Brand EditorialEPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Fiddling on the roof: Sharon Fox-Slater

If strong winds, lashing rains and storms descend, some landlords will face a costly lesson about roof maintenance, warns Sharon Fox-Slater.

We are mid-way through winter and many parts of the country are getting windy and wet (although unfortunately not the right places right now!)

When wild weather descends, roofs take a battering – and many come off second best.

At RentCover around 55 per cent of all storm damage claims we receive relate to roofs. Last winter alone approximately $1.5 million was paid for storm damage claims.

One of those claims was for an investment property in Mackay where the roof partially blew off and rain poured into the home, causing extensive internal damage. Due to the storm damage, the home was uninhabitable and the tenants were forced to leave. The repair bill for damage to the building and interior topped $70,000. As the owner had landlord insurance, instead of just building/contents cover, they were also able to claim loss of rental income.

If a rental property suffers storm damage, maintenance is one of the key factors that helps determine whether the landlord will be covered by their insurance. Damage resulting from neglect is generally excluded from most home and contents and landlord insurance policies. So if the policyholder fails to maintain the premises, they can void the policy and may find any claim where a lack of maintenance caused or contributed to damage or loss is declined.

Maintenance failings can end up being expensive lessons for landlords (in terms of money) and agents (in terms of time in dealing with the aftermath). And, frequently, failing to adequately care for the roof is the culprit.

Recently we declined a claim for just this reason.

The owner of a rental in NSW lodged a claim for storm damage to the interior ceilings of the property. When we received the photos, there was a lot of old water staining and mould on ceilings throughout the building. We appointed an assessor to the claim and requested routine inspection reports from the policyholder. When we received the assessor’s report, the tenants confirmed the staining was present when they moved in almost a year earlier … and got worse each time it rained. The routine inspection reports also confirmed that damage had been present for a while and had worsened over time. There was a maintenance note on one of the reports for the owner to have the roof checked, as this was where the leaks were coming from. The owner had never had that work done, and as such the claim was declined for failing to mitigate a loss, gradual deterioration, and damage not from a single insured event.  By failing to meet their obligations under cover, the landlord had to foot the $7,500 damage bill.

The take-out? Whether the roof is tin, tile or thatch, it’s important to get a building inspector to check its condition. We caution against you, your landlord or the tenant attempting to survey the roof – wind, rain and heights are a recipe for disaster and, unless you really know what you are looking for, dangling precariously from a gutter eyeballing the roof isn’t worth the risk to life and limb (and if you fall or damage the property, insurance may not cover those costs either).

However, during your next inspection there are a few visual checks you can do inside the property to see if there are any obvious issues stemming from above.

Check ceilings for:

  • Leaks or seepage
  • Brown/yellow/copper stains or water marks
  • Bubbling or peeling paint
  • Signs of mould
  • Obvious sagging
  • Cracked cornices or plaster work

Also look out for leaks around vents, skylights and chimneys, water stains on interior walls or bubbling, cracking or peeling paint or wallpaper.

If you, or the tenants, spot any ‘red flags’, it’s a good idea to get a professional on site as soon as possible to attend to any maintenance works before a small problem turns into an uninsured major repair job.

Reminder: If a property is damaged during a storm, the policyholder has an obligation to mitigate the risk of further damage and arrange repairs in a timely manner.

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Sharon Fox-Slater

Sharon Fox-Slater is the Executive General Manager of EBM’s RentCover, which insures 120,000 investment properties around Australia and creates covers specifically for the property industry. Sharon was also the first woman to become a Fellow of the National Insurance Brokers Association. For more information, visit rentcover.com.au.

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