tenancy complaint service for help negotiating an agreement, or apply to the Tribunal for permission to make the change.

Landlord remedies for damage

Be aware that the landlord can apply to the Tribunal for the cost of rectifying work you have done or arranged if:

  • they can show the work was not done to a satisfactory standard, or
  • it is likely to compromise the landlord’s ability to rent out the premises in the future.



 
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Q: My tenant has complained that the smoke alarm isn’t working. It seems ridiculous that I should arrange for the batteries to be replaced. Can’t they do that? 

A: The tenant is responsible for replacing batteries in any smoke alarms during the tenancy. 

Landlord responsibilities
Landlords are responsible for installing and maintaining smoke alarms. A landlord, having given 2 days’ notice, can enter premises to:

  • install smoke alarms
  • maintain or repair smoke alarms

It's recommended that landlords put a new battery in the smoke alarm at the start of a tenancy.

Assistance replacing the battery
NSW Fire and Rescue provides a Smoke Alarm and Battery Replacement Service for people over 65 or people with disability who have no-one to assist them.

Smoke alarm

Image credit: Michael Hicks

 
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Q: The swimming pool gate on my rental property has just broken. It’s quite old and the latch is no longer available so I’ve asked the tenants to tie the gate closed with a rope. They say that’s not acceptable. Is it? 

A: No, using a rope instead of a latch for a swimming pool is not acceptable.

It is a condition of every residential tenancy agreement that NSW swimming pool laws have been complied with. These laws require that the gate self-closes, self-latches and that the latching device is at least 150cm off the ground. Using a rope as a latch will not satisfy these requirements.

If you do not take action to fix the latch, the tenant may get the repairs done themselves and seek reimbursement from you. 

NSW tenancy laws enable tenants to carry out urgent repairs and be reimbursed up to $1000 for any fault or damage that causes the premises to be unsafe under certain circumstances, including if the landlord or agent cannot be contacted or does not carry out the repairs within a reasonable time.

 
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Q: My husband was recently hospitalised with severe breathing issues. It turns out there is mould in our home that he is allergic to. Obviously we need to get rid of it, but is this our responsibility or the landlord’s? 

A: It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide a reasonably clean and fit-to-live-in rental residence, however it is a tenant’s responsibility to keep the premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness.

Who bears the cost of repairs?
Both the landlord and the tenant are responsible for the prevention of mould. 

Asking for repairs
Inform the landlord that they need to arrange for repairs. Write them a letter telling them what needs fixing and give a clear deadline. Keep a copy of the letter and a record of any conversations.

Refusal to make repairs
If the landlord does not promptly arrange for repairs, you can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for repair orders.

You must apply within 3 months of the deadline that you provided to the landlord when you requested the repairs. You can apply for one or more of the following orders:

  • that the landlord do the repairs you have specified
  • that the landlord compensate you for losses you suffered because they did not do the repairs
  • that all or part of the rent is paid to the Tribunal until the repairs are done
  • Be aware that people who are not named on the tenancy agreement as tenants cannot apply to the Tribunal.
 
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If you can't find an answer to your question, you're welcome to call us on 13 32 20.

If you have a problem with a tenant, landlord or agent that you can't resolve, remember you can lodge a complaint online to use our free tenancy complaint service.
 

Tenancy Tales from the tenancy complaint service

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A tenant lodged a complaint with Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service because her husband was electrocuted when he was doing the garden hedging and accidentally hit a power cord.

The tenant noticed the house had not been fitted with a safety switch and reported this to the real estate agent.

As the property was built prior to the year 2000, it had an older style circuit board and had not been required to meet today’s safety standards. On the intervention of Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service, the landlord agreed to bring the premises up to current standards and install RCD circuit breakers with safety switch protection.

 

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Loose-fill asbestos in NSW homes

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Loose-fill asbestos is raw crushed asbestos which in the 1960s and 70s was installed as insulation. It is a problem that cannot be ignored. Over time, exposure pathways open up and airborne asbestos can move into living areas.

28 regions in NSW have been identified as being potentially affected by loose-fill asbestos. The NSW Government is providing free sample testing to homeowners of pre 1980s homes in the 28 identified regions. Tenants of affected properties may be eligible for financial assistance.

If you are a tenant and you are concerned the property may be affected by loose-fill asbestos, you can contact your landlord and ask them to register for free testing, or ask your managing agent to contact the landlord on your behalf.

You can also contact the Loose-fill Asbestos Implementation Taskforce for more information or advice. Visit the Loose-fill asbestos insulation section of our website for more information or call Service NSW on 13 77 88.

 

Upcoming events

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NSW Fair Trading offers free community education seminars across NSW. Stay informed with Fair Trading's events and seminars on tenancy topics for Real Estate Agents, Self-managing Landlords and Strata.


Events for self-managing landlords are available in Wamberal (8 March) and Toongabbie (21 March).

Events for real estate agents are available in Wamberal (9 March), Toongabbie (23 March) and Gunnedah (6 April).

Loose-fill Asbestos Information Sessions are available in numerous locations. Sessions specifically for Real Estate Agents are available in Albury (7 March) and Holbrook (8 March).

Book now
 
fairtrading.nsw.gov.au