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When is damage a landlord’s responsibility?

April 4, 2021

Who is responsible for repairs in a rental property?

It’s a common question that is often confusing for both tenants and landlords alike.

In a nutshell, basic tenancy laws state that property damage related to fair wear and tear is the landlord’s responsibility while accidental or malicious damage caused by the tenant (or their houseguests) is the tenant’s responsibility.

Let’s look at these various responsibilities more closely.

Damage that is a landlord’s responsibility

Reasonable wear and tear could include carpets or floors gradually wearing or kitchen or bathroom taps leaking or seizing up, for example. It is the landlord’s responsibility to fix and pay for these repairs.

However, this is not all landlords are responsible for. Landlords are responsible for all manner of urgent and non-urgent repairs. There are also set time limits for how quickly both urgent and non-urgent repairs should be addressed.

An urgent repair could be anything from a burst water pipe, busted hot water system, a gas leak, a broken toilet, serious flooding or a dangerous electrical fault, or any fault that makes a premises unsafe or unsecure, among other things. Urgent repairs should be addressed and fixed as soon as possible by the landlord.

As a general rule (but tenants and landlords should refer to their residential tenancy agreement for the specific clause), if repairs are not addressed in a  timely manner or they cannot get hold of their landlord, the tenant can arrange for repairs up to a certain stated value, which must then be reimbursed by the landlord.

Non-urgent repairs are considered things like a broken appliance (which is included in the property) or something that is not working to its full potential, but not considered “urgent”. It is the landlord’s responsibility to address and fix non-urgent repairs within fourteen days of being notified.

Furthermore, landlords are responsible for damage arising from natural disasters. This could be fixing a broken roof that a tree has fallen on in a storm or damage from an earthquake.

In the occurrence of a break-in, a landlord will be responsible for damage to the property itself and for ensuring the property is secure again while the tenants will be responsible for their own contents within the property. However, this can be a grey area – if there is reason to believe a tenant’s negligence led to a break-in, for instance – and should be checked in each residential tenancy agreement for clarification.

However, landlords should be aware of the responsibility they have as property owners and not assume that they will automatically be covered by insurance. Say, for instance, a property is vacant for an extended period, and during this time it is broken into on several occasions because of broken locks or windows that the owner was aware of but failed to secure. As the owner has not taken necessary precautions to secure the property (by installing new locks or boarding up windows, for instance), especially after the initial break-in, some of their insurance claims may be rejected.

In summary, the landlord must take action to ensure the property is safe and well maintained at all times, whether tenanted or not.

Damage for tenants to fix

When it comes to damage and repairs, tenants have responsibilities too.

Any malicious or accidental damage to the property caused by a tenant or their guests is the tenant’s responsibility. However, it should still be reported to the property manager or landlord. Malicious damage could be a hole punched in a wall or even nails hammered into the wall without a landlord’s permission. Accidental damage could be red wine spilled on a carpet, for example.

Tenants are also responsible for ensuring that all repairs are reported to their landlord or property manager promptly.

Addressing repairs at tribunal

If there is a situation where it cannot be agreed between the landlord and tenant who was responsible for damage, the case may be taken to a residential tenancy tribunal where copies of insurance policies, photos of damage and inspection reports, and quotes for repairs are all carefully reviewed by the third-party tribunal.

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