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Health, safety and security in a rental property

Landlords have a responsibility to ensure the property meets health and safety laws.

Landlords must also provide and maintain locks or other security devices to ensure the property is reasonably secure.

These are terms of every tenancy agreement, and landlords who do not comply with these obligations that are part and parcel in property management will breach the agreement.

Tradespeople entry to property

Landlords must not stop a tradesperson from entering the property to carry out maintenance or repairs that are needed to avoid health or safety risks to any person or to avoid a potential risk that the supply of gas, electricity, water, telecommunications or other services to the residential property may be disconnected.

Pest and vermin

Who is responsible for removing or exterminating pests or vermin during a tenancy depends on whether:

  • pests or vermin were already a problem when the tenant moved in
  • a problem with the property has allowed the pests to enter or an infestation to develop
  • the tenant contributed to the problem.

Generally, landlords are responsible for pest and vermin issues that occur at the start of the tenancy. This is part of a landlord’s responsibility to provide a reasonably clean property that is fit for the tenant to live in.

Tenants are generally responsible for getting rid of pests and vermin if the issue arises after they have moved in and if it was caused by the tenant’s activities or lack of cleanliness. For example, the tenant keeps a pet on the property or has not removed rubbish, attracting cockroaches, ants or mice.

If a tenant believes that the infestation was not caused by their activities or lack of cleanliness, then the tenant may not be held responsible for pest eradication. For example, if there is a hole in the wall that lets in pests.

Other factors that could determine who is responsible include the history of the property, what is recorded in the condition report, and if there were factors beyond the tenant’s control. If there is a dispute over who is responsible for pest removal, landlords and tenants can use our free dispute resolution service.

Mould

Mould has been associated with respiratory illness and can cause serious health problems.

Mould may grow indoors in wet or moist areas lacking adequate ventilation, including walls/ wallpaper, ceilings, bathroom tiles, carpets (especially those with jute backing), insulation material and wood.

If moisture accumulates in a building, mould growth will often occur. Many different types of mould exist, and all have the potential to cause health problems.

Adequate ventilation is one of the minimum standards that properties must meet to be considered fit to live in.

Who is responsible depends on how the mould developed. For example:

  • if mould developed from a build-up of moisture because the landlord failed to repair a defective window in a reasonable time, or the property didn’t have adequate ventilation – then the landlord is responsible and must fix the problem
  • If the mould developed during the tenancy because the tenants allowed a build-up of moisture by never opening any windows or using ventilation fans in the bathroom, the tenant might be responsible.

Timing is also a factor. If mould develops close to the start of the tenancy, it could be considered pre-existing damage. The condition report contains a dedicated section on mould, landlords, agents or tenants should note the mould when they complete the report.

Even if mould is noted on the condition report, landlords must make sure they keep the property in a reasonable state of repair.

Tenants must notify the landlord or agent as soon as possible if they see any signs of mould or damp developing during the tenancy.

If the mould is causing a danger to tenants or other occupants’ health, this may be considered an urgent repair. See repairs, maintenance and damage for more information.

For further advice concerning the health risks of mould called 1300 066 055, talk to your local Public Health Unit.

Working smoke alarms are the best way to alert people to fires in their home.

Landlords must ensure that at least one smoke alarm is installed in a hallway outside a bedroom or other suitable location in each storey of a rented home. Smoke alarms (including heat alarms) must be working, and they cannot be removed or disabled.

Tenants must notify their landlord or agent if they discover that a smoke alarm is not working, even if it’s because the battery needs to be changed.

Landlords and tenants have additional requirements for smoke alarms.

See repairs, maintenance and damage for more information.

For general information on fire safety and fire escape plans, visit Fire and Rescue VIC

Gas heaters

The Australian Gas Association recommends that all gas water heaters are serviced regularly by approved service agents. Landlords should always ensure:

  • the bathroom and kitchen heaters have unobstructed ventilation
  • heater flue pipes are free from all restrictions and holes
  • there is no evidence of the heater creating soot deposits
  • there are no signs of discolouration on or around the heater and flue.

Contact the Master Plumbers Association for more information.

Windows and balcony safety

In VIC, all residential strata buildings must be fitted with window safety devices to limit the maximum window opening to less than 12.5cm.

The devices must be able to withstand a force of 250 newtons (which is equal to 25 kilograms of force), and if the device can be unlocked or disengaged, it must have a child-resistant mechanism. There is no obligation for landlords to monitor or enforce the use of window safety devices.

Swimming pools and spas

If a rental property has a swimming pool, landlords must meet the standards in the Swimming Pools Act 1992. This requires most pools to be surrounded by a fence that separates the pool from the house.

At the time the agreement is signed, the landlord or agent must provide a copy of the valid certificate of compliance or occupation certificate issued in the last three years. This does not apply if the property is in a strata or community scheme that has more than 2 lots.

Locks and security devices

Landlords must provide and maintain locks or security devices to make sure that the property is reasonably secure. What is reasonably secure will vary in different situations.

A landlord or tenant can change or add locks or other security devices during the tenancy with the other party’s consent, or if it is a reasonable excuse to do so.

Reasonable excuses for altering, removing or adding a lock or other security device without consent include:

  • an emergency
  • to comply with an order of the VIC Civil and Administrative Tribunal
  • where a co-tenant’s tenancy was terminated
  • where a tenant or occupant was prohibited from accessing the property by an interim, provisional or final Apprehended Violence Order (AVO).A copy of the changed lock or other security device will need to be given to the other party within seven days unless agreed otherwise.

Changing locks or security devices without consent or a reasonable excuse is an offence and a breach of the tenancy agreement.

Tenants should communicate their intention to change the locks with their landlord or agent where possible.

The tenant will need to pay for the cost of the new locks.

Electrical safety

40% of house fires in VIC homes each year are caused by electrical faults and electrical appliances

Any electrical fault in a rental property either before or during a tenancy would be considered an urgent repair and tenants need to notify the landlord or agent right away so arrangements can be made to for repair to be done as soon as possible.

The property condition report includes whether there are:

* visible hazards relating to electricity (e.g. a loose or damaged electricity outlet socket, loose wiring or sparking power points)

* safety switches and confirmation that they are working, which can only be known if a test has been done

Visit the Electrical Safety page on the VIC Government website for more information.

Five holiday security tips for landlords and tenants

Did you know that most burglaries happen during the holiday period?

According to the VIC Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Christmas Eve is the peak time for property offences such as burglaries and break-ins, with most violations occurring between 9 am and 6 pm.

So if you’re planning on going away during the holiday period, make sure your home is protected. Here are five holiday security tips for landlords and tenants to help you out:

1. Put a hold on your mail

Nothing tells a burglar that you’re absent like a stack of parcels on your doorstep or an overflowing mailbox. To reduce the chance of package theft or burglary, be sure to suspend any regular deliveries such as newspapers and magazines and put a hold on your mail or divert your mail to a trusted friend or family member for the duration of your holiday.

2. Conceal your valuables

Before you go away, make sure you conceal your valuables as the majority of burglaries aren’t pre-planned. Opportunist thieves may be tempted by valuable items such as jewellery, cash, gifts and electronics, so make sure they’re kept out of sight.

Additionally, be careful how you dispose of gift and appliance packaging. If a burglar sees an empty 72” Samsung TV box outside your home, it’s likely that they will assume that there’s a new television in your living room.

3. Clean up the yard

Another holiday security tip for landlords and tenants is to clean up your yard. Remove any items such as ladders and crowbars that a burglar can use to break in. These should all be stored securely in the garage.

In addition to that, overgrown hedges and trees create perfect hiding spots for burglars so be sure to trim those down. Plus, a tidy yard will give your home a lived-in look which indicates to burglars that the property is occupied.

4. Light it up

There’s nothing burglars hate more than being caught in the act. That’s why well-lit areas and motion-activated lights around the exterior of your home are such great burglars and deterrents. As for the interior of your home, it’s a good idea to set timers on internal lights to create the illusion that someone is home.

5. Keep your travels off social media

A few months ago, ABC News reported that a string of Los Angeles-based celebrities such as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj had their homes broken into. They had been selected by burglars based on “social media postings, touring or travel schedules of the owners”.

So if you were thinking of checking into Facebook while sipping cocktails in Bali, think again. Posting pictures and updates while on holiday is akin to advertising to burglars that your home is empty and vulnerable. Remember, you can always post pictures and updates after you’ve returned from your holiday!

To sum it all up…

Here are five holiday security tips for landlords and tenants:

  1. Put a hold on your mail
  2. Conceal your valuables
  3. Clean up the yard
  4. Light it up
  5. Keep your travels off social media

How to Ensure Your Tenants Are Safe

As a landlord, you expect your tenants to pay their rent, and they expect you to provide safe housing. These safe conditions include not just security against the threat of a break-in, but also structural integrity and home maintenance. Although certain safety features are required by law, showing your tenants that their safety is a priority helps build a good rapport with your renters. Here are our tips for ensuring your tenants are safe and secure in your property.

Proper lighting

External lighting is an effective way to deter potential criminals from breaking in. Motion-sensor lights can be installed at the front and rear, and porch lights are also a good idea. Ample interior lighting is just as important. Having functional lights inside the house helps illuminate places where an intruder may hide. And it allows tenants to see where they’re walking to avoid potential falls or injuries (and solicitor’s fees).

Secure doors

Make sure all doors, including main doors and screen doors, are fitted with locks. Deadbolts on main doors are recommended as an added precaution in the event of a break in. Furthermore, solid doors made of wood or steel are advisable, as hollow doors or doors with glass are easily breakable. Other features such as chain locks, peepholes and intercom systems are additional ways to increase safety and security around home entrances.

Secure windows

No matter whether it’s a multi-story structure or a ground-level home, criminals are experts at finding a way inside. For this reason, it is important that all windows have working locks as well as external security screens. The outdated mesh fly-screen is easy to rip or remove, and you should replace it with newer, more secure screens.

Security alarm

Installing a security system may seem superfluous, but it is a highly effective way of deterring criminal activity. There are many new DIY security devices, which are easy to install and are remotely accessible. As with everything on the premises, you should check alarm systems regularly for any maintenance issues.

Remove obstructions from entrances

Trees and bushy gardens are great for privacy, but not so great for safety. You don’t want criminals lurking around the yard looking for places to hide, and especially not near entrances that are obscured from view. Consider removing any large shrubs or unnecessary structures around the doorway that may put your tenant’s safety at risk.

Smoke alarms

A fully functional smoke alarm is one of the most important home safety features to install. This is not just a good idea; it is a legal requirement in every rental home, and preferably in every room of the home. Smoke alarm compliance and maintenance services are easy to find – for just $99/year, representatives will come to your home twice a year to test, clean and if necessary replace your smoke alarms for you. Our provider of choice is Smoke Alarm Solutions.  What many people fail to understand is that these companies also supply you with a Certificate of Compliance. This certificate means that the smoke alarm compliance company becomes responsible for the risk, protecting both you and the tenant from liability.

Structural and appliance maintenance

Protection against crime is not the only concern for tenants’ safety; home maintenance is equally important. Regular routine safety checks should be conducted on all internal and external structures, and any repairs addressed promptly. You should examine ceilings, roofs, walls, floors, stairs, verandahs, and landscapes for damage and structural integrity. Appliances such as ovens, fans, dryers, and heaters should also be checked and maintained. Power outlets and light fittings are also potentially hazardous if not kept incorrectly functioning.

You should also keep records of all safety inspections carried out, including notes, dates and pictures. Everyone has a right to feel safe and secure in their home environment, and as a landlord, some of this responsibility is on you to uphold.

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