Rental properties can become damaged for many different reasons. However, depending on the damage, and who or what caused it, the responsibility for repairing it may fall on either the landlord or the tenant.

The Residential Tenancies Act clarifies the expectations for landlords and tenants when it comes to fixing any damage that has occurred.

Student accommodation provided by academic institutions (such as halls of residence and university-operated flats) is not covered by the residential tenancy laws.

What is a tenant responsible for?

Tenants are responsible for fixing any damage caused by them or their guests.

A tenant’s first responsibility is to notify their landlord of any damage that occurs as soon as possible.

Where the damage is intentional, the tenant is directly responsible for covering those costs. If it is caused by carelessness, the tenant must instead pay the excess on their landlord’s insurance up to a maximum of four weeks’ rent. 

Damage might sometimes be serious and require urgent repair, or may pose a health and safety risk, before the responsible party is identified. In this case, if a tenant has tried to contact and alert their landlord, but has been unable to reach them, they can have the damage repaired themselves.  If it turns out to be the landlord’s responsibility, the tenant can then be reimbursed for the costs by the landlord.

 Tenants are also free to make their own arrangements with their landlord to repair damage or any deterioration themselves, and be reimbursed as agreed.  It is always sensible to record these agreements in writing to avoid disputes.

What is a landlord responsible for?

Landlords are responsible for all damage that is not directly caused by their tenant or the tenant’s visitors. This includes things like:

  • Damage caused by natural disasters e.g. earthquakes or flooding;
  • General ‘wear and tear’ of the house and/or the landlord-supplied items in it, provided this damage was caused by the tenants using the property normally, not carelessly i.e. placing a metal bowl in a microwave carries a high risk of damaging the microwave; and
  • Black mould and dampness where effective ventilation has not been provided to the tenant.

Landlords must also ensure that their rentals meet all relevant building and health and safety standards, including the “Healthy Home Standards”. Doing so can help to avoid the need for costly repairs at a later stage and a potentially expensive claim at the Tenancy Tribunal.

If damage results from a failure to comply with health and safety standards, the landlord will bear the costs of remedying the damage.

While landlord responsibilities do not extend to a tenant’s own property within a rented home (such as furniture), tenants may be reimbursed for damage caused by their landlord’s failure to meet those standards required by the Act (such as failing to provide adequate ventilation to prevent mould, or repair leaks). It is therefore important to understand what those responsibilities are. A general overview of the Healthy Homes Standards is covered here.

What if the source of damage is in dispute?

Sometimes it is unclear whether damage was caused by the tenant or general wear and tear, or a combination of the two. If a landlord and tenant are unable to agree on a solution themselves, then either can as a last resort apply to the Tenancy Tribunal. The landlord will need to prove that the damage was intentional or careless, not just general wear and tear.

To avoid a costly dispute, landlords should:

  • Communicate clearly and promptly with tenants (particularly where the tenant has notified them of damage);
  • Get quotes for the damage to ensure the repair cost is reasonable (this becomes particularly important if a tenant requests reimbursement); and
  • Discuss with their tenants the possibility of a temporary reduction in rent while any repairs are being completed.

If you are a landlord or tenant and are unsure about your obligations when a rental property has been damaged, it pays to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-priced Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

 


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