What is the difference between a duty to repair and a duty to maintain?

By Olivia Hill | Sat 29th April '23

Both rental providers (landlords) and tenants have responsibilities and duties when it comes to keeping a rental property in good condition - but it can be confusing knowing who is responsible for what.

In this post, we’ll give you the tools to identify the differences between a landlord’s duty to repair and a renter’s duty to maintain, to help you better understand your rights and obligations.

Duty to Repair - landlord’s obligation

At the time that you move into a rental property, the landlord must make sure that the property is vacant, in good repair, and in a reasonably clean condition. The property must also meet the minimum rental standards.

After you move into the rental property and until the end of your tenancy, the landlord must make sure that the property is ‘maintained in good repair and in a reasonably fit and suitable condition’. This means that the landlord has to repair any defects, damages or issues that may arise during your tenancy. This includes both urgent and non-urgent repairs.

What are ‘urgent repairs’?

Urgent repairs are repairs that must be done immediately because they make the property unsafe or difficult to live in. They must be one of the following:

  • burst water service;
  • blocked or broken toilet system;
  • serious roof leak;
  • gas leak;
  • dangerous electrical fault;
  • flooding or serious flood damage;
  • serious storm or fire damage;
  • an essential service or appliance for hot water, water, cooking, heating, or laundering is not working;
  • the gas, electricity or water supply is not working;
  • a cooling appliance or service provided by your landlord is not working
  • the property does not meet minimum rental standards;
  • a safety-related device, such as a smoke alarm or pool fence, is not working;
  • an appliance, fitting or fixture is not working and is causing a lot of water to be wasted;
  • any fault or damage in the property that makes it unsafe or insecure, including pests, mould or damp caused by or related to the building structure; or
  • a serious problem with a lift or staircase.

What are ‘non-urgent repairs’?

Non-urgent repairs are repairs that are not an ‘Urgent repair’, and where you can continue to safely live in the property. The landlord must arrange for non-urgent repairs within 14 days of getting a written request from you.

Who has to organise and pay for repairs in the property?

  • The landlord has to organise and pay for all repairs that are not the renter’s fault (that is, if they’re not your fault).
  • If you, the renter, caused the damage, then you may have to pay for the repairs.

Do I have any obligations in relation to the duty to repair?

You have to tell your landlord or property manager about any repairs that need to be made as soon as possible after you become aware of them.

Make sure that you do this in writing (for example, by email or text). If you do have a phone call, or speak to the agent / landlord about the repair in person, then make sure you follow-up with an email or text message so that there’s a written record.

Duty to Maintain - your obligation as a tenant

Once you move into your rental property, you become responsible for keeping the property reasonably clean, tidy, and free from damage throughout your tenancy.

It's important to note that some (minor) ‘wear and tear’ is expected in any rental property, which means that you’re not expected to return the property in exactly the same condition that you received it - though you should do your best to try!

'Fair wear and tear' describes the normal deterioration of a property from ordinary, everyday use.

Examples of fair wear and tear can include:

  • fading or slight discoloration of carpets or curtains due to exposure to sunlight over time;
  • minor scuffs or scratches on the floor or walls from everyday use; or
  • minor scuffs or marks on appliances due to regular use.

However, if you’ve caused excessive, intentional or negligent damage to the property, you may be responsible for covering the cost of repairs or replacement. This can include things like:

  • large holes or tears in carpets or curtains;
  • major stains or burns on carpets or upholstery;
  • broken appliances due to misuse or negligence; or
  • broken windows or doors due to intentional or reckless actions.

Your duty to maintain doesn’t mean you need to leave the property in a better state than what it was at the start of your tenancy. To make sure that you’re meeting your obligations of keeping the property ‘reasonably clean and free from damage’, consider doing the following:

  • dusting and wiping surfaces and any fixtures installed as well as any heating and cooling vents;
  • cleaning behind and underneath appliances that can be safely moved without causing damage;
  • emptying and cleaning the dishwasher and clothes dryer filter as needed per manufacturing instructions;
  • weeding, pruning or lawn mowing the garden.
Key difference between ‘duty to repair’ and ‘duty to maintain’

The key difference between a landlord's duty to repair and a tenant's duty to maintain the property is that:

  • the landlord is responsible for repair of any damage or defect in the property (that is not caused by the tenant); and
  • the tenant is responsible for upkeep of the property and reporting any damage to the landlord as soon as possible.

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