The death of seven-week-old baby Isabella Diefenbach in May 2010 has resulted in 13 Coronial recommendations and sounded a clear warning to real estate agents and property managers that they must be vigilant when managing properties.
Isabella fell from her father’s arms after his foot went through the flooring of a rotten veranda in their rented home at Yeppoon, northern Queensland.
The family was renting the home and had made numerous complaints to a real estate agency concerning the state of the veranda.
For various reasons, these complaints were not acted upon and this in turn led to the cause of the baby’s death.
It was a specific recommendation of Coroner Annette Hennessy that the current training program for property managers in real estate agencies be reviewed to ensure that the managers know how to conduct a satisfactory inspection of decks, verandas and stairs.
The Coroner also recommended mandatory inspections by independent builders of verandas and balconies that are more than 10 years old in rental properties.
The Coroner further recommended that the real estate agent change its practices to ensure termite and building inspection reports were read by the property manager and brought to the landlord’s attention in a timely fashion.
This tragic case highlights the duty of care that is owed to tenants by a real estate agent who is a rental property manager.
Although the agent is acting on behalf of the landlord and usually cannot act without the authority of the owner to conduct repairs and inspections, it is very important that the real estate agent has competent and well-trained people in charge of property management.
Systems should also be in place to ensure that proper inspections are conducted and accurate reports and/or recommendations given to the landlords.
It remains to be seen whether the Government or the Real Estate Institute of Queensland will take any further action in relation to the Coroner’s recommendations.
It is certainly a timely reminder for all real estate agents to review their property management practices and the way that they deal with tenants’ complaints about property defects.
It is more than likely that in this particular case, the family will have an action for damages against the real estate agent and the owners of the property.
This also highlights the requirement of owners to hold appropriate public liability insurance for rental properties.