Brand EditorialEPMEPM: Best Practice & Legislation

Preparing for bushfire season: Sharon Fox-Slater

With devastating bushfires already wreaking havoc early in the season, it’s time for landlords, tenants and agents to be prepared, advises Sharon Fox-Slater.

Bushfire season has just begun, but already there have been devastating fires across New South Wales, in Queensland’s Far North, near Darwin and in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. And as spring moves into summer, many other parts of the country will also brace for fires.

For agents managing rentals in bushfire-prone areas, it is time to make sure your landlord clients and tenants are prepared:

  • Know the bushfire risks in the area. The landlord should be aware of this, but tenants may not be and therefore may not know how to prepare for an emergency
  • Speak with the local authority and emergency services about the community’s emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes and locations of emergency shelters. Pass on this information to tenants.
  • Inspect the property and eliminate any potential hazards – your state/territory fire emergency service will have a comprehensive checklist of what should be done, but at a minimum clean out the gutters and roof gullies, mow the grass regularly, prune trees that overhang the property, remove excess ground fuel and any combustible materials or flammable liquids. You may need to remind landlords that this maintenance is essential during the bushfire season and arrange the tradies.
  • Regularly check safety devices on the property, such as smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.
  • Ensure the tenants know how to disconnect the property’s gas, water and electricity.
  • Encourage tenants to prepare a disaster plan (you may be able to assist with aspects like emergency contacts) – include:
    • the location of a safe place to go (including making provisions for pets)
    • talk to everyone at the property about what to do if there’s an emergency
    • compile a comprehensive contact list including emergency services, medical services, vet, family/friends, agent/landlord and insurer.
    • Other practical considerations should be addressed such as:
      • making sure important documents (passports, licences, insurance papers) can be accessed easily on evacuation, stored off-site or scanned and saved in the cloud.
      • Treasured possessions can also be stored in an ‘evac’ box or off-site during bushfire season.
      • And speaking of ‘evac’ boxes, consider suggesting they prepare emergency supplies ready for a quick exit – think a first-aid kit, spare mobile phone plus charger and list of contacts, non-perishable food including pet food and bottled water, change of clothes, personal hygiene kit (toothbrush etc.).
      • It is also wise to have some cash on hand to buy essentials as ATMs may not be operational, banks closed and EFTPOS services unavailable if the locality is affected.
  • Encourage tenants to have an evacuation plan (you may be able to assist with this given your knowledge of the area) – everyone at the property should know:
    • the plan including how to leave quickly, all escape routes in case the preferred route is not passable
    • what to do at the property before leaving (disconnect services, turn on the sprinklers) safe places to go etc.

A major aspect of preparing for a bushfire is ensuring that the property and its contents are properly insured – and that the policy actually covers damage or loss resulting from a bushfire.

Once a bushfire is approaching, it is too late for property owners to take out insurance or update their existing policies. So before disaster strikes, it is worth checking with your landlord clients and your tenants that the property and its contents are adequately covered. You may also need to remind tenants that their contents are not covered by their landlord’s insurance policy and they need renter’s contents insurance.

Bushfires are devastating – don’t let your landlords and tenants risk compounding the misery by being un- or under-insured. Encourage them to check their insurance policies, or do it for them if you are authorised, to make sure the sum insured is adequate and that they understand what is and isn’t covered in the event of a bushfire.

And of course, if your agency is located in a bushfire-prone area, you should ensure that your business is prepared too and that your insurances are up-to-date to cover the risks including business interruption, damage/loss to the premises and its contents, and legal liability.

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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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