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Renters’ rights in a bushfire: What you need to know

CANBERRA, Jan. 13, 2020 -- Burnt houses left by bushfires in the village of Wingello, about one and a half hour drive from Canberra, capital of Australia. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua via Getty)

Thousands of Australians have been left displaced after bushfires destroyed millions of hectares of bushland all across the country.

People have lost homes, possessions, and their livelihoods as the undiscriminating fires incinerate businesses and livestock, and bushfire victims are left wondering whether or not they need to pay rent on a home they can’t live in.

If you’ve been affected by the bushfires, you have certain rights as a tenant. Bear in mind that the exact procedures will look slightly different depending on what state you live in. 

For further information about the circumstances and laws in your specific state, visit the links at the bottom of the article.

If your house is partially or entirely uninhabitable…

Generally speaking, you can give your landlord an immediate termination notice. Your landlord can issue a notice to end the lease, too. You’ll need to negotiate this in writing with your landlord.

If you don’t arrive at an agreement, you can apply to the relevant tribunal to get an order for your rent to be reduced, or for your landlord to repay you any overpaid rent.

If you’re moving out temporarily…

Make an agreement with your landlord – in writing – about rent reduction, how long you’ll be away, who is responsible for the goods on the premises and how the goods will be stored.

If you want to stay and need to make repairs…

Let your landlord know immediately that you intend to stay, and of the damage to the premises (put it in writing). Take steps to prevent your property from further damage.

You also should tell your landlord about the repairs that are needed, and you can ask your landlord for an immediate inspection. Be sure to keep a record of your conversations with your landlord to avoid any ambiguity or confusion.

Your landlord should attend to urgent repairs as soon as possible.

Can you make your landlord bring the rent down?

If you haven’t been given a termination notice, but the premises are completely or partially unfit to live in, you can try to negotiate with your landlord to bring your rent down.

If you can’t reach an agreement, get in touch with the relevant tribunal in your state to apply for an order to bring the rent down.

Can you make your landlord pay for your accommodation elsewhere?

In most cases, your landlord can’t pay for your accommodation if the reason for the damage is due to the fires alone. (Speak to your insurer if you need emergency accommodation.)

However, if your landlord had been notified of an issue needing repairs prior to the natural disaster happening and it had not been repaired, and that failure to repair caused further losses, then you might be able to claim compensation.

Resources for renters if you live in...

NSW

Victoria

Queensland

ACT

South Australia

Western Australia

Tasmania

Northern Territory

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