Rental Laws Must Change After Perth Toddler Crushed to Death: Coroner

Perth toddler Reef Kite was only 21 months old when a chest of drawers fell on him at the family’s rented home, crushing him underneath. The cheeky toddler with the gorgeous blue eyes couldn’t be revived.

Reef’s heartbroken mum, Sky Quartermaine, has been fighting for tougher laws ever since that awful day her youngest son was killed. Now, two years on, the Coroner investigating Reef’s death is recommending that laws finally be changed to stop landlords denying permission for tenants to fix heavy furniture and televisions to walls in rented homes.

Coroner Sarah Linton found that Reef’s death back in 2015 could have been prevented if the drawers in his nursery had been fixed to a wall, but the landlord had denied permission. She says children’s lives will be saved if landlords are compelled to allow tenants to make properties safe for kids

“Other children have died”

“Reef died as a result of a tragic accident involving a chest of drawers in his room. His death was preventable. It is important for other parents to know that Reef’s death was not an isolated incident and other children have died in similar fashion,” the coroner said, in her findings last week.

“It is hoped by Reef’s parents that the publicity surrounding Reef’s death will help to prevent similar deaths. One way this may be done is to raise the awareness of landlords to the real safety issues that arise with some common household furniture items and the need for them to be flexible in their approach to tenants’ requests to secure some items to walls in a rental property.”

Inquest into Perth Toddler Crushed by Drawers Sparks Tenancy Changes

Skye Quartermaine told the inquest she had fallen asleep on the couch while her son was napping when the accident happened back in October 2015. When she woke and went to check on him, she found the tallboy tipped over, trapping her youngest child underneath.

She pulled him out and ran to her landlord to get help. But despite their CPR efforts, Reef couldn’t be revived. The little boy who had barely began to live was declared dead on 13 October 2015 at Princess Margaret Hospital.

Landlord banned fixings

Ms Quartermaine had bought the ready-assembled chest of drawers three months earlier from a discount furniture store. She thought they would be harder to tip because they were heavy. She told the inquest her landlord had refused permission to bolt the pine drawers to the wall.

Under the current law in most states, landlords are entitled to refuse to let tenants fix things to the wall. This is even if the fixture is to keep a child safe. And they can remove any fixture that a tenant has put up without consent.

A warning to all parents

Ms Linton, recommended that the WA government consider changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1987. Each state has its own Act.

Ms Linton said in her report, it was important for all parents to know that this happened and to take steps to prevent a similar tragedy:

“Reef’s mother gave evidence that she is personally aware of parents being complacent because their children don’t climb. She wished to emphasise that Reef was not known to climb furniture in the past, and yet this happened to him,” Ms Linton said.

According to Product Safety Australia, toppling furniture kills one child every year in Australia. Earlier this year we saw how quickly it can happen in this video that captures the heart-stopping moment furniture fell on a two-year-old twin.

Avatar of Sarah Long

Originally from the UK, but now very much at home on the sunny NSW Central Coast, Sarah is mum to 18-month-old Freddy. When she's not writing, you'll find her at the beach, chasing Freddy at high speed, or drinking tea and eating cake whilst thinking about going to the gym.

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