Whether it is our workplace or someone else’s home, risk literally lies everywhere. We’ve all heard nightmare stories of people being sued over something insignificant, but have been paid royally for someone else’s oversight. It seems unfair, but increasingly this is the world we are living in.
A pot hole on the pavement is a lawsuit for a broken ankle, a wet floor is a lawsuit for a back injury, a car accident is literally worth thousands in compensation. I’m not discounting genuine instances where compensation is legitimately required due to negligence, laziness or stupidity, whatever the reason may be. However, never more than now have we had to keep our eye open for the risks associated with every day to day life. Litigation is at its peak and the variety of law suits are seemingly never ending. We all get busy and new legislation, rules and regulations are changing regularly, but often we don’t take time out of our schedules to ensure we understand changes in compliance. One small mistake can cost you a fortune.
With the world of litigation and risk management ever evolving into a beast of its own, there is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring compliance in property management. The world in which we navigate in the real estate industry is increasingly being confronted with litigation and now more than ever it is important all our T’s are crossed and our I’s dotted. We recently refreshed ourselves on the most common risks and compliance issues faced in property management.
TOP PROPERTY MANAGEMENT RISKS
We’ve all heard about the new legislation concerning smoke alarms, so here’s a reminder on the new expectations and requirements set to come into play. The new legislation as set out in the Fire and Emergency Services (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Amendment Act 2016 and Building Fire Safety (Domestic Smoke Alarms) Legislation Amendment Regulations 2016, requires Queensland landlords to ensure a higher level of safety in their rental properties. These new requirements must be in place by January 1, 2022 and necessitate the following additional measures, over and above the Fire and Rescue Services Amendment Act 2006.
- Smoke alarms must be installed in every bedroom of a home
- All smoke alarms must be powered by either 240v or 10-year lithium battery
- All smoke alarms must be interconnected to each other
- All smoke alarms must be photoelectric rather than ionisation
- All smoke alarms must meet new Australian Standard 3786:2014
It is important to note that there is an ongoing requirement to have all smoke alarms serviced and cleaned, and 9v batteries changed if required, within 30 days prior to each lease renewal or change or tenancy or every 12 months.
In recent years a number of deaths and serious injuries have occurred as a result of falls from decks, balconies and windows, or from the collapse of decks and balconies. Statistics from pre-purchase inspection agencies suggest that approximately six per cent of Australian houses have a timber deck or balcony and about two per cent of these may cause potentially fatal injuries if they collapsed or if the balustrade or railing failed.
These numbers are estimated to be even higher in Queensland where, due to our unique climate, timber decks are a major feature of many homes. Some of these decks may have been constructed inadequately or illegally and could now be in danger of collapse. Building owners especially need to consider risks and consequences arising from an injury or death associated with a failing balustrade or deck, which is shown to be in poor condition or illegally built. If you own a building with a balcony or deck—whether it is made from timber, metal, concrete or another material—you should ensure it is inspected carefully for decaying timbers, unstable balustrades, corrosion and cracking of concrete
As property managers who are entrusted with responsibility of management and maintaining properties on behalf of our owners this compliance checking comes back to us.
Decks and Balcony Compliance
- A balustrade or barrier is required where people could fall one metre or more from a floor or accessible roof of a building. Put simply, where a difference in height from the deck or balcony to the ground or another lower level is one metre or more, a balustrade of at least one metre in height is required.
- Retaining walls do not require a balustrade unless they are associated with a path of travel to, from or between buildings. It is a good idea to provide a balustrade or other barrier in situations where there is a risk of a person falling from the retaining wall.
- For decks or balconies more than one metre above the ground, a balustrade cannot have any openings greater than 125 millimetres, to help prevent people from falling through them. This is also a requirement for decorative balustrades. For decks or balconies more than four metres above the ground, a balustrade must also not have any climbable elements, such as horizontal rails, located between 150 millimetres and 760 millimetres from the floor. Balustrades must be constructed so that they can resist the forces reasonably expected to be placed upon them. These forces include people leaning against them and strong winds.
- Balustrades or railings on stairs are equally as important as those for decks and balconies. When people ascend or descend stairs, they generally gain support using the railing, which can also act as a barrier. Therefore, stairs require a similar barrier to decks and balconies, and it is important that these balustrades are sturdy and can withstand appropriate pressures, such as the force of a person.
- For stairs, a barrier of at least 865 millimetres high above the ‘nosing’ of the stair treads is required. As with balustrades for decks and balconies, gaps in balustrades on stairs cannot have openings greater than 125 millimetres.
- For stairs more than four metres in height, a balustrade must also not have any climbable elements, such as horizontal rails, located between 150 millimetres and 760 millimetres from the floor.
- Elevated openable windows, which are common in older Queenslander style houses and units, should be protected to prevent falls. Generally, for bedroom windows with a 2 metre or more drop to the surface beneath and where the window opening is less than 1.7 metres above the floor, window protection is required. This may be in the form of a device to restrict the window opening or a screen with secure fittings. The device or screen must: not permit a 125 millimetre sphere to pass through the opening; resist a 250 Newton outward horizontal action (approximately 25.5 kg force); and have a child resistant release mechanism if the screen or device can be unlocked or removed. Where a child resistant release mechanism is used, or there is a 4 metre or more drop to the surface below, a barrier is required. Similarly to the balustrade requirements, a 125 millimetre sphere cannot pass through the barrier and no horizontal climbable elements are permitted between 150 and 760 millimetres from the floor.
Some tips for checking Balconies Stairs and windows:
- Actually walk up and down the stairs – checking for rotten or loose treads
- Grab hold or the balustrade and give it a shake to see if it is loose, check for rotten pailings
- Walk on decks checking closely for loose or rotten floorboards
- Photograph everything of concern
- Have repair requests put in writing to your owners
- Have balcony, stairs and balustrade repairs on your emergency repair list
- Immediately inspect complaints from tenants – don’t wait for Routines in could be too late
Blinds and curtains with loose cords or chains can strangle young children. Since the early 1990s, at least 18 children have tragically died in Australia this way. A child can place a loop over their head or get tangled in loose cords or chains and choke themselves.
In a nutshell:
- Lessors are obliged to ensure a rental property is in a good state of repair and fit for the tenant to live in.
- The greatest risk is with a looped cords hanging low enough to be within reach of children. It is possible for children to strangle themselves by putting their head into the loop and then falling or spinning to the point where they cannot escape the danger. There is potential for blind cords to form a loop even if they are not manufactured as a looped cord.
- The Office of Fair Trading recommends the bottom of any blind cord is at least 160cm above the floor level.
- Complies with the Australian Standard AS 3786-1993 or has the Standards Australia Mark or is Scientific Services Laboratory (SSL) certified
- Any blinds that were installed prior to compliance regulations or do not comply can be made safe by either cutting the cords or hooking them up out of harm’s way.
QLD Government have published a step by step guide for reducing the risks associated with corded blinds that are useful for lessors and tenants.
Follow these 7 easy steps:
Step 1—Keep away from children
Make sure children can’t reach any blind or curtain cords.
Step 2—Don’t have low-hanging cords
Make sure the bottom of any blind or curtain cord is at least 160cm above the floor.
Step 3—Keep away from children’s equipment
Don’t let cords dangle into or near children’s equipment. This includes:
-cots (or portable cots)
-anything else your child sits on, lies in or climbs on.
Step 4—Keep away from furniture
Make sure your child can’t reach the blind or curtain cord if they climb on the furniture.
Step 5—Wrap cords on a hook
If you have low-hanging cords:
-attach a hook to the wall out of the reach of your children
-wrap the cord around the hook
-Don’t let the cord dangle less than 160cm from the floor.
Step 6—Install safety devices
Vertical blinds often come with tensioning devices. These weigh down and bundle your cords so that loops don’t easily form.
If your cords don’t come with tensioning devices, consider installing them yourselves.
Step 7—Consider other products
There are other mechanisms that you can use. If you’re installing blinds, ask your supplier about using ‘blind wands’.
General Dangers or Risk
Fixtures to make the Home Safe
- Fixtures are things that are attached to, or installed in the property. The tenant may only attach a fixture or make a structural change to the property if the manager/owner agrees. Approval should be in writing and should describe the changes and whether the items can be removed.
- Any added fixtures or structures must meet all relevant local and state laws.
- In order to child proof the home from the hazards described some fixtures will be required.
In the case of blind and curtain cords a hook/s may need to be attached to a wall. To secure furniture/TV sets, furniture straps, angle braces or anchors screwed into wall studs can be used.
- If the property manager/owner approves of the fixtures the tenant may be required to remove them and fill screw holes when leaving the property.
For further information on product suitability contact the Office of Fair Trading or call 137 468.
One of the easiest ways to mitigate risk is to ensure your insurances are in place with the right coverage. This goes for an agency as well as landlords. It is an agencies responsibility the ensure that the all their owners have suitable insurances in place before signing up a new management. This includes requesting copies of Building, Liability and Landlord’s insurance. If an owner doesn’t have insurance in place, this is a huge liability and personally not a risk I would be prepared to take.
It is important for an agency to have an Incident reporting procedure. A tenant has up to seven years to sue after they have vacated a property. Ideally this report will be completed in writing, with witnesses and accompanied with supporting evidence including photos, medical reports and police reports if required. It doesn’t matter how big or small an incident is, it should be put in writing immediately.
At iThink Property we are continually updating and training our team on compliance and ensuring they are across the latest legislation and requirements. We send out quarterly reminders to our owners to update us with their latest insurance details and provide evidence it is current, an annual audit of insurances is also ideal. Keep up to date with what is happening in our industry also helps keep you ahead of the litigation game, allowing you to update or modify procedures required.
iThink Property has a team of real estate agents in Ipswich and Toowoomba offering property sales and property management services. With a passion for people and property, iThink Property was conceived with the notion of building a team of good people to work in a real estate brand that did things differently. iThink Property focuses on transparency, communication, innovation and teamwork and has become a leading independent brand with unique points of difference. So whether you are thinking of buying, selling or renting, think iThink Property.
KYLIE WALKER – DIRECTOR – BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
07 3202 3040
A former sports journalist, Kylie Walker brings a wealth of communication and marketing skills to the team at iThink Property. The busy mother of four launched and developed the company’s rent roll and has organically grown the business with iThink Properties rental network now spanning Ipswich, greater Brisbane and Toowoomba.