Rental properties affected by disaster - Landlords bulletin 66
3 January 2023
Rental properties 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 your tenants and acting quickly is in everyone’s best interest.
This bulletin explains what you need to do if your rental property is 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
You or the tenant 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 you aren’t sure. It makes this decision based on cleanliness, access to essential services, or health and safety risks at the property.
You aren’t required to provide the tenant with another place to live if your property is no longer liveable.
You need to release the bond as you normally would at the end of the tenancy. You can’t take money out of the bond to cover damage caused by a disaster.
If the house is damaged, but still fit to live in
You need to take certain steps to protect the health and safety of your tenants. You may be responsible for costs if injury or death occurs because you didn’t make sure the property was safe. You may still be responsible even if you employ a property manager.
The tenant needs to tell you if the property has been damaged so you can arrange repairs. You need to arrange repairs and maintenance within certain timeframes:
- Within 24 hours for urgent repairs to essential services, being 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 they cannot contact you or you fail to have repairs done as soon as possible after the tenant notifies you. You need to pay them back for the cost. You may want to provide the tenant with a list of preferred repairers in case they can’t contact you.
The tenant can issue you with a breach notice for refusing or failing to arrange non-urgent repairs. They can then pursue the matter through the Magistrates Court if you still don’t arrange the repair.
You should tell the tenant if there are delays due to high demand or an insurance claim so they know you’ve taken action.
Utilities and services disconnected
The utility supplier should be able to tell you and the 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 your tenant of 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 your responsibilities in a disaster situation.