17 May 2017

If a tenant encounters a snake at their rental home.

In Townsville  (early September 2015), several pythons have been encountered inside properties – seeking water because it’s so dry. This link is not for the faint-hearted, but takes you to a recent news report and a photo of a carpet python found cooling off inside someone’s toilet!

Something like this would definitely have your tenant straight on the phone! (It’s also quite a compelling argument for keeping the lid down!)Many people have an aversion to snakes, and there are lots of popular urban myths that serve to increase people’s fear. However snake experts unanimously say that snakes will only attack humans if hurt or provoked, and that most people who have been bitten by a snake were trying to catch or kill it at the time. No matter how people may personally feel about snakes, snakes are an important part of the Australian ecosystem and, as a native animal, they are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

It is an offence to kill or injure a snake. Snake Identification Queensland has about 120 species of snakes, some of which are venomous, and others that are not. Information to assist Queenslanders to identify types of snakes is readily available online, for example:

this site. Alternatively, you or the tenant could upload a photo of the snake on this webpage

and request an identification. Given that snakes are a reality of life in Queensland, and given

that spring is when they are all on the move again, it makes good sense to arm yourself with some basic knowledge about common snake varieties in your geographical area.One of Australia’s claims to fame is having the top two deadliest snakes in the world, – lucky us - being the Eastern Brown and the Taipan. But not all of our snakes are deadly. Tree snakes are quite common. They tend to be small and slender, quick to retreat, and their venom is not harmful to humans. They might be seen in gardens, trees, or around the outside of windows, and are hunting things like birds (including pet caged birds), geckos and frogs. Pythons are also common throughout Queensland. These are thick-bodied, diamond-headed, relatively slow-moving snakes. Pythons are not venomous either, but kill their prey by constriction. Carpet pythons grow to about 2 to 3 metres and can be found in a wide range of environments, including trees in suburban gardens, sheds, and in roof spaces. They hunt at night and are looking for slightly bigger prey such as rats, possums, and possibly someone’s backyard chickens! Previous generations of Queenslanders commonly tolerated carpet pythons in their shed as a natural form of vermin control.In normal circumstances, a slow-moving 1 to 2 metre python seen in a shed in a Brisbane suburb is extremely unlikely to pose any danger to humans, or to medium to large pets. If provoked, they may bite and an infection of the bite may result. However a larger and more aggressive species of python, such as the Scrub Python (4 to 7 metres), found in areas of far north Queensland could pose a more genuine danger to domestic pets (cats and small to medium dogs) and very young children. In Cairns, where residential areas expand to the edge of rainforest areas, caution is definitely warranted.Snake activity patterns are seasonal.

Throughout the cool months, snakes are not very active. They may be occasionally seen stretched out in the sun, or laying on rocks or roads, seeking warmth. If they do come inside during the colder months, it will be seeking warmth. Around spring snakes become active and are more frequently encountered by people. Right now, it is their breeding and feeding season.

Relocating Snakes - who is responsible?Licensed and insured snake catchers can relocate a snake to a safer area. In terms of who pays for snake relocation, the RTRA Act is silent on this issue. Interestingly, NSW Fair Trading state on their website that lessors are responsible for snake removal if the snake is present at the start of the tenancy, or results from a lessor breach, but the tenant is responsible during the tenancy.

However Queensland Fair Trading website offers no such determination, and the RTA website provides no specific advice about snakes either, although there is general information about ‘pests and vermin’. As a general guide, if professional services are required because of purely environmental or weather-related circumstances, it is more likely to be deemed to be the lessor’s responsibility. However the person with responsibility may vary depending on the individual situation, the history of the property, and what has been recorded on the condition report.If either the lessor tenant offers to pay the cost of the snake catcher, or if both agree to share the cost, then there is no dispute. However if neither party wants to pay then the Property Manager may need to assist the parties to remain reasonable and negotiate in order to reach a mutual agreement. Individual situations will of course vary, so those variables need to be considered when deciding on an appropriate response. 

Has the snake actually been sighted, or is there other evidence that is being relied upon to indicate the assumed presence of a snake? (eg. noise)

Is the snake outside and therefore likely to move on before the catcher arrives? Experts advise that sometimes the best response is to do nothing apart from move safely away and let the snake go about its business.

Does the snake pose an immediate danger as a result of it being venomous or particularly large?

Can it be reasonably avoided?

Does its ongoing presence pose a risk to the tenant, their children, or their approved pets?

Does the snake prevent the tenant from using the premises, a part of the premises, or the inclusions?

Is the snake in an area beyond the property? It would clearly not be realistic for tenants to expect the lessor/agent to remove snakes from an adjacent nature reserve.

Is the snake inside the premises, or stuck? This type of situation is far more likely to require intervention.

What food source is likely to have attracted the snake? Can either the lessor or tenant be said to be reasonably responsible for that food source being present? (eg. Tenant not storing birdseed appropriately and attracting vermin, which subsequently attracts a couple of hungry pythons.) Of course it could be purely environmental.

What has allowed the snake to gain access to inside the house or shed? Can either the lessor or tenant be said to be reasonably responsible for that?

Any contributing factors that may have encouraged the snake to stay around, such as the lessor or tenant leaving piles of things in the yard/shed that offer plenty of hiding place for snakes.

Factors that might have allowed the snake to gain entry to the premises, such as a lessor not snake-proofing the roof space, or a tenant not keeping the lawns and gardens tidy during a tenancy.

What is involved in its removal? (In one of the cases in Townsville recently, the toilet had to be unbolted from the floor to remove the snake.)

Chances of the snake becoming trapped and dying, which will lead to a terrible smell.

If it has been decided to call a snake catcher then the tenant should try to keep an eye on where the snake is until the catcher arrives, but remain at a safe distance and not disturb the snake further. If the snake cannot be found, the snake catcher may leave empty-handed but will still expect their call-out fee to be paid, potentially causing further dispute about who is responsible. Snake catchers cannot guarantee that the relocated snake won’t return, or that another snake won’t take its place. These are native animals and they move at will. Property Managers cannot guarantee anyone a snake-free tenancy. Advice to lessors may include:

Don’t have piles of timber or corrugated iron around the property, where snakes can hide. Bear in mind the lessor’s duty of care to provide a property that is safe.

Preferably position/prune trees away from the residence rather than potentially allowing snakes easy access to open windows.

Consider screening the property and adding weather guard strips to the bottoms of exterior doors to help keep snakes outside.

Ensure entry points into the roof cavity are blocked.

Let the agent know if there is a resident friendly python at the property, or if snakes have been seen regularly at the property, so tenants can be forewarned.  Advice to tenants may include:

The experts say that the vast majority of snake-bites occur when people are trying to catch or kill snakes: so don’t. If you see a snake in the garden, walk quietly away and leave it well alone. It will leave of its own accord.  Killing or injuring snakes is an offence.

Keep the grass mowed and the gardens tidy to deprive snakes of hiding places.

When gardening, wear gloves, long pants, and covered shoes.

Stack firewood neatly, away from the house.

Ensure snakes cannot get into your compost bin, especially when they are seeking warmth or a place to lay eggs.

Keep sheds tidy and store everything off the floor.

Don’t leave uncovered food around and do store birdseed (etc) in a rodent-proof container. Anything that will attract vermin, will in turn attract snakes.

Ensure bird cages, aviaries and chook pens are rodent-proof and snake-proof.

Choosing a property that is set in or beside a natural environment, or with thickly planted gardens, is likely to increase your chance of encountering a snake.

Take a torch when out in the yard at night.

Snakes are deaf so yelling at them to make them move wont help. They do feel vibrations, and also sense body heat with their tongue.

And if you’re in Townsville, keep the toilet lid down!


If you encounter a snake; Some local Councils do provide information on managing encounters with snakes. The following is taken from advice provided by Logan Shire Council:•

STAY CALM, and if possible walk away.

If you have a snake inside your house;

Firstly leave it alone.

Close internal doors and open external doors.

Keep everyone including pets away from snake. This gives the snake a chance to leave on its own.

If this doesn’t work, call Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service for contact details of local commercial snake catcher 1300 130 372 to relocate snake to a safe place.

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