Infant’s death could transform landlord system

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Rockhampton Coroner Annette Hennessy Wednesday handed down a series of significant findings for the Queensland real estate industry, following an inquest into the tragic death of seven-week-old baby Isabella Diefenbach. 

Isabella died in May 2010 after falling from the balcony of her parents’ rental home in Yeppoon. Isabella was being held by her father Adam, when his foot fell through a rotted wooden plank on the house’s deck, causing Isabella to fall from his arms. 

Isabella’s parents Adam and Jenny had made complaints to their real estate agent and landlord about the state of the deck prior to Isabella’s death. 

Principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers in Rockhampton, Gino Andrieri, represented the Diefenbach family at the inquest. Andrieri said the family welcomed today’s findings, which could have wide-ranging ramifications for the real estate industry. 

“Nothing can bring Bella back, but we hope today’s findings will help the Diefenbach family with the healing process after everything they’ve been through,” Andrieri said. 

“We believe the findings are an acknowledgement by the Coroner that Bella’s death could have been avoided if things had been done differently.” 

Andrieri said the Coroner had outlined that major changes are needed within the real estate industry to protect the safety of tenants, ensuring similar tragedies wouldn’t happen again. 

One of the recommendations was to amend current state laws to ensure mandatory inspections are undertaken on decks that are 10-years-old or more before a property is placed on the rental market, and that ongoing checks of decks are undertaken every three years thereafter. 

The Coroner also called for tenants to have greater access to information about their rental properties, allowing them to access inspection reports to ensure they are confident the house they are living in is safe. 

Recommendations further called on the real estate industry to ensure wood rot is classified as an emergency repair. This would mean that any time the damage is identified it would have to be acted on as an immediate priority. 

“These changes will require a range of industry bodies to work together to implement, but the priority for the Diefenbach family has always been to ensure lessons are learned and that something like this can never happen to another family,” said Andrieri.

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