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Flat Chat

Flood of complaint

It's complicated enough to know who's responsible when owners have problems but when it's tenants, there's a whole other level of confusion.

Q: My friend Tim rents a ground-floor flat and is the model tenant. He always pays his rent on time and looks after the place.

The other night water came flooding into Tim's bedroom through the ceiling, over the double mattress and carpet. When no one would come to the door upstairs, also a rented flat, he called the rental agent to get him to come over and turn off the water using his pass keys.

It turned out the woman upstairs had been there all the time and had obviously been cleaning up signs of flooding. But when her husband came home, he denied everything, saying it must have been a broken pipe. He couldn't explain how it had fixed itself, though.

Tim, who has paid $40,000 rent in the four years he's lived there, feels aggrieved. He had to sleep in lounge for three days and he would like two weeks' rent ($390) as compensation, if only to cover the cost of steam cleaning his carpet. The agent says that, as the tenant upstairs is denying everything, Tim can go jump. What does he do now?
Pete B, Sydney

A: The simple answer is to call the Office of Fair Trading (132 220) or the Consumer, Trades and Tenancies Tribunal (1300 135 399) and ask for a mediation with the landlord or, failing that, an adjudication.

The question of responsibility is a long chain: the tenant upstairs is responsible to the owner upstairs, who's responsible to the owner downstairs who's responsible to Tim, his tenant. Tim has no need to get into any hassles with the upstairs tenant - his beef is with the owner.

It should be to Tim's advantage that the same guy owns both properties. If the owner ends up having to pay compensation, he can extract it from the upstairs tenant under the terms of their rental agreement. In any case, his landlord insurance should cover this.

Meanwhile, Tim shouldn't worry about losing his home when he complains - the law specifically forbids owners from evicting tenants just because they are exercising their legal rights.

First published SMH April 2006

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