Navigating the end of a lease and knowing your renting rights can be confusing, especially when there are issues with getting your rental bond back. Moving house is difficult enough without these unwanted financial frustrations.
Top reasons renters don’t get their bond back
Rent arrears – this occurs when rent has not been paid by the due date.
Damage caused by the tenant – this refers to damage that is not the result of ‘fair wear and tear’.
Cleaning (or lack thereof) – at the start of a tenancy a premises would be ‘reasonably clean’ and at the end of the tenancy should be ‘reasonably clean subject to wear and tear’.
Some tenants stop paying rent in the last few weeks of their tenancy because they figure the landlord ‘can just take it out of the bond’. This is strongly not advised and it is potentially an offence under the Residential Tenancies Act.
Even if the landlord recovers the unpaid rent via the bond, you may risk being blacklisted on a tenancy database, which can make securing future rental accommodation difficult.
In other circumstances there may be small amounts of rent arrears due to miscalculations or final vacate dates being out of cycle with the usual rent periods. Sometimes tenants and landlords will simply agree to take these smaller amounts out of the bond.
What renters are and aren’t liable for
In principle, tenants are liable for whatever actions are necessary to bring the property to a state of being ‘reasonably clean, subject to wear and tear’. Where things get murky is that the law is not able to provide an exact definition of what constitutes ‘reasonably clean’ or ‘fair wear and tear’ pertaining to every potential situation. Factors such as the length of the tenancy will affect the level of wear and tear.
An issue that often comes up at the end of a lease is whether the tenant is required to pay for steam cleaning carpets. In NSW it is a requirement that carpets be professionally steam cleaned at the end of a lease cannot be included in a tenancy agreement unless you have agreed upon it as a condition of keeping a pet at the property.
The following are not a renter’s responsibility:
Unblocking sewerage pipes blocked by tree roots
Mowing the lawn after you have moved out and returned the keys
Replacing 10-year-old carpet
Repainting after 10 years
How can I protect my bond?
It should always be remembered that the bond is the tenant’s money and the default outcome should be that it is refunded in full to the tenant, unless it can be demonstrated that deductions should be made. It is not simply up to the real estate agent or landlord to arbitrarily take money from a tenant’s bond.
Bennett is very clear that protecting your bond should not require any special behavior. A rental property is still your home and if you go about living in the premises in an ordinary fashion, there should be no reason you don’t receive your bond back.
Across Australia, bonds are lodged with a local authority and the lodgement form must be signed by the tenant and the real estate agent or landlord. The money is held by this third party for the duration of the tenancy in case there is unpaid rent or damage to the property by the tenant.
At the beginning of a lease, you review and sign a condition report, which outlines the condition of the property when you moved in. It is important you fill this out carefully as the condition report provides conclusive evidence about the state of the property that can be used to defend your interests in the event a bond claim is made.
Make sure you note any issues or damage on both copies of the condition report, then return one copy to the landlord and keep the other copy in a safe place. It is also a good idea to take photos for your records. The completed condition report must be signed and returned within 7 days from the occupancy date.
What steps do I take to get my bond back?
There are three scenarios when you end a lease:
Your landlord makes no claim against your bond
In the event no claim is made, an application is submitted requesting the money be returned to you. Both parties (landlord and tenant) sign the Bond Claim Form, you nominate a bank account on the form and the money should be paid into.
If there is a mutual agreement that some or all of your bond is to be paid to the landlord then both parties need to fill out the Bond Claim Form stating how much is to be paid to the landlord and how much to you. The appropriate amounts need to be specified in the tenant payment section and the landlord payment section. Check these amounts add up to the total bond amount.
You disagree with your landlord
If the landlord and tenant disagree about how much of the bond should be returned, either can make an application to the relevant tribunal, as described below.
How to handle a bond dispute
The processes vary between the states and territories but your bond cannot be claimed against your wishes without the landlord or agent proving their case to the relevant tribunal.
If you believe all or part of your bond should be returned to you, you can make an application directly to your local tribunal. Attach a copy of your bond receipt to the application. There is no fee for making a request for your bond to be returned.
If your landlord wants all or part of your bond and you disagree, they must make an application to the relevant tribunal.
In the event your bond dispute goes to tribunal, have the following information on hand:
The date that you started the tenancy and the type of tenancy (fixed or periodic). If possible, take along a copy of the lease agreement.
A receipt showing the amount of bond paid.
The amount of notice given to end the tenancy, either by you or the landlord.
Evidence about the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy. A copy of the condition report would be helpful.
If you are after any advice please contact the friendly property managers at Dowling Real Estate Mayfield on 02 4960 0117