Maybe a tree has fallen through your roof, or your property has flooded in a storm – no one ever thinks these situations will happen to them but when they do, it can be hard to know who to call.
While your first priority should always be to call emergency services after the initial crisis is over and the dust has settled, renters can risk being thrown out, home owners can find out they’re underinsured and chaos can break loose.
Emergency repairs can be especially difficult for renters to navigate, Tenants Union of NSW senior policy adviser Leo Patterson Ross said.
Tenants who find themselves unable to live in their homes because of a natural disaster or freak accident need to call emergency services first, then their landlord, he said.
“If a tree falls through your bedroom, no one expects you to sleep there so you won’t be charged rent, but if it falls through the living room they might say ‘OK you’re going to sleep in your bedroom, but we’ll reduce your rent’.”
The real estate agent is under no obligation to offer alternative premises, but in some cases, they may find another property on their books for the renter to stay in, Mr Patterson Ross said.
And if the landlord is unable to offer you a temporary place to stay, tenants have to find their own accommodation.
“So if you can’t live in a place and you can’t find anywhere to go or stay with family or friends, you have to approach the government to see about emergency accommodation.”
Renters insurance – is it worth it?
When it comes to renters, only 60 per cent of the cohort have contents insurance which, coupled with the increasing number of tenants in Australia, creates “a big unknown” in terms of insurance guidelines, Dr Kate Booth of UTAS said.
“The number of Australians renters has increased quite dramatically, so it’s only appearing now that we might see a different set of renting-related issues in terms of insurance,” Dr Booth said.
If you’re a renter and you find yourself coming home to a repair emergency, your options and rights differ from state to state, she said.
Dr Booth said the complexity was made harder by the differing tenancy laws in different states.
“We’ve done some research on the Hobart floods in May last year and, because of the tenancy laws in Tasmania, some of the people we talked to found themselves evicted the next morning,” she said.
“One of the people we talked to spoke about having to couch surf afterwards because they didn’t have somewhere to go.”
When you own your home
The first thing home owners often think of is insurance – across Australia 84 per cent of the cohort have home insurance, 85 per cent have contents insurance and 79 per cent have a mixture of the two, research from the University of Tasmania shows.
If you own your home, the verdict on insurance is clear, Canstar executive Steve Mickenbecker said.
“Your house is the most valuable asset you have. You can afford to lose a car but most people can’t afford to repair their house themselves,” Mr Mickenbecker said.
“There is a massive price difference among policies. Sometimes they reflect the values, but sometimes people are just taking different profit margins,” he explained.
“Think about your core risks, and make sure you are covered for them. Is your house in an area where it is likely to flood? Well if you are you must cover that risk.”
Sophie Walsh, from comparison site Finder.com.au, said a key concern for owners was under-insuring their belongings.
“The thing is, many Australians underinsure. Some people underestimate how much it would cost to replace all their belongings brand new,” Ms Walsh said.
“A good way to start is to jump online and use a comparison site. What we’ve found is the difference between brands could be $1000 per year, so it does pay to get a few quotes and just compare on the price.”
The lights are out
In the case of smaller emergencies, say the lights are out or you’ve got a clogged toilet, Domain maintenance co-owner Ugo Fanizza said his experience showed these can often be fixed by the occupier.
“First port of call, I’ll probe and try to troubleshoot the problem over the phone and if it doesn’t work I’ll say these are our fees to send a guy out. They’re fair. If that’s what you want to do, we can do it,” Mr Fanizza said.
“All they really need if their electricity goes out, they need the power back on to the fridge. If you can do that, then happy days. So half the time, we give them advice, otherwise, we’ll send a guy.”
Who to call if your property is unsafe
You should not enter the property if you think it is unsafe. Call 000 in case of emergency. You can also call the State Emergency Service (SES) on 132 500.
If you are renting your home and it has become unliveable because of an emergency you need to call your landlord.
If you feel you are at risk of becoming homeless as a result of a natural disaster, each state has different points of contact.
VIC crisis and emergency accommodation: 1800 825 955
ACT Emergency Services Agency: 6205 0400
NSW Link2Home: 1800 152 152
QLD Homeless Hotline: 1800 47 47 53
WA Salvo Care Line phone: (08) 9442 5777
SA Homelessness Gateway: 1800 003 308