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Fair Trading advice for flood affected tenants, home owners and agents 

8 February 2012

Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts said unlicensed building repairs and tenancy issues were causing problems in Moree and had the potential to do so in other flooded parts of the state.

“Once the floodwaters begin to subside, people naturally begin to focus on the clean-up and repair of damaged properties. Even in these exceptional circumstances, people should not use unlicensed businesses or individuals for any home building repairs,” Mr Roberts said.

“Trade licenses are able to be checked online or by phone.”

The Minister also reminded landlords about their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 when dealing with tenants in flooded properties.

“Fair Trading has received reports of landlords and real estate agents demanding that tenants clean up flood damage and undertake repairs,” he said. “There have also been reports of threatened evictions if tenants do not undertake repairs or cleaning.

“Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a tenant or landlord will help you avoid further problems during what is inevitably a very stressful time. If a rented home suffers damage through natural disaster, tenants and landlords or agents should communicate regularly and work together to make the best of an unusual and difficult situation.

“The first thing the tenant and landlord will need to decide is whether the tenancy itself will continue.

“If the home is destroyed or becomes totally or partly uninhabitable, this does not automatically end a tenancy. Either the tenant or the landlord can give a termination notice in writing to end the tenancy. The notice, once served, can take effect immediately or can specify a later date. Tenants cannot be evicted without a Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) order.

“If the home is only partly uninhabitable, tenants may wish to stay while repairs are being carried out. They should only consider doing this if the damage is relatively minor and there is no ongoing safety risk.

“If the home has been more seriously damaged or has become totally uninhabitable, another option is for tenants to move out temporarily and return once the residence is livable again. Landlords or agents are not obliged to find or pay for tenants’ temporary accommodation.

“Tenants and landlords or agents can also decide to formally end the agreement and re-sign a new agreement after repairs are complete.

“If the tenancy is ended permanently, no rent is payable from the day tenants move out. Any rent already paid in advance must be fully refunded.

“If tenants move out temporarily or continue living in the partially damaged premises, the rent should be waived or reduced. Whether any rent is payable at all and, if so, the level of reduction will depend on the extent of the damage and the amount of use tenants have of the premises.

“Any agreement in these situations about the rent, how long tenants may be away from the premises and what will happen to tenants’ possessions should be put in writing.

“If the tenancy is to continue, the landlord or agent, preferably with the tenant being present, should inspect the premises and document repairs needed.

“Tenants should discuss with the landlord or agent the timetable for repairs, recognising there may be unavoidable delays because of a demand for insurance assessments and qualified tradespeople in the area.

“A landlord is not obliged to compensate tenants for any damage to furniture or personal belongings arising from a natural disaster.

“Serious storm, fire or flood damage is considered as urgent repair work and should be done as soon as possible. If tenants believe the landlord or agent is not acting quickly enough on needed repairs, they can apply to the CTTT or arrange for the work to be done and be reimbursed.

“After a natural disaster most repairs needed are likely to be classed as urgent repairs. The landlord or agent does not have to give tenants any minimum period of notice before sending tradespeople to do this work.

“In normal situations tenants must be given at least two days notice if tradespeople need to access the premises to carry out non-urgent repairs. Tenants should talk to the landlord or agent and agree on a shorter period of notice in order to get the work completed as soon as possible.”

The Minister also warned flood victims to be extremely careful when using any electrical items affected by water, such as toasters and home entertainment systems.

“Have electrical items which have been exposed to water checked by a licensed electrician before using them,” he said.

“Also be aware that solar panels can generate an electrical current regardless of whether or not the electrical supply from the state grid has been turned off.

“People should be very cautious when re-entering flood affected premises fitted with solar panels.

“Just because the power is off does not mean solar panels do not pose an electrocution risk.”

For more information go to the Fair Trading website or call 13 32 20. Free language assistance is available for customers from non-English speaking backgrounds, including an interpreter service on 13 14 50.

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