Body Corporates and Termite Infestations – Who takes the blame?
Queensland buildings are known to be regularly at risk of termites, which are a common problem in sub-tropical areas. Who is responsible when the termites move into a body corporate setting?
Lot owners in high rise apartment blocks or town houses may believe that termites are the body corporate’s problem. However, the treatment and prevention of termites is the responsibility of both the owners and the body corporate.
In a recent decision by the Body Corporate Commissioner, an owner claimed the body corporate was liable to pay $1,380.00 to repair damage to a lot because the body corporate had not complied with its obligations.
The body corporate had reports showing it had a proactive termite treatment plan including a termite barrier, annual reporting, a top-up to the barrier five years later, and regular three monthly reports since then.
The lot owner could not prove when the termite damage occurred because there had been tenants renting the property.
The adjudicator found that the body corporate’s liability was not a strict liability and, because it had acted reasonably by putting a system in place to deal with termite prevention and control, it did not have to pay the lot owner’s claim. The body corporate’s maintenance plan was found to be satisfactory.
As termites can fly, they could be treated on the common property but could still enter a lot and commence infesting that lot, despite any steps taken by the body corporate.
Owners are required to undertake their own regular termite and pest control within their lot.
To prevent a claim by an owner that a termite infestation was caused by the body corporate’s failure to act, a body corporate should:
- take steps to prevent termite infestation by engaging a professional to report on any potential termite hazards;
- put into place a termite prevention system;
- if termites are found, the body corporate’s monitoring of the maintenance systems should be increased;
- make sure that if an owner finds termites in their lot, they should ensure the termites do not spread to the common property
- should allocate money in annual budgets and spend it on termite prevention or control;
- keep written records of the termite management programme
- keep the owners informed in reports made to them;
- advise owners of termite risks such as wood chips in garden beds, keeping garden beds away from external walls, removing old timber, cardboard or newspapers and avoiding accumulation of rubbish that may attract termites.
For more information, please contact Margaret Miller, Partner in our Dispute Resolution & Litigation Department