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Dealing with natural disasters when renting

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Damage to property caused by natural disasters can affect anyone and often catches us unprepared. It can be very disruptive as people rush to have urgent repairs carried out. Tenants, landlords and agents should be prepared so they know what they need to do if affected by a natural disaster, such as a flood, bushfire or storm damage. 

 

Answers to your questions on natural disasters

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Q: Hail damage to the roof has caused a leak to the main bedroom. As a result we can’t use the room and have to sleep on the lounge. Are we entitled to a rent reduction until the leak is fixed?

A: Yes, the rent should be reduced, as part of the property is unusable. You should make a written request to your landlord or agent for a rent reduction until the leak is fixed and the bedroom is usable. The amount of rent payable will depend on the extent of the damage and the amount of use you have of the property.

As the property is only partly uninhabitable, you can decide whether you want to stay in the property while the repairs are being carried out. You should only consider staying in the property if the damage is relatively minor and there is no safety risk to you or your family. You can contact your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service for help on how to seek a rent reduction. 

 
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Q: A few months after having signed a new lease we had a close call with a nearby bushfire. Luckily our house was not affected, however after talking to the neighbours we discovered this area is prone to bushfires. If we had known this, we probably wouldn’t have leased the place. Should the real estate agent have told us about the risk of bushfires in the area?

A: If the agent was aware that the property has been subject to bush fires in the last 5 years, then they were required to disclose this to you before you entered into the lease.

Landlords or their agents must disclose certain material facts to prospective tenants. It is an offence under the law for landlords or their agents to knowingly withhold a material fact, and penalties can apply.

More information on what tenants must be told can be found in the New tenant checklist, which every tenant must receive at the start of every tenancy.

You can lodge a complaint online with us about the agent’s failure to disclose a material fact.

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Q: The unit I rent out flooded after heavy rain and the tenants have to leave temporarily. The tenants have asked me to pay for their temporary accommodation. Is this something I am responsible for as the landlord?

A: No, you are not responsible for paying for the tenants’ temporary accommodation costs. While you are not obliged to find or pay for your tenants’ temporary accommodation, you can try to help your tenant as an act of goodwill.

 
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Q: My landlord is trying to make us leave the  property  as it was damaged by a storm. We have no money and nowhere else to go and on top of this, our personal belongings have been destroyed. Can the landlord kick us out, and are we entitled to compensation?

A: Your landlord can terminate the agreement if, after a natural disaster, the property is destroyed or becomes wholly or partly uninhabitable. They will need to give you a termination notice on the ground that the agreement is ‘frustrated’. If you disagree with your landlord about whether the property is actually uninhabitable, you can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) who can make a determination.

You are not entitled to compensation for your personal possessions that were damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster. As a tenant, you are normally responsible for your own contents insurance. Unless the landlord can be shown to be negligent, you will be responsible for bearing the cost of damage to your personal belongings.

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Q: A tree fell on our roof during a storm and has caused damage to the property. It has been several months now and the roof has still not been repaired. We keep asking the agent when it is going to be fixed but they say it’s taking a while due to insurance delays. Can we terminate the agreement because the repairs are taking too long?

A: Not necessarily. Your landlord is obliged to maintain the property in a reasonable state of repair. If your landlord fails to keep the property in a reasonable state of repair, then they may be in breach of the agreement. You can terminate the agreement or apply to the Tribunal for a termination order.

Be mindful that the Tribunal can revoke the termination order if the landlord sorts out the necessary repairs, and the Tribunal considers it is appropriate in the circumstances of the case.

However, repairs needed to fix serious storm damage or a serious roof leak are considered to be urgent and should be carried out as soon as possible.

If the landlord is not acting quickly enough to carry out the repairs, you can apply to the Tribunal. You can also arrange to do the work yourself for up to the value of $1,000 and be reimbursed for no more than that amount. 

 

Tenancy Tales from the complaint service

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Earlier this year, communities within Northern NSW were impacted by severe flooding. Many tenants and landlords lost their homes as a result.

NSW Fair Trading took part in helping those in need by providing information on their rights and responsibilities. We assisted tenants and landlords to find providers of temporary shelter and repairs, and informed tenants about termination of tenancy agreements.

Some tenants and landlords chose to lodge applications with the Tribunal. However, the majority worked with each other to either end or continue the tenancy by mutual agreement after receiving information from Fair Trading.

Fair Trading helped out at the Disaster Recovery Centre and the community-run Helping Hands Community Hub.

Fair Trading also worked with other service providers, including the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid, to help affected residents get the best outcomes they could.

An important part of our response to the disaster involved providing accurate and timely updates through our social media networks. If you don’t already, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also find more information on natural disasters for tenants and landlords on our website.

If you need assistance or information about your rights during a natural disaster, you can contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (TAAS). Visit the Tenants NSW website to find your local TAAS or Aboriginal TAAS.

 

Window safety locks in strata 

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Do you live in, own or do work for a townhouse or unit block? To prevent children falling from windows, strata schemes must have window safety devices installed on all applicable windows by 13 March 2018. This applies to openable windows where the internal floor is more than 2m above the surface outside and within a child's reach (less than 1.7m above the inside floor) – see the diagram below.

Windows Safety Locks

The devices must enable the maximum opening to be less than 12.5cm. However a device that allows the window to be fully opened, fully closed and limited to less than 12.5cm complies with the legislation. As long as the opening can be limited to less than 12.5cm, complying safety devices include devices attached to a window frame or robust bars, but not lightweight fly screens. The device must also be able to withstand a force of 250 newtons (which is equal to 25 kilograms of force). When children are in the unit or townhouse, it is recommended that the devices be used to prevent falls. Residents with safety devices installed can still fully open their windows whenever they choose to do so.

If window safety devices are not installed by 13 March 2018, tenants are encouraged to raise this issue with their landlord or agent as soon as possible.

Landlords and tenants entering into a new tenancy agreement must use an up-to-date condition report that lists window safety devices. Tenants and landlords are encouraged to check if the condition report matches the condition of the window safety device on the premises. If the window safety device is not working, the landlord must organise repairs as soon as possible.

Find out more about window safety device requirements on our website.

 

New app offers chance to save on fuel 

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If you’ve ever driven around looking for cheaper fuel, the NSW Government’s new FuelCheck app can help take all the guess work out of this weekly chore. The free tool giving motorists a bird’s eye view of real time petrol prices across the state is now available to download.

The app will search for fuel by price, location, fuel type and even brand, making it quicker and easier than ever to find the best deal on fuel, wherever you are in NSW.

Visit the NSW Fair Trading website for more information or download the free FuelCheck app from the App Store or Google Play today and start saving.

 

Need help?

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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 and real estate complaint service.

The Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services provide assistance and advocacy to all tenants, particularly social housing tenants or the vulnerable. To find your nearest Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, go to www.tenants.org.au or call 8117 3700.

 

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