Brotherhood of St Laurence v Sarina Investments Pty Ltd [2024] VSCA 46 (26 March 2024).

Sarah Hawley, Solicitor - Swan Hill

The recent legal case of Brotherhood of St Laurence v Sarina Investments Pty Ltd [2024] VSCA 46 strengthened the importance of landlords’ obligations to maintain and investigate their properties.

This case highlighted the distinction between a landlord’s duty to “maintain” and “repair” premises. The tenant had reported cracking in the concrete of a second-floor office building, prompting a potential fault and eventually resulting in a safety concern. The tenant had engaged an engineer who reported the findings of a defect and recommended investigations. Although ultimately no structural defect was found, the landlord’s delayed response until legal action was initiated signalled carelessness in fulfilling their obligations and emphasised the significance of proactive maintenance in upholding contractual responsibilities. 

Maintenance involves taking proactive measures to address issues before they escalate, while repair eventuates once a fault has manifested. Regular maintenance can non-exhaustively include inspecting the premises on a routine basis or like this case, investigating a tenant report or complaint.

While this particular lease agreement incorporated a specific maintenance clause and this clause inclusion may vary between leases, the overarching message remains that the landlord must take tenant reports seriously and promptly investigate potential premises faults. Not only does a landlord’s failure to maintain their premises risk legal consequences, but it also risks tenant safety, can result in costly repairs and risks reputational damage.

There is no expectation that landlords actively seek out defects at their premises, however, this case has presented the necessity to remain vigilant in mitigating risks and reactive to tenant reports. This is arguably not just a legal obligation; it converts to a fundamental characteristic of responsible property management which overall results in a fulfilment of landlord contractual duties, tenant satisfaction and a landlord’s asset that is maintained in safe and structurally sound condition.

If you have any questions or issues relating to landlord obligations, please contact Beck Legal on 03 5445 3333.

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