Unlawful dwellings are a very serious issue for both landlords and tenants — landlords can face serious fines and loss of rental income, while tenants may be living in an unsafe environment.
Commonly, unlawful dwellings are secondary dwellings within a residential property that were built with another purpose in mind, like garages, sleep outs, commercial buildings, etc. As such, they don’t meet the health and safety standards required to be used as a rental property.
The minute a residential tenancy agreement is in place, the landlord’s lawful dwelling requirements come into place, and since the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2019 came into effect the consequences of tenanting an unlawful dwelling have been much stricter for landlords.
At a glance signs of potentially unlawful dwellings that tenants should keep in mind when viewing rental properties include:
When unlawful dwelling cases go to the Tenancy Tribunal, an individual adjudicator is sometimes called upon to determine the level of unlawfulness of the dwelling and resulting level of offence by the landlord.
If the rental was an unlawful and unsafe dwelling, the landlord’s offence is deemed intentional and reckless. If the dwelling was safe but unlawful because it failed to meet all the right requirements, the landlord’s offence is deemed careless.
Landlords can be forced to pay up to $5,000 in damages directly to the tenant, and in extreme cases, repay the tenant all the rent they paid for the whole duration of the tenancy.
When the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2019 was passed, new legislation gave tenants a lot more rights and the potential for lost rental earnings for landlords renting unlawful dwellings became much higher.
Key outcomes of the new legislation include:
Get in touch with us to learn more about unlawful dwellings. We can help you decipher whether your dwelling is lawful or not and help determine your next steps. Don’t bury your head in the sand!