TIPS ON RENTING AND RENTAL BONDS REFUNDS
Rental Property Condition Report
When you are given the keys to a property, you will be given a ‘condition report’ that documents all rooms, fittings and fixtures in the property and their existing condition, as of the date you were given the keys. It’s the tenant’s responsibility to review the report, confirm they agree with the property manager’s assessment, and make notes if there is something they disagree with.
When renting a property, the first and most important step is to review and complete your condition report accurately and diligently when you first move into the property. In the case of a dispute arising – especially if a different property manager (who may be more meticulous that the previous one was) does the inspection – you can simply refer back to the condition report to determine whether the issue was there prior to your tenancy or not.
Include Rental Property Photos in the Condition Report
Most condition reports will also have photos that accompany the report, which you should also review and submit your own, if the photos in question do not represent the reality. An example might be a wide shot of a bedroom wall and a note in the report stating ‘walls in good condition’; your note in response might be ‘large black scuff mark on lower section of bedroom wall’ which you would then also supply a photo of.
It’s really important to take the condition report seriously, not only because it’s the thing that will determine what will happen to your bond when you vacate, but also because it may come down to ‘your word’ against that which was recorded at the beginning of your tenancy – especially if your property manager changes during your tenancy. Rental property managers see hundreds of properties every year and though it’s their job to document things precisely, brevity can take priority sometimes and for a tenant waiting on their bond to be refunded, the devil is in the detail. That scuff mark could turn into a dispute over whether the wall needs to be repainted or not, which could mean your whole bond would be retained to cover the costs of the painter, all because neither you, nor the property manager at the time paid enough attention to the condition report.
Rental Bond for Rental Properties
For those new to the rental property market, a bond is a fixed amount of money – usually the equivalent of 4 to 6 weeks rent – that is paid to a specific authority (it varies from state to state) to cover any damage to the property while you live there. Damage attributed to you will be defined by the difference between the ingoing condition report, which is approved by both the property manager and the tenant, and the outgoing condition report when you vacate.
Rental Bond Authorities
Almost every tenant has paid their rental bond with the full expectation that ‘nothing will happen’ and they’ll get all of their money refunded when they vacate the property. This is not always the case, however, and often tenants are left perplexed as to why their bond or a portion of it was retained. Knowing your rights as a tenant is extremely important for exactly this reason, because you can then be adequately prepared to challenge a damage claim, if you believe it has been lodged unfairly.
Each state in Australia has an organisation to help tenants, private landlords and property agents pay and refund residential rental bonds. For example, the NSW Fair Trading's Rental Bonds Online (link to https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/housing-and-property/renting/rental-bonds-online) or the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority in Victoria (link to https://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/bondauthority). Check your local state rental authority who can assist you with questions you have in respect to rental bond refunds.
Know your Rental Rights
As well as being well across the condition report, you should also be very clear on what your rights and responsibilities are as a tenant. These are detailed officially in your lease agreement and can also be found on your state’s Consumer Affairs website. The majority of bond disputes come from the landlord, making a claim against the tenant. If you know what your rights are, you are in a good position to defend yourself against the claim, sort it out and move on. If, however you don’t, you may end up succumbing to the pressure and losing your bond in the process. It helps to know your rights regarding rental property repairs and maintenance too as these can vary from state to state, agency to agency, and even property to property!
Know your State Residential Tenancies Authority
Tenancy laws vary slightly from state to state but each state or territory has its own Residential Tenancies Authority or Tenancy Association. You’ll find these via your favourite search engine. If the landlord is making a claim against you as the tenant, then contact your RTA for advice about whether you are actually in the wrong or not. They should be able to advise you as to whether the landlord has grounds for the complaint and what you can do in this instance to argue your case. Most RTA’s have FAQs pages on their website that can also be helpful. If you believe the landlord is at fault then you should contact your RTA before lodging your complaint to confirm your rights and validate whether you have grounds for complaint.
Final Inspection on Rental Properties When Moving Out
Another way to avoid disputes is to make sure you do a thorough job of cleaning and repairing the property before your final inspection. Doing this with the condition report in your hand can be useful, so you have something to compare it to. Things can look quite a bit different over time and your memory is not to be trusted when it comes to how clean the oven really was when you moved in.
If you have the budget for it, getting professional cleaners in and requesting a ‘bond clean’ not only means you don’t have to do the dirty work, it can also be an endorsement to the property manager that you took it seriously. When arranging the final inspection, you can then email them the receipts for things like bond clean, carpet cleaning, pool cleaners, gardener etc. Property managers generally will find less reason to nit-pick if they know professionals have been through the property.
Ask Before Hanging Pictures!
A common mistake many tenants make is requesting to hang pictures early in their tenancy, but then forgetting the approval came with the condition that all hooks be removed and walls repaired when you vacate the property. This is a simple enough job and your local hardware store can advise you on what tools and products you need to deal with this quickly and effectively.
Be a Good Tenant
Being a good tenant is not hard and it will pay off for you in the end. Keep records of all communications, and try to always email your property manager rather than call, throughout your tenancy so you have a digital paper trail of your role as the tenant for that property. It’s also a good idea to read over your lease every time it’s renewed just to make sure you’re still clear on what you have to do and to make yourself aware of any changes.