What happens when a landlord does not deal with maintenance

The Lisa Jane Harrington vs New Leaf Properties Ltd (Kylie Andrews) case is a great example of what can happen to landlords that don’t get maintenance done within a reasonable time frame.
If you don’t repair, replace, or remove something that a tenant has brought to your attention then you will not only make their life more difficult but also your own. The tenant is entitled to go to the Tenancy Tribunal and should you not deal with the maintenance issues within a reasonable time frame you could experience the same outcome as New Leaf Properties does in this case. 

Harrington vs New Leaf Properties Ltd: The unresolved maintenance requests

On January 30, 2018, the Tenancy Tribunal ruled that the landlord (New Leaf Properties Ltd) needed to:

  • replace the broken gas hobs and
  • remove the gas fire

at their rental property on or before February 20, 2018.
As of March 22, 2018, the landlord was still yet to do either of those things so the Tenancy Tribunal made another ruling. This time the Tribunal considered that:

  • 2/5 of the hobs had not worked since August 2017 (with another one beginning to fail) and
  • the gas fire had also stopped working at the same time.

This meant “loss of use” came into this decision and compensation needed to be calculated to go to the tenant. The Tribunal ruled that:

  • the loss of the hob would have cost $20 per week for 6 months. The equivalent to $480 (due to inconvenience).
  • the loss of access to the gas fire was worth the equivalent of $250.

On top of these two issues, the tenant also had their gas supply professionally disconnected around February 20th. As New Leaf Properties claimed this wasn’t their doing – or their responsibility to fix – the tenant was required to pay $460.71 to the supplier to have it reconnected. Something that the landlord should have organised and paid for. This situation also meant the tenant did not have any hot water or cooking facilities for 5 days.
Another $204.29 was also rewarded to the tenant due to the landlord failing to replace the hob and remove the gasfire despite the tenant acting reasonably.
Therefore the total amount the tenant was entitled to was: $1,390.71.
So, instead of paying this to the landlord the tenant was exempt from paying two weeks rent and until the hob and gasfire issues were fixed was entitled to a $40 reduction in rent for the weeks following those 2.
So a total of $1390.71 lost by the landlord and a further $40 per week until the issues are mediated.
To read the official case document for this dispute, see here.

Lessons to learn from this case

Landlords

  • As a landlord you have responsibilities that you need to meet. These responsibilities include responding to maintenance issues and fixing them within a reasonable time frame. They also include taking responsibility for costs when it comes to these repairs.
  • Putting off a maintenance issue could cost you. This should be common sense for a landlord but if you leave a maintenance issue unattended you could not only lose out in a Tenancy Tribunal dispute but also in terms of repairs if the issue gets worse. It’s best to either deal with maintenance issues asap or to have a plan in place for doing so. This article by Erin Eberlin is a helpful source which helps you to categorise maintenance issues into levels of urgency. It also describes the importance of having a plan that decides how tenants will report maintenance issues and who will handle these. Read this to ensure your plan is in place and your times for repair are reasonable.

Tenants

  • As a tenant you may experience a situation where a repair is required urgently and therefore you organise and pay for it. If you do this, it is important to keep your landlord in the loop and to save a receipt so that they can reimburse you. In saying this, you should be mindful of the difference between a maintenance repair and careless or intentional damage. These situations are all completely different and in the case of careless damage you will most likely be responsible for paying this. More can be found out about both of these situations in the Tenancy Tribunal write-up on Repairs and Damages.
  • If a landlord does not respond to a maintenance request there are things you can do. As shown in the case above, you can go to the Tenancy Tribunal when maintenance issues are not fixed within a reasonable time frame. You can also consider presenting your landlord with a 14-day notice to remedy if they have not acted on a maintenance request. This basically gives them 14 days to fix the issue before a dispute goes to the Tenancy Tribunal. It is a good idea to do this as you are not entitled to stop paying rent or reduce your rent payments while you wait for something to be fixed. Therefore, you will want it fixed asap. You can access the template to write a 14 day notice below:
  • Tenancy Tribunal 14-day notice to remedy template

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