NT Mandlords Made Liable for Break-Ins At Rental Properties Without ‘Reasonable Security’

When thieves broke into Ashlee Guerin’s unit for the third time in seven months, the 21-year-old midwifery student was beside herself.

“I opened my eyes and I looked and I was just so frozen in fear, I just screamed and screamed and screamed,” Ms Guerin told the ABC.

It was 2:00 am, and as her partner and toddler slept in the bed next to her, three thieves broke into her Palmerston unit through a window that had no security screens.

“It was pretty horrific — one of the worst experiences I have gone through in my entire life,” Ms Guerin said.

The trio fled with her iPhone and several pieces of jewellery.

The exterior of a ground-floor unit with a fly screen torn open and glass louvres broken.

Landlord required to compensate tenant

Despite not having any insurance, Ms Guerin was able get her landlord to compensate her for more than $5,000 worth of stolen possessions.

The Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) found the landlord had failed to provide “reasonable security” at the property.

Following each of the three break-ins, Ms Guerin asked for security screens to cover the louvres and flyscreens, but it was not until two weeks after the third incident that her request was finally acted on.

A view looking out a window which was broken showing a torn flyscreen and missing louvres.

The Darwin Community Legal Service, which acted on Ms Guerin’s behalf, said her case was one of two in the past six months to set a precedent in the Northern Territory.

The second case was paid out $3,243 by the landlord.

“With these two cases now, we have a bit of a precedent to say to the landlord that they must ensure they take steps that premises are provided with reasonable security,” solicitor Andrew Smith said.

Landlords need to consider things like attempted break-ins, faulty locks and increased crime rates in the area throughout the tenancy when deciding how to secure the property to a “reasonable” level, Mr Smith said.

“It’s going to be far less costly to fix or upgrade a flyscreen or deadlock rather than potentially pay thousands of dollars worth of compensation for stolen possessions,” he said.

The Real Estate Institute of the Northern Territory (REINT) said each property had different security requirements.

“It doesn’t have to be Fort Knox. You don’t have to put in CCTV cameras,” REINT chief executive Quentin Killian said.

“The extent of the security needs to simply mean that the property is reasonably secure.”

Tribunal decisions may not apply to all cases

He said regardless of the tribunal’s findings, tenants should still consider getting insurance.

“The NTCAT has made a singular decision for a singular instance,” Mr Killian said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s going to carry forward to every single instance in the same manner.”

Ms Guerin said tenants sometimes feel like they do not have any rights, but that her case showed they do.

“Just stand your ground and if something doesn’t seem right or seem fair it probably isn’t, so go and get legal advice every time,” she said.