A landlord has a general duty of care to a tenant to ensure that the leased premises are safe.  A landlord is responsible to rectify defects in the premises that exist at the time the tenancy commences or at the time the tenancy is renewed, as well as any defects that arise during the term of the tenancy which the Landlord knew or ought to have known about.

The duty owed by the landlord to provide safe premises to a tenant was recognised in the High Court Case of Northern Sandblasting v Harris.  The court held that the landlord was liable for loss and damage suffered by the tenant that was caused by the negligence of an electrical contractor engaged by the landlord.

To seek to reduce any potential liability, landlords should ensure they at lease take the following steps:

Arranging for a written inspection by a qualified professional to ensure that the premises are safe for tenants before the commencement of the lease;

  • Ensure that they are informed about the state of the premises, including any repair works which need to be undertaken;
  • Have the property regularly inspected, especially at the commencement and renewal of a tenancy.  Inspections may involve checking the structure of the building, water pipes, gas connections, wiring, paths etc; 
  • Upon inspection, identify any repair or maintenance obligations which may be the responsibility of a tenant and require the tenant to engage a qualified tradesperson to attend to them.  Once any repair works have been performed, undertake a follow up inspection to confirm the works were performed properly and the premises are safe; 
  • Ensure that any maintenance and repair work, whether by contractors engaged by the landlord, the letting agent or the tenant, are performed in a competent and professional manner.

The case of Northern Sandblasting v Harris involved a residential landlord’s duty to the tenant. It is important to note that safety obligations also exist for commercial lessors, particularly as those premises are leased to lessees who run a business and accordingly, occupational health and safety issues may arise.

For further information regarding the rights and obligations of landlords/lessors or any other property related matter, please telephone Rebecca Flynn or email rebecca@wmdlaw.com.au.

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