What constitutes an ‘Urgent’ Repair?

Most tenancy agreements state that the owner of the rental property is obliged to conduct ‘urgent repairs’ as they arise. What constitutes an ‘urgent’ repair and what happens when landlords try to ‘save money’ by refusing to carry it out?

Throughout Australia, landlords as well as tenants are subject to residential tenancy legislation. For example, in NSW landlords have to keep the property in good condition, they are obligated to lodge the bond with the Rental Bond Board, and there is a limit to the amount of bond that can be charged.

The law distinguishes between urgent (emergency) repairs and those which are not so urgent. Urgent problems are usually defined as those that radically reduce the tenant’s ability to live in a property.

According to the Office of Fair Trading, urgent repairs include the following:

  • a burst water service or a serious water service leak
  • a blocked or broken toilet
  • a serious roof leak
  • a gas leak
  • a dangerous electrical fault
  • flooding or serious flood damage
  • serious storm or fire damage
  • a failure or breakdown of the gas, electricity or water supply to the premises
  • a failure or breakdown of the hot water service
  • a failure or breakdown of the stove or oven
  • a failure or breakdown of a heater or air-conditioner
  • a fault or damage which makes the premises unsafe or insecure.

If urgent repairs are needed a tenant must notify their landlord or agent right away. The landlord or agent must arrange for the repairs to be done as soon as possible. If the landlord or agent can’t be reached, the nominated trades person on the tenancy agreement can be contacted.

A rental property owner who does not see to urgent repairs is asking to pay more for repairs in the long run as tenants have the right to hire qualified trades people to carry out urgent work and send the bill to the owner of the property. It is unlikely that a tenant will shop around for the best price, since ultimately the cost is legally payable by the owner. However, if the tenant claims the bill from the rental property owner, they must be able to show that:

  • the need for the urgent repair was not the tenant’s fault
  • they contacted the landlord or agent about the problem or made a reasonable attempt to do so
  • they gave the landlord or agent a reasonable opportunity to get the repairs done
  • the repairs were carried out by a licensed trades person (if appropriate).

Most importantly, always remember to check with your property manager to make sure you are complying with all governing legislation and regulations.

Source: Office of Fair Trading (2010) Getting Repairs Done and Local Property News (2010) ‘Urgent’ Repairs