Landlord sued for $300,000 over balcony collapse

A tenant of a rental property in Melbourne's Frankston South has successfully sued his landlord for a $300,000 compensation payment after the balustrade of a balcony collapsed, causing injury.

Three people fell five metres to the ground in November 2007, with two dying since the fall - one from complications associated with injuries, the other due to unrelated causes.

The court-approved settlement occurred two days into the County Court Trial.

Landlord D T Wade and Associates was sued by the tenant, who was assisted by lawyer Trang Tran, a senior associate for Maurice Blackburn.

The balcony had not been properly maintained nor routinely inspected, and repair work prior to the client's tenancy was inadequate, said Tran.

"Our client sustained severe injuries to his arm and shoulder that have resulted in multiple hospitalisations and surgery, including a total shoulder replacement. He remains in constant pain and discomfort. This case highlights the need to ensure premises are properly and adequately inspected and kept in good repair to avoid serious injuries and even death to tenants and visitors," she said.

Rotted timber must be replaced, and structures should always be kept in a sound manner - particularly balconies and balustrades - with regular inspections and maintenance as needed.

The landlord, alleged the lawyer, had been told by previous tenants that the timber of the balcony was rotted, causing Tran to claim they had failed in their duty of care.

“This is a wake-up call for land owners, real estate agents and property managers. They should respond quickly and adequately when tenants say there are structural or other problems relating to rental properties,” she said.

In 2011, three teenagers were injured in a balcony collapse also in Frankston South.

The Victorian Building Commission has this pamphlet available online, which can also be found on the Frankston City Council website.

"Any balcony has the potential, if not appropriately maintained, to fail at some stage. The legal and financial implications for home owners are enormous," it states.

Research conducted by the Building Commission in 2009 found that 45% of Victorian households have a deck or balcony, of which a third (27% decks, 33% balconies) were built between 1960 and 1990 when a widespread use of inappropriate timber, lack of building approval, inadequate design and poor workmanship were evident.

"Research also tells us that 39 per cent of respondents were not aware that decks and balconies require checks. In the last few years balcony collapses in several states and territories have resulted in a number of injuries and deaths," the pamphlet notes, pointing to a yearly visual inspection as a way that should identify any problems.

It notes that inspections should look for the following risk factors:

• Pooling of water on the balcony surface

• Handrails fixed through the balcony’s top surface

• Tops of solid balustrades and fixings at wall junctions

• Cladding finishing hard against the balcony

• No threshold between the building and the balcony

This may not just be contained to Melbourne, and Victoria, either. Just Think Real Estate's Edwin Almeida recently told Property Observer of his fears that a number of rental properties around Sydney are in less than habitable states, citing mould and electrical problems as two other potential problems that could see tenants getting sick, and a number of investors being sued in the future.

He asked, "Is your tenant living in squalor?" in this latest article.

jduke@propertyobserver.com.au

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke

Jennifer Duke was a property writer at Property Observer

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