Consumer Affairs Victoria can help with renting issues in a disaster, such as a storm, flood, bushfire or earthquake.
On this page:
Leases and notices
Ending the lease when the property has been destroyed
If the property was destroyed or is unfit to live in, the lease has effectively ended. The most practical approach is for the landlord to issue the tenant with a notice to vacate the property immediately.
Alternatively, the landlord can agree to sign documentation to end the lease and to reclaim the bond.
Ending the lease when the property is still intact
If the property is still intact but the tenant no longer wishes to live there, they must negotiate with the landlord to end the lease. If the landlord does not agree to terminate the lease, the tenant can end a periodic (month-by-month) lease by giving the landlord or their agent a 28-day notice of intention to vacate.
If a tenant leaves the property without the landlord’s agreement before the notice period has expired or prior to the end of a fixed-term lease, they will be breaking the lease. The tenant may be required to compensate the landlord for lost rent, re-advertising costs and any re-letting fee.
If there is a dispute, contact us.
Alternative accommodation after the property has been destroyed
A landlord is not legally obliged to provide alternative accommodation for a tenant; their responsibilities end with the termination of the tenancy.
If the property was destroyed or is unfit to live in and the lease has ended, the landlord should repay the bond in the normal way.
If the property was not destroyed but the tenancy is to end, the usual arrangements for the refund of the bond apply.
Tenants should expect a refund of the bond, less any mutually agreed expenses incurred by the landlord to clean or repair the property. These expenses can only be for damage caused by the tenant’s of the property, not damage caused by the disaster.
Consumer Affairs Victoria is able to assist on a case-by-case basis with other issues including loss of rental records or inability to contact the tenant, agent or landlord.
Claiming all or part of the bond to cover damage caused by a disaster
A landlord can only claim bond money at the end of a tenancy for the cost of repairs or cleaning due to the tenant’s use of the property.
Compensation for tenant possessions destroyed or damaged in a disaster
Normally, a tenant is responsible for their own contents insurance.
Unless the landlord can be shown to be negligent, the tenant will bear the cost of damage to their possessions.
Paying the rent by direct debit on a property that is not liveable
Tenants should contact their landlord, estate agent or financial institution and ask for the direct debit to be cancelled.
If a tenant is unsuccessful or cannot find their details, they should contact us.
Reducing the rent because the property has become damaged
If a disaster has caused damage to property facilities such as the garage, swimming pool, sheds or outbuildings, the landlord should consider reducing the rent.
In these circumstances, the tenant has the right to apply to Consumer Affairs Victoria to assess whether a reduction is reasonable.
Repairs and utility services
Responsibility for cleaning debris caused by a disaster
The landlord is responsible for maintaining the property, including cleaning or clearing any debris caused by a disaster.
Before arranging cleaning, the landlord should contact the local authorities, such as the emergency services, who may already have a cleaning program in place.
The tenant is only responsible for any cleaning that arises from their use of the property.
When engaging cleaning and repair services, landlords should avoid employing tradesmen who contact them out of the blue offering to complete work at cheap rates – see our warning about travelling con men below.
Repairs on a damaged property
If the damage caused by a disaster is relatively minor, the tenant can serve a notice to the landlord for the repairs to be carried out within 14 days. But if repairs are urgently required, the tenant should contact their landlord immediately and explain that urgent repairs are needed.
Please be aware that there may be delays: it may be difficult to get tradesmen to your property, as many properties may need repair at this time. However, the tenant should contact us if the landlord does not arrange urgent repairs when the tenant has requested them.
Landlords should avoid employing tradesmen who contact them out of the blue offering to complete work at cheap rates – see our warning about travelling con men below.
Landlord inspection of damage to a rental property
If a property has been destroyed or damaged so that it is unfit to live in, a landlord can inspect it at any time, as long as they have the permission of local authorities.
The landlord should contact the police or emergency services before travelling to a disaster area.
The usual arrangements for inspections apply if the property is still leased and the tenant is living there. A landlord can inspect the property provided they give the tenant appropriate notice.
Special laws for emergency repairs
Businesses can approach consumers and supply urgent goods and services after a natural disaster in some circumstances, without complying with all unsolicited sales requirements – for example, door-to-door sales requirements.
These emergency repair contracts can be used when:
- a state of emergency has been declared for your area and the contract is only for repairs required by the disaster
- the supplier doing the work has a relevant
- state, territory or national licence to do the work - for example, a building or contractor's licence
- the repairs are only to:
- rectify a hazard or potential hazard on your property
- protect the health and safety of people on the property
- prevent substantial damage to your property.
In such cases, the business:
- does not have to give or notify the consumer of the 10-business-day cooling off period
- can provide the goods or services under the contract and accept payment within 10 business days.
A trader must not call on a consumer:
- before 9:00 am or after 6:00 pm, Monday to Friday
- before 9:00 am or after 5:00 pm on Saturday
- on a Sunday or public holiday.
Responsibility for arranging for utility services to be restored
If a utility service has been cut off because of damage to the property, the landlord is responsible for repairing the property so the service can be restored.
If there is no damage to the property, the tenant must contact the utility company and arrange for services to be restored.
Warning: travelling con men
Travelling con men and unlicensed traders target disaster-affected areas, offering cheap, cash-only repairs to roofs, driveways and fences.
If you take up such offers, you run the risk of:
- substandard work
- being left out of pocket if the trader disappears before finishing the job
- being unable to contact the trader once
- they have been paid
- paying more to have a legitimate tradesman repair shoddy work.
Before you employ a tradesman:
- contact your insurer first, to check your policy and find out whether you are covered
- ask around for suitable tradesmen
- check their credentials
- get quotes
- do not pay in full up front
- avoid tradesmen who give only mobile numbers and first names. You may not be able to contact them if there is a problem
- be wary of door-to-door offers - get proof that the tradesman is offering the deal legally and appropriately
- check with your local council whether a building permit or other approval is needed for the repair work.
Ask for a tradesman’s full name and practising number so you can check it with the Building Commission on 1300 815 127.
For trades that do not require registration, ask the tradesman for the membership number of their professional association.
Members of such organisations will satisfy the association’s membership criteria, which usually includes insurance and working to professional codes of ethics.
If you suspect travelling con men in your area, call the national hotline: 1300 133 408.
Last updated: 10/05/2013