Your rights in the aftermath of a natural disaster

Natural disasters can affect many different areas of our lives. In the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, many people will have questions about their legal rights with respect to one or more of the following.

Fencing disputes

After a storm one of the most immediate problems is damage to property.  When it is a dividing fence that is damaged, that property is the shared responsibility of both neighbours and it is important to come to a decision about what to do together.  Most of the time neighbours reach very swift agreement about what needs to be done but if there is any dispute you might need more information about fencing disputes.

Insurance claims

If your property is damaged in a storm or flooding you must ensure that you take reasonable steps to prevent further loss. This may include moving undamaged items from an area that was flooded or making temporary repairs like putting a tarp on your damaged roof. You should take photographs and videos of any damaged items or damage to your property as soon as possible after the damage occurs.

Major weather events usually generate a high volume of insurance claims, which can result in longer than usual processing times.

It is important that the proper procedure is followed when making a claim. Failure to do so may result in extended delay or less than the full entitlement being paid. If possible, it is a good idea to read through your policy documents before contacting your insurer.

It is also important to be transparent and honest when making your claim. Insurers take fraud seriously and may well prosecute even a low-value fraudulent matter as a policy. You can find more information about insurance here.

Damage to leased goods

It is not uncommon for people to lease household items such as furniture or white goods like fridges and washing machine. If these items are damaged or made unusable by severe weather, consumers may still have ongoing obligations, such as continuing to make repayments under the lease agreement. If you have leased goods which have been damaged in the storm, it is important to read your lease contract to see what your rights and obligations are.  These contracts are not always transparent and we recommend you seek legal advice if you are having difficulty. If you do not have a copy of your contract or if it was also damaged you can request a copy from the lessor. You should seek legal advice if you need help getting a copy of your contract or dealing with the lessor.

You may also have protections under the Australian Consumer Law and the National Credit Code. The Queensland Law Handbook Online contains relevant information about consumer protection legislation and consumer credit.

Financial difficulty and loan repayments

Natural disasters can cause considerable financial hardship for individuals. The National Credit Code provides for variations to credit contracts, to provide temporary relief, where borrowers are experiencing hardship. If you anticipate having difficulty making loan repayments as a result of the storm you should talk to your lender as soon as possible. You can find more information about hardship variations here.

Employment law

Some people may find that they need to take time off work during or after a severe weather event, for one reason or another. In some cases, an employer will suffer financial loss or damage which means they are no longer able to provide employment to some or all of their workforce. If you find that your employment situation is adversely affected by the storm, you might need more information unfair or unlawful dismissal.

If you are stood down or lose your job (even if it was a causal job) it is important to get legal advice as soon as possible as you may only have 21 days from the date of dismissal to make a claim.

Complying with parenting orders

The safety considerations and transport difficulties associated with flooding and inclement weather can potentially affect the ability of separated parents to comply with parenting orders. If you are worried that your parenting arrangements will be, or already have been affected by the weather, information on contravention of parenting orders may assist.

Damage to rental accommodation

Landlords have an obligation to ensure that rented premises are in good repair and are of a standard fit for living. If your rental property is destroyed or otherwise non-liveable because of cyclone, flood or storm damage you can give notice to leave within one month of the event that caused the non-liveability.

If your rental accommodation is damaged you must notify the lessor or agent as soon as possible. If a repair issue is determined to be an emergency repair there is a process available for having those repairs completed quickly.

If the property is dirty because of flood, usually the lessor is responsible for cleaning the property and inclusions, however tenants are responsible for cleaning their own goods and possessions.

If you are living in rented accommodation which has been damaged by the storm which can no longer be lived in or requires urgent repairs you may need more information on the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords.

Problems with trees

Fallen trees and branches can often cause damage and other problems in the event of bad weather. If your property has been damaged by a fallen tree which was growing on private property, or if a tree needs to be removed you could need information on rules about neighbouring trees.

If your problem relates to a tree growing on land which is not private property you should contact the relevant Local Council.

Damage caused by and removal of trees may also be covered by insurance. See ‘Insurance Claims’ above for more information.