Queenslanders are no strangers to cyclones and severe storms that can produce hail, flooding rains, lightning, winds greater than 200km/h and storm surge. They are often unpredictable and can potentially cause major damage to property. It’s important to be prepared and aware to ensure your safety through storm season. Our RTA expert for this episode is Marc Fidler from RTA's Customer Experience team.
Host - Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest – Marc Fidler – Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tendencies 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.
Queenslanders are no strangers to cyclones and severe storms that can produce hail, flooding, rains, lightning, winds greater than 200 kilometres an hour and storm surge. They are often unpredictable and can potentially cause major damage to property. It's important to be prepared and aware to ensure your safety through storm season. Today's expert from the RTA is Marc Fidler from Customer Experience. Welcome Marc.
Guest: Hello Belinda, how are you going?
Host: I am very well. Now, can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Certainly can, so I've been with the RTA for about 15 years now. Majority of that time has been spent in the Contact Centre and I'm currently a support officer providing support and guidance to our Contact Centre staff in answering some of the more escalated enquiries.
Host: So obviously today we're talking about storms and cyclones in Queensland and you've had a lot of experience in this area, particularly whilst you've been here at the RTA. What are some of the basics that we can do to help prepare for storm season and extreme weather? Like who's responsible for clearing those gutters and trimming trees that might be potential hazard and cause damage during in cyclone or floods.
Guest: There's actually quite a few things that everyone can do around their home to help prepare for storm season. As you mentioned, clearing gutters and removing large overhanging branches around a rental property are the basics and can help minimise any risk of damage. These may be the responsibility of the property owner and the tenant plays an important role in identifying issues, risks and notifying the managing party so they can be addressed swiftly. Large trees or branches that require trimming or removal with specialist equipment would generally fall under the property managers or owners’ responsibility.
It's important to remember that property managers are responsible for repairs, maintenance, and making sure that the rental property is safe and fit to live in. But tenants have an important job and are responsible for keeping the home clean to the standard and condition when the tenancy started and free from damage. It's really important for the tenant to clean small fallen branches, remove loose garden or tree debris that could get blown around or block gutters. The tenants should be checking and cleaning non-essential appliances like air conditioners or fans inside their home. If anyone is unsure what obligations are with maintenance, have a discussion with your property manager or owner and make sure you record agreements on maintenance obligations in writing so there's no surprises.
Another crucial check is to make sure that all outdoor furniture and play equipment like trampolines, cubby houses or swing sets can be secured. Finally, to be fully prepared, make sure that you're ready for storm season and can stay safe by having a plan of alternative routes and destinations for when you need to leave your home to remain safe. Have an emergency kit prepared with battery operated radio, a torch and spare batteries and keep a list of emergency contacts handy.
Host: I’ve got say there's nothing worse than when a trampoline lands in your backyard, particularly when you don't have one.
Guest: Exactly right.
Host: Now I’ve got a scenario for you Marc. Let's say I'm a tenant and I'm renting a property that's become damaged due to storms or flooding, what do I do?
Guest: A good question. If we assume that you're still able to live in the property that's been damaged and it's relatively safe and secure, then we would recommend firstly contacting the property manager or owner to discuss the state of the property and work out what actions need to be taken. You need to be aware and considerate as your property manager or owner, who could well be in the local area as well, could have been affected by the storm or flood and they may not be easily contactable immediately.
The manager or owner is responsible for maintenance and repairs needed to bring the property and its inclusions back to a liveable condition. It's important for you to work with the property manager or owner for suitable times to allow trades people or contractors to enter the property to carry out maintenance or repairs. Obviously normal entry rules under the legislation would still apply.
Host: Right, so what are the options for a tenancy if it becomes unliveable after, let's say water inundation or storm damage, like ending the tenancy and finding somewhere else to live can be difficult in terms of a widespread event like a cyclone, right?
Guest: Yeah, absolutely. When we saw Townsville in 2018 and the floods back in 2011 were widespread and a number of people were impacted. It's often a difficult time for everyone when the property becomes severely damaged or partly destroyed. The unliveability of the property must be considered on a case-by-case basis. We recommend that tenants and property managers or owners try and contact each other as soon as possible, and when it's safe to do so, to discuss the state of the property and their individual circumstances.
The first option is obviously to end the tenancy. There are a number of ways that the tenancy can end, including through mutual agreement between the tenant and the property manager or owner. Either party can issue a notice to leave or a notice of intention to leave to the other party on the grounds of non-liveability, or QCAT can make an order to end the tenancy. It's important to note that the tenancy doesn't automatically end when the property becomes unliveable and this may mean that the tenant is responsible for paying rent until the tenancy does end, or a date which was agreed or outlined in a notice issued. Ending the tenancy could be a straightforward option, but we know that sometimes, as you mentioned, that finding somewhere else can be difficult because of the widespread impact on the region.
There may be a situation where the tenant wants to stay at the property even though it is partially destroyed and deemed unliveable. The decision of staying in the property should be negotiated with the manager or owner. Health and safety issues should also be considered to ensure that the property managers and owners continue their obligation to ensure the premises are fit to live in and are not in breach of any health and safety laws. If the tenant can remain in the property, you may want to discuss the possibility of rent reductions, particularly when some of the facilities or inclusions, if it's a pool or the garage has been damaged, or even internally the laundry or shower or parts of the kitchen are no longer available, or if the standard of the premises decreases substantially.
There are some cases where the tenant may want to leave the property and return after the damages have been repaired. There may be an agreement to waive the rent during the period when the tenant isn't in the premises. But whatever the case, remember to put any agreed changes to tenancy arrangements and rent payments in writing so everyone knows what they need to do and what is expected of them. The property manager or owner and tenant can also decide to terminate the existing tenancy agreement and sign a new agreement after repairs are completed. In terms of the new agreement, it would need to be negotiated and would not necessarily be the same as the old agreement, including the rent amount.
Host: There's so many unknowns in an emergency situation like that, and in particular, if you're going stay, you really need to get things in writing and make sure you're covered. This all leads back to communication, which is the key here. Particularly in big events where all parties are impacted with realistic expectations in regard to repairs and bond refunds. Now, understanding that it's a stressful time and emotional time for everyone impacted, we've really got to be there for each other.
Guest: Absolutely. Good communication is absolutely crucial through those periods, especially, in those widespread impacted lot of events. Remember that everyone can be in the same boat and has been impacted, and they're often trying times and sometimes very emotionally stressful for others. Having some patience and compassion helps, keeping in mind that your property manager or owners’ residence may also have been damaged or affected to a similar extent.
This is why we ask our customers to try contacting their property managers or owners, or in the property managers or owners case, to contact the tenants a few times over a number of days following the weather event to make sure that you do have an opportunity to check in and discuss next steps before any action is taken.
The quickest way to address issues related to your tenancy like repairs and rent payments and bond refunds is to work together. Following extreme weather events, we often see a sharp increase in demand for trades people, and there may also be a shortage in particular materials and resources. I remember there was a bit of a glass shortage after one of the large hail storms in Queensland. There were some cars and houses still waiting for their windows to be repaired months after the event. For these reasons, repairs requested can take longer than usual to address, so be patient. The property owner or manager may need to make an insurance claim for damages, so at this time open and transparent communication is a really good practise.
Host: It can be such a tricky time, particularly when there's been so much damage in a specific area, and then you want to try and get a tradie in to get things fixed and you can't get one and you're trying to get back to normal life. It can be really tricky, so trying to make the best of a bad situation I think is the key here. It's important to note that in some circumstances though, timeframes may be extended for a refund request or dispute resolution if the postal services are impacted by a natural disaster. But our web services may be the best option if you can still access the Internet.
Guest: That's correct. Obviously, after a natural disaster, not only may postal and delivery services be impacted, but internet connectivity and phone lines can be affected as well. After a natural disaster, RTA Web Services could be a really good option if you're able to get access to the internet. The RTA does actively monitor situations following a natural disaster or weather event, and we do make special arrangements and provide timeframe extensions to ensure that none of our customers are disadvantaged while conducting their essential tenancy transactions and processes.
Host: Some examples of those. Obviously, you made it all the way up to Townsville when that event occurred, what did we do there?
Guest: In Townsville we looked at the impacted postal areas and we extended notice of claim periods to ensure that people had plenty of time to receive notices and then obviously be able to return notices to the RTA. Going back to the 2011 floods, the RTA themselves were impacted. From that aspect, our processing times you know, slowed and again, we provided suitable time to for people to receive notices and get stuff back from us or to them and that sort of thing.
Host: Sometimes we're in the same boat.
Guest: We extend bond refund and dispute resolution request timeframes. As I said, after Townsville floods and, as you mentioned, I was actually up in Townsville at the Residential Tenancies Hub working with other organisations to try and provide on-the-ground assistance. It's something that as an organisation we take pretty seriously from an advice and information perspective and understand how people can be impacted.
Host: Insurance is an important consideration for Queenslanders, whether they be a tenant or a landlord. What do tenants need to look out for when getting insurance to ensure they are covered in a natural disaster?
Guest: That's a great question. Insurance is something that we should think about when we sign a tenancy agreement and pay the bond. Generally, a property owner or landlord will have landlord insurance. The insurance policies that they have in the coverage associated can vary greatly. Landlords should check that their insurance policies are up to date and make sure that they are adequately covered for damages caused by natural disaster events. For the tenants, they are strongly encouraged to take out their own insurance policies to provide coverage and protection for their own possessions and belongings inside the rental property. Generally, the landlord's insurance policy won't cover the recovery of the tenants’ possessions or belongings.
Host: It's really important that you check what you are covered for when you do get that insurance, whether you be the tenant or the landlord. Speaking of resources, what are the resources available to help both tenants and managing parties, should they end up in one of these situations?
Guest: The RTA website has a lot of information – fact sheets and webinars on what to do if your tenancy is affected by natural disasters and when a property becomes unliveable and how you can be prepared for storms and floods. I would say that discussing these potential circumstances with your tenant and your property manager or owner ahead of time would help with taking some of the stress out of the situation when it does happen. The Get Ready Queensland website also has a lot of helpful and practical resources to make sure that you have a plan and are prepared for when Queensland is impacted.
Host: That's really the whole point of this episode as well Marc, isn't it, is to be prepared and have a plan.
Guest: Absolutely. You would see the ads on TV now because that's the time of the year. We’re presenting this today after a fairly heavy rain event this morning. It's on us and we know that being prepared is the best option.
Host: Exactly. Well thank you so much Marc for helping us to get a greater understanding on what we need to know when it comes to staying safe this storm season in Queensland.
Guest: Thanks Belinda.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.
Note: While the RTA makes every reasonable effort to ensure that information on this website is accurate at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after publication may impact on the accuracy of material. This disclaimer is in addition to and does not limit the application of the Residential Tenancies Authority website disclaimer.