The Landlord’s Handbook: Damage to Rental Property By Tenant 


As property owners in Australia, there’s no doubt that one of your top concerns is keeping your rental property in tip-top shape. After all, it forms a significant part of your valuable investment portfolio. But when faced with the vexing issue of rental property damage by tenants, what do you do as a landlord? 

This comprehensive guide dives deep into this issue. It aims to equip you with knowledge of your rights as a landlord, how to minimise property damage, dealing with repairs and maintenance issues, and effective steps to take when damage occurs.

Common Types Of Damage Caused By Tenants

As a landlord, you want your property to be taken care of as if it were your tenants’ own home. Unfortunately, damages are often inevitable when renting out your property, which accounts for 10% of all related insurance claims. 

This damage can range from minor issues like small scratches on the walls or stains on the carpet to more severe damages such as broken appliances, damaged plumbing, or structural harm. 

Often, the most common types of damages landlords face include:

  • carpet stains or damage
  • damage from pets 
  • marks or holes in the walls
  • broken appliances or fixtures
  • unreported maintenance, which may further complicate an issue.

Don’t forget the potential for more serious damages, such as water damage from plumbing neglect, intentional defacement, or even fire damage in extreme scenarios.  

What Are Tenants Liable For When They Damage a Property?

Any damages incurred on a rental property fall under the tenant’s responsibility.

However, as a landlord, it’s important to distinguish between ‘damage’ and ‘normal wear and tear’. While the latter can’t be blamed on the tenant, the former certainly can be.

Understanding the difference between damage and wear and tear can be critical in managing tenant-caused property issues. You can think of ‘damage’ as alterations that result from a tenant’s negligence or misuse of the property, which might involve anything from broken appliances to stained carpets. 

On the other hand, ‘wear and tear’ refers to the gradual deterioration of the property due to regular, day-to-day use. Examples may be things like faded paint, failing smoke alarms, or worn-out carpeting in high-traffic areas. 

Addressing Damage Vs. Fair Wear and Tear 

Regarding wear and tear, the financial responsibility typically falls on the landlord. After all, it’s just the byproduct of living in the space, and landlords should budget for regular or urgent repairs and updates – even tiny details like replacing smoke alarm devices. However, any damage caused by the tenant is a different story. 

If the tenant causes damage that makes the property unsafe or generally unsightly (beyond regular wear and tear), they should be held financially responsible for restoring the property. This could be in the form of repairs or replacements or through deductions from the tenant’s security deposit/bond. But what’s the best course of action when this happens? Let’s explore some possibilities. 

Steps to Take When You Discover Damage to Your Rental Property By Tenant

Uncovering damage a tenant has caused may leave you, the landlord, feeling frustrated and disappointed. However, responding professionally and promptly to resolve the situation is crucial. 

Here’s what we recommend you should do. 

Step 1: First and foremost, it’s essential to open dialogue with the occupants about the tenant damages in question. While it is easier to make assumptions about the situation immediately, there might be additional factors that caused the damage that aren’t immediately obvious. 

Plus, open communication tends to lead to smoother resolution.  Remember, you will need to provide evidence of the damage, such as photographs or urgent repair estimates. You won’t be able to make a claim without these. We also recommend putting any communication in the form of a written notice, as well. 

Step 2: Should communication fail or turn out to be ineffective, assess the extent of the damage and consider involving professionals if needed – insurance adjusters for extensive damage, attorneys for serious transgressions or even a handyman for minor repairs.

Step 3: Next, compile a complete record of the damage. This entails taking photographs and recording detailed notes of all damages, along with potential repair costs. This documentation could be invaluable in the event that you need to deduct from the security deposit, fight a dispute, or move forward with legal proceedings. 

Step 4: If the damage is significant and the tenant refuses to pay, you may have to resort to legal action. In Australia, each state has a Residential Tenancies Tribunal you can approach, which is equipped to arbitrate such disputes. 

But remember, prevention is always better than cure. Having a clear and comprehensive process for managing property damage could save you time, money, and stress in the future.

Documenting The Condition Of Your Property Before a Tenant Moves in

How you document the condition of your rental property before and after a tenant’s property is vitally important. Thankfully, you can note down the condition of your property both before and after a tenancy to ensure any damages are duly noted and taken into account. 

So, how do you do this effectively?

Step 1: Before a new tenant moves in, conduct a comprehensive walk-through of the property. This should be thorough and involve taking detailed notes and photographs. Note things like the cleanliness of the property, any existing damage, no matter how small, and the condition of fixtures and fittings. 

This process, known as recording an entry condition report, is critical and must be provided to the tenant within three days of taking possession of the property, according to the Residential Tenancies Authority in Australia. 

Step 2: Ensure your photographs are date-stamped and the written report is as detailed as possible. This can be time-consuming, but it’s a key step in safeguarding your investment. Ask the tenants to look through the report. If any disagreement arises about the state of the property at the start, the evidence is in the report. 

Step 3: When the tenant decides to move out, it’s time for an exit condition report. Repeat the process of the initial walk-through, comparing the property’s condition to the photographs and notes you took at the start of the tenancy. 

If you find damage beyond reasonable wear and tear, you have a solid basis for deducting the repair cost from the tenant’s bond, or seeking further compensation if the bond does not cover all the costs. 

Legal Considerations For Tenant-Caused Property Damage

Dealing with tenant-caused property damage can understandably throw any landlord into a tizzy. However, you need to remain calm and approach the situation with a legal perspective.

In Australia, landlords have certain rights and responsibilities, and knowing where you stand legally can give you the leverage you need. 

You Have Rights As a Landlord

Firstly, you should know that you have the right to request that your tenant repair any damage they have caused to your rental properties or pay for those repairs. This is covered under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

However, this does not encompass what is known as ‘fair wear and tear’, which represents natural deterioration over time – a responsibility that falls under the landlord’s jurisdiction.

There Are Legalities Around The Bond

It’s also important to note that withholding the security deposit to cover damages is not an automatic right. To do so, in most cases, you would need to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) citing your reasons. 

Always ensure you have substantial evidence, like photos, receipts, and inspection records, to support your case. Arbitration can be navigated smoothly if you come prepared. 

Managing Disputes Effectively

No one enjoys disputes, but unfortunately, they can occur. You may have to seek legal advice if a disagreement arises over damages. 

Remember VCAT is there to assist you. The system is designed to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants, causing minimal stress and legal costs. 

The key to managing tenant-caused property damage begins with understanding your legal rights and responsibilities as a landlord. Always adopt a proactive approach and aim to resolve any potential issues before they spiral into larger problems. 

An ounce of prevention can save you a pound of cure.

How Getting Landlord Insurance Can Help When Damage Occurs

It’s an essential shield in your property manager and landlord toolbox and a smart financial decision for Australian landlords. But how does landlord insurance really make a difference?

Let’s break it down. 

Unlike traditional home and contents insurance, landlord insurance is strategically designed to cover the unique risks that come with renting out a property. From broken appliances due to misuse to carpet stains left behind by a pet, insurance tailored to landlords can be a significant asset in restoring your property. 

These policies often cover loss of rental income if your property is left untenantable by insurable events. Imagine a situation where a tenant inflicts accidental damage by sparking a small fire in the kitchen, rendering the property unfit for living. 

While the tenant may be liable for some costs, having insurance can expedite the restoration process and cover lost rent during the repair phase. It’s like an ally, ensuring you don’t bear the financial burden alone. 

Now, remember, not all landlord insurance policies offer the same level of coverage. Be sure to compare and review potential insurers and their offerings carefully. Look out for aspects such as liability protection, coverage for your property’s contents, and coverage for different types of damage (accidental, intentional, or natural calamities). 

Duo Insurance can help you find the perfect policy for your needs; contact us to get started. 

In a nutshell, acquiring comprehensive landlord insurance for your rental property in Australia is like equipping yourself with a tactical advantage. It not only helps cushion you from unexpected tenant-related issues but also secures your rental income and property investment. 

Key Takeaways for Landlords 

Combatting tenant-caused property damage can be a challenging task but it’s not an unbeatable one. You can minimise potential conflict and loss by employing the right strategies and having a solid understanding of your rights and responsibilities. 

  • Prevention is Paramount: Start on the right foot by conducting a thorough tenant screening, creating a comprehensive tenancy agreement, and maintaining a clear method for documenting the condition of your rental property. The more preventative measures you take, the less likely you are to deal with major damage issues.
  • Know How to Respond: If damage occurs, having a clear action plan can promptly mitigate the situation. That means knowing the steps to address tenant-caused damage and being fully aware of the relevant legal considerations.
  • Consider Landlord Insurance: Though not obligatory, landlord insurance can offer an additional financial safety net in the face of significant property damage. It’s an option worth exploring for peace of mind and full protection.

In conclusion, your approach to managing tenant-caused property damage can make all the difference. It’s about being proactive, prepared and well-informed. Maintain respectful but firm communication with your tenants; remember, it’s your property. Actively working to protect it is not just within your rights—it’s good business.

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