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.

TOPIC: Public safety
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Public liability

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Trang van Heugten

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Trang van Heugten is a Senior Associate who practices exclusively 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 the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Trang is specially trained in trauma informed practice which ensures she works with clients to access justice in a way that recognises the complex trauma they have suffered. Trang has substantial experience across a wide range of public liability and faulty product matters, including successfully representing people who have been injured after landlords, councils, schools, shops, manufacturers and other businesses and organisations failed to take reasonable care to members of the public. Some of Trang's successful cases include a: tenant who fell five metres to the ground when the balustrade of his rented property collapsed disabled man who sustained severe burns to over half of his body when he was trapped in a shower facility of a nursing home homeowner who free fell several metres in the defective lift which was installed in her home shopper who was almost crushed by a defective shopping trolley while travelling on an travelator, and mum who sustained serious back injuries when she was crushed under the weight of unsecured soccer goal posts Trang also has substantial experience across a wide range of commercial and civil litigation.                 Before joining the Public Liability department, Trang worked as a senior lawyer for Maurice Blackburn Commercial, assisting in the conduct of a large Supreme Court action between pharmaceutical corporations. Trang was the Associate to Mr Justice Peter Buchanan of the Victorian Court of Appeal from 2000 to 2002 and worked as a lawyer at another leading law firm from 2002 to 2008. Trang graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and was admitted to practice in 1999. She also holds a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) from the University of Melbourne. Trang is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria. She speaks fluent Vietnamese and is actively involved in the Vietnamese community. ...

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