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Health and safety

Contamination (by asbestos or lead)

Asbestos and lead are hazardous substances that have over recent decades been banned from most uses. Previously, however, each was commonly used in building materials (asbestos in fibro sheets for walls and ceilings, roof shingles and pipes; lead in paints), so they are still often found in older properties.

The presence of asbestos or lead at your premises does not necessarily mean that your health has been affected, or that you will have to move out. Each are particularly hazardous when in a deteriorated form that can be inhaled or ingested (for example, paint chips, or fibro dust). If your premises are contaminated in this way, contact your landlord and ask to have a properly qualified tradesperson assess the extent of the problem.

Depending on the extent of the problem, you might seek to have the premises repaired, or the tenancy terminated. See the section on Repairs and maintenance for more on both options.

If the contaminated materials are to be repaired or removed, insist that a properly qualified tradesperson do the work. Work done improperly (for example, dry sanding lead paint) can make contamination worse.

Tip

For more information and links about asbestos and lead, see NSW Health’s DIY safe webpage

Health and safety

It is a term of your agreement that the landlord must comply with any statutory obligations relating to the health or safety of the premises (Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) (the RT Act 2010)section 52(3)).

These include obligations relating to:

  • Pool fences, under the Swimming Pools Act 1992(NSW);
  • Smoke alarms, under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979(NSW); and
  • Electrical installations, appliances and safety switches, under the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004(NSW).

This term of your agreement is useful because it means that you can take action yourself to make your landlord comply with their obligations, rather than rely on the relevant authority to take action.

Note that different pieces of legislation make different provisions as to how obligations apply. For example, smoke alarms are required to be installed in all residential premises, regardless of when the premises were built. Electrical safety switches, on the other hand, are required only in premises built new or substantially rewired after the obligation commenced in 1991.

This is new

The RT Act 1987 contained provisions relating specifically to the smoke alarms provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979(NSW), but no general provision relating to statutory health or safety obligations. The more generally-stated provision in the RT Act 2010 encompasses the smoke alarm provisions, as well as other health and safety obligations. Note that the standard form of agreement under the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2010 (NSW) (the RT Reg 2010) includes the general term, and two other consistent terms that relate specifically to smoke alarms and swimming pools.

Mould

The question of who is responsible for dealing with mould can be tricky: it may be either the landlord’s responsibility (as part of their obligation to provide habitable premises and maintain them in a reasonable state of repair (section 63(1)), or the tenant’s responsibility (as part of their obligation to keep the premises reasonably clean) (section 51(2)(a)).

If mould cannot be dealt with through your own ordinary cleaning, and it did not arise from your own failure to keep the premises clean and reasonably ventilated, treat it as a defect that the landlord should repair.

Vermin

Like mould, an infestation of vermin may be either the landlord’s responsibility (as part of their obligation to provide habitable premises and maintain them in a reasonable state of repair (section 63(1)), or the tenant’s responsibility (as part of their obligation to keep the premises reasonably clean (section 51(2)(a)).

If an infestation cannot be dealt with through your own ordinary cleaning, and it did not arise from your own failure to keep the premises clean, treat it as a defect that the landlord should repair.