Consumer Protection: Navigating renting when disaster strikes

Steph MarshAlbany Advertiser
Steph Marsh, senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
Camera IconSteph Marsh, senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. Credit: Supplied/RegionalHUB

West Aussies are no strangers to disasters such as bushfires, storms and floods, but if you’re renting there might be the extra stress of working with your landlord should your residence be affected by a catastrophe.

The good news is when it comes to rentals, both landlords and tenants have rights and responsibilities should a property become damaged or destroyed in a disaster such as a cyclone or bushfire.

If your house has been destroyed or deemed by the local government to be unfit to live in, the most practical approach is for the tenant or landlord to give a notice of intention to immediately end the lease.

Tenants can give two days’ notice, while the landlord must give seven days.

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Whichever way, a landlord should finalise the tenancy and repay the bond in the normal way, minus any mutually agreed expenses incurred by the landlord.

The landlord doesn’t have to provide alternative accommodation.

Following damage to a rental home, the landlord is legally responsible for necessary repairs and maintenance to bring the property back to a liveable condition.

If a tenant continues to be able to live in the rental, urgent repairs required to essential services such as power, gas, water including supply of hot water, and sewage should be arranged within 24 hours.

If any other issues could cause someone harm or undue hardship, or cause further damage then works need to be arranged within 48 hours.

With urgent repairs, if you cannot reach the landlord or if within 24 hours, the landlord fails to act, then you can employ a suitably-qualified repairer to fix the issue to the minimum standard.

Please be aware that there may be delays — it can be difficult to get tradespeople to your home as many properties may need repair after a disaster.

When services to an entire area have been impaired — such as when power poles burn down or the water supply becomes compromised — it can take the authorities some time to resolve the issues, but the landlord could consider providing a generator, potable water or if not, then a rent rebate for the duration. In these cases, Consumer Protection can assist the parties to reach a mutual agreement.

When it comes to debris, emergency services may already have a cleaning program in place, so contact the local authorities, such as the emergency services for advice.

It’s also smart to be wary of travelling con men or unlicensed traders who can target areas after a disaster going door-to-door, offering cheap cash-only deals.

For further information on renting during a disaster, including managing rent and bond payments, visit our factsheets at www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/disaster-advice-while-renting

Steph Marsh is the senior regional officer for the Great Southern at the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety.

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