Rental repairs and maintenance: who’s responsible, the landlord or the tenant?

Property management

One of the primary disputes between landlords and tenants is the responsibility for rental repairs and maintenance. Who is responsible for fixing damage and normal wear and tear? Regulations throughout Australia are fairly clear, but there can be grey areas where disputes arise.

Landlords should always carry insurance to cover tenant damage and ensure a thorough property inspection report detailing the existing state of the property is carried out. This can help if a dispute arises and if a tenant has an issue with the property, they can request for the damage to be seen to before they move in.

In general, responsibilities for landlords and tenants are clear. They are determined by who is at fault for the damage. Tenancy law is designed to protect both the landlord and the tenant.

Read: What to look for in a property manager

Rental repairs and maintenance: the landlord’s responsibilities

In general, the landlord is responsible for fixing damage due to normal wear and tear. What does this mean? It covers everything in the home or apartment and outside of the home or apartment. However, by law, landlords don’t have to fix everything. There are a set of rules around what is constituted as urgent, what should be replaced within a specified timeframe and repairs that are at the landlord’s discretion.

Who’s responsible for plumbing repairs in rental properties?

Plumbing repairs can include a leaking faucet, a hot water system or a burst pipe. These are not a tenant’s responsibility because they are generally considered normal wear and tear. An exception to the rule might be if a tenant digs a hole in the backyard and accidentally breaks a pipe. Inside the house, a tenant might accidentally do something to cause a leak.

Who is responsible for damaged and stained flooring or carpet in rental property?

Carpets and floor coverings are covered in this definition, too. If a carpet is badly worn, it is the landlord’s responsibility to replace it. If vinyl, timber or another type of hard flooring is worn, the landlord should replace or reseal the floor.

Again, there may be exceptions to this rule. If a tenant spills wine or another beverage on a carpet, it is their responsibility to clean the affected area. If a tenant damages the surface of a hard floor, they are responsible for the damage.

Who’s responsive for damages to rental properties caused by the weather?

Any damage caused by a natural occurrence is the landlord’s responsibility. For example, if a tree falls on the roof of the house, the landlord must fix the damage. Here again there may be grey areas. It is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the gutters clean, but occasionally a tenant might do something that blocks the gutters or downpipes. If the landlord can prove it was the tenant’s fault, it is their responsibility to repair any damage caused by overflowing gutters or a blocked down pipe.

Vandalism to rental properties – who’s responsible for paying for the damage? The landlord or the tenant?

A landlord is also responsible for damage caused by vandalism. For example, if someone throws a rock through a window, the landlord must repair the damage. Any other damage caused by vandalism is also the landlord’s responsibility.

Damaged caused by pests and vermin – who should pay?

Damage caused by vermin or insects can be the landlord’s responsibility, but it may depend on the circumstances. A tenant is responsible for keeping a property neat and tidy. If they don’t, it may attract vermin, ants or cockroaches. In this case, a landlord can argue that it is the tenant’s responsibility to get rid of vermin or insects.

Carpenter repairing rental property

When is the tenant responsible for fixing damage?

As the examples above show, tenants are responsible for fixing damage when they are the cause of the damage. This can be accidental or possibly caused when a tenant tries to fix something and does a poor job.

If a tenant has a guest who causes damage, it is their responsibility to fix the damage. Basically, if a tenant causes damage that is not due to normal wear and tear or vandalism, they are responsible for repairing the damage.

However, if vandalism is done by a person the tenant has allowed into the property, the waters can get a bit murky. Usually in these cases it’s the tenant’s responsibility to fix the damage.

The grey areas that cause disputes

The grey areas arise when the landlord and tenant disagree about who caused the damage. For example, if mould appears on the walls or floors, who is responsible? If mould appears because of a leak, the landlord is probably responsible unless the tenant caused the leak. However if the cause of mould is due to a tenant allowing steam to build up, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to fix the problem.

If there is a pool on the property, it is the tenant’s responsibility to keep the pool clean. They may also be responsible for cleaning pumps and filters, but this must be clearly stated in the terms of their lease agreement. If it is not spelled out, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the pool in proper running order.

In every state, smoke alarms must be installed on the property. At least one smoke alarm should be installed to warn sleeping tenants of a fire. It is also the landlord’s responsibility to change the smoke alarm battery between tenants. Older smoke alarms (usually over 10 years old) must be replaced with new smoke alarms that adhere to Australian standards.

The exception to the battery rule is long term tenants. In that case, it may be the tenant’s responsibility to replace smoke alarm batteries. It may depend on your state’s regulations, so check with your local council to find out who is responsible for keeping smoke alarms in working order.

It is important for both landlords and tenants to know their responsibilities. If a dispute arises, they should try to settle it amicably. If that is not possible, a landlord or tenant can refer to state government documents or contact their local council. As a final measure, you can apply to your state tribunal to resolve a dispute.

lease clause rental repairs and maintenance

Rental property maintenance timeline

As mentioned, the landlord is responsible for fixing problems associated with normal wear and tear. They must fix urgent problems within 24 to 48 hours. If they do not respond to a tenant’s request for an urgent repair, the tenant has the right to organise the repairs up to a certain value. Each state has different values.

If a repair isn’t an urgent repair, the landlord has up to 14 days to correct the problem. Non-urgent repairs can include things like leaking taps, which pose no danger, but are an annoyance. In most cases, it’s better to do non-urgent repairs quickly. A tenant will be happier and more confident their landlord is looking after the property they are renting and you will also reduce the risk of vacancy.

What is considered an urgent rental repair?

Urgent repairs are anything that must be repaired immediately. Some urgent repairs might include :

  • a broken window (not caused by the tenant);
  • a burst water pipe;
  • a broken cooktop or oven;
  • a fridge that stops running;
  • no hot water;
  • or anything else that impacts a tenant’s ability to live comfortably in the home.

Urgent repairs do not necessarily include things like faulty, but working appliances. A landlord has up to 14 days to repair faulty appliances that are still in working order.

Landlords should look at every repair individually. If the problem is due to normal wear and tear, they should fix the problem as soon as possible. To avoid disputes, they should keep records of the work that was done; how much it cost; and when the work was done. Having records of repairs can protect a landlord or tenant if a dispute arises.

rental repairs and maintenance fridge

State by state laws and regulations

All states have the same basic regulations, but some laws and regulations may vary. As mentioned above, a tenant has the right to fix something and charge the landlord if the landlord does not respond within 48 hours. However, some states impose spending limits.

In New South Wales, the limit is $1000. In Victoria, the limit is $1800. The limit may be different in your state. As a landlord or tenant, you should know the regulations in your state.

Refer to the following websites to learn about regulations in your state:

The websites will contain links to other information landlords and tenants need to know.

As a landlord or tenant, you should be aware of your responsibilities. If damage occurs, it may be the landlord’s responsibility to fix the damage or the tenant’s responsibility. If everything is clear to both parties, they can avoid disputes and establish good landlord/tenant relations.

Remember that regulations can change, so as an extra precaution, make sure you find out what applies in your state or territory. It’s also a good idea to appoint a responsible and experienced property manager who will understand the ins and outs of rules and regulations in your area.

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