Renter’s recourse: what to do if you’re hurt in a rental property

Your rental home should be a secure, safe place to live. But what happens if you’ve been injured by fire or a building fault in your property? What are your rights and responsibilities, and what are those of your landlord?

Tenant rights and responsibilities

If you sustain serious, permanent injuries in a building where you are a tenant, you may have a public liability claim. You must be able to show that you have more than five per cent permanent whole-person impairment (which is damage to any body part, system or function) to claim damages for physical injuries, and 10 per cent or more impairment for psychological injuries.

Depending on the facts of your case and what caused your injuries, you may have a claim against any or all of the following parties:

  • your landlord
  • the owners corporation (formerly known as body corporate)
  • the property manager or agent, and
  • tradespeople.

If you've been hurt, you should immediately notify your property manager or agent, your landlord and the owners corporation manager as to how the incident occurred and the injuries you sustained. You must also seek medical treatment for your injuries.

Your landlord’s rights and responsibilities

Once you’ve alerted your landlord, at the earliest opportunity they (or their representative, such as an agent) must inspect the property and arrange whatever is necessary to make it safe. The landlord should take photographs of the property before anyone undertakes any repairs or renovations. If the rental property is uninhabitable, the landlord should work with you to arrange for your temporary living arrangements. They should also contact their insurer and lodge a claim.

Like you, the landlord should make note of all correspondence and communications they have with you, the property manager and any other relevant parties regarding the incident, and they will need to establish exactly how the incident occurred.

A recent case

One of our recent cases involved a balcony collapse in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston. The previous tenant’s rental property condition report noted that the balcony featured rotted wood. The landlord did replace some beams prior to our client moving in, but the repairs were shoddy. 

Our client was on the balcony with his mum and best mate, having a barbecue to celebrate his mum’s birthday. When he and his mate leaned on the balcony, it gave way and collapsed. All three people fell from the balcony. Our client sustained serious injuries to his shoulder and required two rounds of surgery. He successfully pursued a public liability claim, and we were able to obtain substantial compensation for his pain and suffering, his medical and related expenses, as well as future medical needs and legal costs.

Making a claim: first steps

If you do decide to pursue a claim, the following steps can help you get started before you contact a solicitor:

  • immediately alert the landlord and property agent to the incident and the injuries you sustained
  • seek medical treatment straight away and explain to those treating you how you were injured
  • keep records and receipts of all your medical and related expenses, as well as records of the dates and types of treatment you’ve had
  • keep records of any wages or income you’ve lost because you were unable to work due to injury
  • take date-stamped photographs of your injuries
  • take date-stamped photographs of the incident site and/or the part of the property that caused your injury; and
  • dont move, tamper with or fix the property on your own.

Also be mindful of the time limits for bringing a claim. Generally, adults have three years and minors or people with disabilities have six years from the date of the injury to bring a claim.

Everyone wants to be safe in their own home, but sometimes catastrophes such as structural faults or fires occur, and people are seriously injured. As a rental property tenant, it pays to know where you stand and what you can do should misfortune strike.

Trang van Heugten is a senior associate in Maurice Blackburns Melbourne office.

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Trang van Heugten

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Trang van Heugten is a Senior Associate who practices in the Public Liability and Faulty Products department at Maurice Blackburn, based in Melbourne. She is also a Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist who has a particular interest in bringing claims for ...

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