Managing a property affected by a disaster - Real estate industry bulletin 262
9 January 2023
Managing a property affected by a disaster
Landlords and tenants each have responsibilities if a cyclone, storm, fire, flood, earthquake or some other disaster affects a rental property.
Being prepared before a disaster strikes is important. The release of Building and Energy’s new guide will help protect homes and occupants from cyclones, particularly as Northwest Australia’s cyclone season lasts from November to April. We’re also coming into bushfire season. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services guide to preparing your home for bushfire season is also a helpful tool for property owners.
If a disaster does strike, communicating well with each party and acting quickly is in everyone's best interest.
This bulletin explains what you need to do if you manage a property affected by a disaster.
Right of entry
You can enter the property at any time if there’s an emergency or if the tenancy ends because the property is destroyed or unfit to live in. However, normal rules apply for inspections if the property is still tenanted. You still need to give the tenant appropriate notice.
If the house is destroyed or unfit to live in
The tenant or the landlord will need to end the tenancy if the house is no longer liveable. The local government or other authority can declare the house unliveable if either the tenants or landlord aren’t sure. The decision is based on cleanliness, access to essential services, or health and safety risks at the property.
The landlord doesn’t need to provide the tenant with another place to stay if the property is no longer liveable.
You need to release the bond as normal at the end of a tenancy. The landlord is not allowed to take any money out of the bond to cover damage caused by a disaster.
If the house is damaged, but still fit to live in
The landlord is responsible for taking certain steps to protect the health and safety of tenants. The landlord may be liable for costs if injury or death occurs because they, or you, didn’t make sure the property was safe.
The tenant is responsible for telling you about damage to the property so you can work with the landlord to arrange repairs. You or the landlord are required to arrange repairs within certain timeframes:
- Within 24 hours for urgent repairs to essential services of electricity, gas and water (including hot water) supply, fridge function (if supplied with the premises), and sewerage, septic tank or other waste water management.
- Within 48 hours for other urgent repairs which are classed as problems which can cause damage to the property or injury or undue hardship to the tenants.
- As soon as possible for non-urgent repairs.
The tenant can have a qualified person do urgent repairs to a minimum standard if you or the landlord cannot be contacted or you fail to have repairs done as soon as possible after being notified. The landlord needs to pay them back for the cost. You may want to provide a list of preferred repairers in case the tenant can’t contact you, especially if your office closes for holidays.
The tenant can issue the landlord with a breach notice for refusing or failing to arrange non-urgent repairs. They can then pursue the matter through the Magistrates Court if repairs are still not done.
You should tell the tenant if there are delays due to high demand for services or an insurance claim so they know you’ve taken action.
Utilities and services disconnected
The utility supplier should be able to tell you, the landlord or tenant when they expect to restore service to the property.
Sometimes damage to the property cuts off a utility supply. You need to have this damage repaired so that the supply can be restored.
Be aware of unlicensed tradespeople
Unlicensed or dodgy traders have been known to target disaster-affected areas offering cheap, cash-only repairs. You may want to warn tenants about this.
Take careful measures when employing a tradesperson, like asking for proof of their licence or registration, taking their full name and contact/business details, getting a quote and not paying upfront.
Special trading laws apply when the Commonwealth or Western Australian Government has declared an emergency for the area where the property is located.
For more information
Our factsheet on major damage to rental properties for landlords has more information about the landlord’s responsibilities in a disaster situation.