5 maintenance tips for landlords
In Australia, it is not uncommon for rental price rises to overtake both average wage rises and house price rises. For example, the national average price of rent between 2002 and 2012 increased by 75.8 per cent for houses and 91.8 per cent for other dwellings (mostly apartments). House prices went up by 69 per cent and average earnings by 57 per cent in the same 10 year periodi.
When leasing a property in Australia, the onus is on owners to make sure the property meets the standards of their State's Tenancies Act and properties should be habitable and in good conditionii. The best times to schedule maintenance are when the property is vacant, just before a tenant moves iniii; and when the lease is renewed. Landlords need to make sure the locks are intact and doors are secureiv. The tenant must look after the property by keeping it clean and free from damage; however, the landlord should also expect "fair wear and tear", which is normal deterioration from daily usev.
Help, it's an emergency!
A tenant must notify the landlord of the need for an emergency repair, but if they cannot be contacted, the tenant can contact a nominated repairer, who should be listed on the tenancy agreementvi. Otherwise, the tenant can pay a repairer (as a guide, not more than the value of two weeks' rent) and get the money back from the property ownervi.
Emergency situations include:
- a serious water leak
- a blocked toilet
- a serious roof leak
- a gas leak
- a dangerous electrical fault
- serious flood damage
- serious storm, fire or impact damage
- breakdown of the gas, electricity or water supply
- no hot water, cooking or heating
- any damage that makes the property unsafe or insecure
- damage which could injure a person
- a serious fault in a staircase or lift that restricts a tenant from gaining accessvi.
Drains, gutters, mould
If a drain or gutter becomes blocked due to fair wear and tear (e.g. tree roots), it is the landlord's responsibility. If it was caused by something the tenant has done, the tenant paysvii. If mould has been caused by a roof leak, the owner should get it removedviii. If a tenant caused the mould (eg. by allowing steam to build up in the bathroom without using ventilation), the tenant will probably be liable.
The landlord must install smoke alarms and test and replace flat batteries within 30 days before the tenancy beginsix. The tenant must test and clean each alarm every year and replace the batteries.
The property should be in a clean and safe state when the lease is signed, so look for signs of pest droppings and mention these in the property condition report that is completed at the start of a tenancy. Who pays for pest control depends on when the infestation occurred. If pests move in because of a tenant's uncleanliness, the tenant should pay. You should check if the previous tenants had cats or dogs, as fleas could breed in the carpet and may not appear for a couple of months. In NSW, the landlord pays to remove possums, termites, and birdsx.
Who mows the lawn?
Tenants should look after mowing, edging and weeding, but this should be specified in the tenancy agreementxi. Any plants, hedges or lawns that need specialist upkeep - and tree lopping - are the landlord's responsibility. The tenant is not responsible if plants or lawns die because of compliance with strict laws on water restrictions. The state of lawns and gardens should be included on the property condition report and maintained to the same standard by the tenant, allowing for fair wear and tear.
Tenancy laws can differ in each state, so check your local Residential Tenancies Act legislation. The ATO website and Property page explain what repair expenses you can claim for rental properties, or phone 132 861.