Keeping up with property upkeep

As a property investor, have you ever wondered what is expected of you as a landlord?

You obviously provide a home to a paying tenant – but your commitment to the arrangement goes much deeper than that. It’s important to understand both your rights and your responsibilities, because failure to appreciate your role can leave you liable for any accidents or issues that occur while your property is tenanted.

So, we’ve pulled together the information you might need in order to understand what tasks fall under your responsibility, particularly when it comes to maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for your tenants.

  • At the beginning…

As the landlord, you’re responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the structural integrity of the property, which includes both the interior and exterior – basically, it’s your job to keep on top of the risks. Prior to your tenant moving in, ensure the premises is perfectly habitable both inside and out; clean and tidy, in good condition and with no obvious hazards.

It is also your duty to ensure it is free from any nasty mould, damp or insect/pest infestation (your building and pest inspection should have alerted you to any issues). You should have any tree lopping taken care of, including branches near power lines or overhanging other property or public spaces.

  • Throughout the tenancy…

You are required to provide your tenants with security and safety in their residence, but exactly what this looks like for your property is up for debate.

For instance, it could include features like exterior motion sensors that trigger outdoor lighting; a deadlock on the front door; working locks on all the windows and doors. Ensuring that all handrails are firmly installed and that there are no sizeable cracks, uneven steps or trip hazards will also be included.

As the owner and landlord you must be aware of the requirements for smoke alarms and their compliance, and ensure they meet the required standard and testing frequency – usually an annual inspection with a further inspection at change of tenancy. You also bear the cost of this service.

If your property has a swimming pool or spa, it is your responsibility to ensure it complies with your state’s safety measures, including an annual pool compliance certificate (in most states). There are also strict pool fencing requirements which should be addressed prior to any tenancy.

Keep pool and spa water chemically balanced and clean, and provide the tenants with the necessary equipment needed to maintain it (they should at least keep it clear of leaves and other falling debris) during their tenancy, such as pool scoops and vacuums. You may find it necessary to engage a professional company to come in on a regular basis to maintain the health/ph balance of the pool/spa – and you will be responsible for paying for that service.

  • The legal long and short of it…

From a legal perspective, you must endeavour to make sure all fixtures are working correctly, safely and to the standard required by your state. These include things such as gas lines, electricity connections, water and plumbing.

It also applies to previously installed appliances, like air conditioners and dishwashers, which should be properly maintained and in good working order.

Naturally, you’re required to take care of any issues that may come up as the tenancy continues, including mould, rising damp, insect infestations. These should be tended to as quickly as possible, as well as any reported urgent repairs, such as a burst water main, a blocked/broken toilet, gas leak and faulty or broken appliances such as the oven or air-conditioner.

Failure to take care of any urgent repairs gives the tenant the right to organise the repairs themselves for an amount up to $1000 (depending on your state or territory) – which you will ultimately have to reimburse.

  • The logistics of property upkeep…

As the landlord, you are responsible for sending your tenant’s bond (usually amounting to the equivalent of one month’s rent) to the state residential bond authorities, who then hold it for the duration of the lease agreement. If you engage a property manager, they will do this on your behalf.

If there are any issues that come to light when the lease comes to a close, such as damage caused to the property or failure to pay rent, as the landlord you are entitled to claim the necessary reparation amount from the bond. Keep in mind that there is a certain amount of wear and tear that occurs throughout any tenancy, and this cannot be claimed.

In order to have a good relationship between tenant and landlord, it’s important that communication and respect are encouraged on both sides. This lessens the risk of any lengthy disputes or battles, and can make your time as a landlord much more enjoyable.

Finally, if you engage a property manager, which most investors do, they will attend to the above requirements on your behalf and will report back to you when undertaking routine inspections (at least twice a year). They can also pay accepted costs, such as inspections and small repairs, and deduct the amount from the rent you receive. Having an experienced property manager on your team is a worthwhile investment as they can, and will, take much of the burden off you.