Six apartment safety risks every investor must know about

Six apartment safety risks every investor must know about
Six apartment safety risks every investor must know about

Most first-time investors – and indeed established portfolio owners alike – will have apartments and units as part of their core investment property acquisition strategy.

From a public/tenant liability perspective, apartments are often thought of as a safer property type in this regard, in comparison to detached houses. However, this is not to say apartments and units aren’t without their own risks.

Here’s a short list of safety risks you need to know about, as a landlord, that might come back to hurt you, if left unchecked.

  1. Curtains and vertical blinds 

    Recent compliance changes in several states pertaining to curtain/blinds are very important. For most curtains and blinds; a rope-style pulley system is the commonplace curtain raising/lowering/opening mechanism. However, many older-style pulleys (say blinds older than four or five years), are a child safety hazard, and children can be at risk of choking if caught in the connected pulley strings.

    This risk is an easy and cheap fix; just Google ways to replace or cut and repair the pulley strings to make sure they are compliant.

  2. Safely opening windows 

    On to windows as opposed to blinds now, and the requirements per-state/territory change, so be sure to research the compliance rules specific to the state your property is in. In some states, the rules on the gap a window is able to open (for units where the windows are above a certain height from the ground – so, some ground floor units may be exempt) is undergoing change currently. 

    The safest thing to do is ensure your apartment’s windows are fully compliant with your state’s rules. This is again a child safety issue, and rules were introduced to prevent children falling out of high windows. For instance, in some states there are rules that require windows to open to no more than just 12 centremetres width.

  3. Fire alarms need to be tested regularly 

    This sounds like one of the most obvious unit and apartment safety issues, but I am constantly surprised by the number of investors I speak to who do not regularly check the working function of Smoke and fire alarms in their properties. The simplest way to regulate this is to ensure your managing property agent checks them for you (and signs off on the inspection report, having indicated they are in working order). However, this isn’t already an iron-clad guarantee that the devices are functional or have even been checked.

    From a legal standpoint, should any fires break out, the managing agent may not be held accountable to this either. Smoke alarms vary in price, from as low as a $9 K-Mart job, all the way to premium products that include regular servicing options to ensure compliance and safety is checked and maintained. These are the safest and most legally-liable solutions, though the cost is much higher for this piece of mind.

  4. Balcony balustrade heights 

    Balcony balustrade height requirements vary from state to state, however it is something to check in on for both newer and older apartments alike. If a balcony balustrade on a property you are considering purchasing as an investment appears to be quite low, it is work querying this with the selling agent. Also, investigate compliance issues that may result from a child (or adult!) balcony fall or accident as a result of a low-built balustrade. Again, ground floor apartments and units are often exempt from this requirement.

  5. Internal and external stairwell balustrade heights 

    Similarly to item number four above; be conscious of balustrades on stairwells both inside the unit and outside too. The exceptions of course are any ‘common property’ stairwells. Any accidents or deaths pertaining to incidents on these common-property stairwells are handled by the strata plan liability insurances, and not individual unit or apartment owners. 

    I was actually caught out on this in my most recent property purchase. The property featured a modern ‘floating’ internal stairwell that simply had a raised, open-air hand rail, with no connection to the steps below it. This meant that a child or infant could potentially make it half way up the stairwell, then fall off the steps over the side balustrade, and injure themselves.

  6. Get a building and pest inspections report and read it carefully

    The above stairwell discovery was only found when I had the building and pest inspection report completed, prior to cooling off period ending. I’d identified the issue and investigated a plan to resolve it, prior to the cooling off period ending, and I make the same recommendation to would-be investors out there reading this, to do just the same. A building and pest inspection is so valuable for this reason.

    Sure, it is a few hundred dollars extra expenditure on the property, however it can save thousands later on. Most investors and property buyers assume this report just reveals any structural faults and rodent/insect problems, however the real value lies in the ability to foresee liability issues early on, before you complete your cooling off (aka ‘back out of the deal!’) period.

You can visit Cameron's blog at Property Correspondent.

Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy

Cameron McEvoy is a NSW-based property investor and maintains a blog, Property Correspondent.

Property Management Investor Tips Cameron Mcevoy

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