Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest: Lori Lynam – Senior Team Leader, Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies Podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I'm your host Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland, with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.
The Residential Tenancies Authority respectfully acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this country. We recognise their continuing connection with the lands and seas on which we meet, live, learn and work. We pay our respects to all traditional owners and their elders, past, present and emerging.
Maintaining pest control measures in a rental property are all part of maintaining a healthy living environment and meeting minimum housing standards in Queensland. Today's expert from the RTA is Lori Lynam, welcome Lori.
Guest: Thank you for having me.
Host: Now, can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Yes, absolutely. I'm the Senior Team Leader in our Customer Experience division and I lead our virtual floor walker team. Essentially, the role of the virtual floor walker team is to support our contact centre staff with complex customer inquiries. So, if they get stuck on a call, they reach out to us, and we can point them in the right direction.
Host: Amazing. Now today we're talking about pest control, which is something we often get questions about. Now, let's start with what are the obligations of a landlord and a tenant when it comes to pest control.
Guest: Well, each party involved in a tenancy agreement has different obligations when it comes to pest control. At the beginning of a tenancy, a property manager or owner must ensure the rental property is clean and fit for the tenant to live in, and the residence must meet minimum housing standards, which outlines that the property must be free of vermin. However, this doesn't apply if the pests are in the property because of the actions of the tenant. Throughout a tenancy, the property manager or owner must ensure that minimum housing standards continue to be met. A tenant also has responsibilities to ensure that a property is kept clean and tidy during their tenancy.
At the end of a tenancy, a tenant must return the premises in the same condition as it was in at the start, less any fair wear and tear. We know that in some instances there may be a special term included in a tenancy agreement which states that general pest control and carpet cleaning was done at the start of the tenancy and the tenant may be required to do the same at the end of the tenancy. If a tenant notices that there are issues with pests, it's best they speak with their property manager or landlord and work together to find a solution.
Host: Now, Lori, we all love our pets. What about pest control for pets? Can a tenant be asked to do pest control for fleas and mites?
Guest: If the property manager or owner has given permission to have the pet, part of the condition of approval may be that the tenant needs to do professional pest control at the end of the tenancy. This can also include having carpets professionally cleaned. This may be agreed as part of the pet approval process or a special term in the tenancy agreement. It's important you review all special terms listed on your tenancy agreement before agreeing.
An example here could be that a tenant who lives in a high-rise apartment has received permission to keep a cat at the property. This cat is restricted to only being indoors and does not go outside. A special term may be listed that the property manager or owner has agreed that annual pest control for fleas or mites is not necessary and only required at the end of the tenancy.
Host: Hmm, that's interesting. So, can a property manager or owner dictate a specific contractor or product to carry out pest control work as a special term in a tenancy agreement?
Guest: The property manager or owner can't dictate or ask a tenant to use specific contractors to carry out pest control work and they should not include this as a special term in a tenancy agreement. While we know some agencies may make recommendations, they cannot enforce a specific operator. This also applies for carpet cleaning and even pool maintenance.
Host: That's good to know. Now if the tenant has a long-term tenancy and they've been there forever, are they responsible to do annual pest control maintenance?
Guest: Well, pest control maintenance is not always straightforward, so it's important to understand both the property manager or owner and the tenants’ general obligations and consider this on a case-by-case basis. The property manager or owner needs to ensure the premises are free from vermin unless it's caused by the tenant's actions or inactions. If pest control was done at the start of the tenancy, then the tenant may need to do the same at the end of the tenancy as part of their tenancy conditions in returning the property in the same condition. Annual pest control more than likely will fall to the owner’s responsibility as part of general maintenance, unless it's demonstrated that the issue has been caused by the tenant.
Host: Right. That's good to look out for. So, what would be an example of a situation where the tenant has caused the vermin?
Guest: An example of this could be leaving food scraps or waste to build up, which results in an infestation of mice or ants. In this scenario, because the tenant has failed to dispose of food scraps and waste properly, they are responsible for the vermin and therefore responsible for taking any steps necessary to ensure the property becomes and remains free of vermin.
Host: Now there are some pests like termites, which may make a property become unliveable. What are some of the things that could happen in this scenario?
Guest: Well, termites are a common occurrence here in Queensland. It is common for a property manager or owner to do a building inspection, particularly if there are any signs of termite activity. If an inspection comes back that says the premises has been severely impacted and is unsafe due to considerable damage to timber structures by the termites, then the owner may need to end the tenancy on the grounds that the property has become unliveable. Safety of the occupants should always be the highest priority.
If a notice to end a tenancy has been issued in line with the legislation, then the tenancy can end. If the tenant believes that a notice hasn't been issued correctly or has evidence that differs from the reasoning provided in the notice, they may look to negotiate with the landlord or manager. In some situations, only part of a property may be affected, and the tenant can continue to live in the property with a reduction in rent until the issue is rectified and full access to the property is provided again.
In other situations, the property could be very unsafe, and the tenant does need to leave. Property managers or owners may have guidance from building professionals in these scenarios. If a tenant doesn't vacate the owner or manager could apply to QCAT (Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal) for a termination order.
Host: So then what steps can the tenant take to inform the owner of a pest problem in the property that they're renting?
Guest: There are many different scenarios where a tenant may face a minor pest infestation. Cockroaches and ants are just a part of life. In these scenarios, a tenant can purchase cans of spray to try to address the problem themselves. However, if the situation is more severe, they should first speak with their property manager or owner to request a pest treatment and come to an agreement on how the issue will be fixed.
If no action is taken to address the pest problem, both a tenant or property manager or owner could issue a notice to remedy breach, which outlines that the agreement may have been breached and sets a time frame for rectification. If you're after more information on this topic, you can find more on the RTA's website.
Host: Yeah, I don't know about you, Lori, but cockroaches are not a tenant I want to keep.
Guest: No. Especially the flying ones.
Host: Yeah. Now if the property manager or owner and tenant do not agree on where the responsibility lies to remedy a pest issue, what's the process there?
Guest: Well, communication is key to fixing most tenancy related disputes and issues. If a tenant and property manager or owner cannot resolve an issue through mutual agreement, they can apply to participate in a free dispute resolution service provided by the RTA. Either party can apply for dispute resolution. It is, however, important to know that both parties must agree to participate and that the RTA remains impartial throughout the dispute resolution process.
If the matter can't be resolved through dispute resolution, then a notice of unresolved dispute is issued for the person to pursue the matter directly with QCAT. Again, if you want more information on this topic, you can find it on the RTA website.
Host: So, when it comes to pest control, it's not always straightforward. Both a property manager or owner and tenants have general obligations under Queensland's tenancy laws. Understanding those rights and responsibilities may help understand who's responsible for pest control in certain circumstances. Remember, effective communication between property managers or owners and tenants is key to a successful tenancy.
Thank you, Lori, for joining us and helping us gain a greater understanding when it comes to pest control and our rental property in Queensland.
Guest: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies Podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.