Bond disputes are certainly no fun. They can be protracted, stressful and costly. Once you have vacated the property you have lost control and are at the mercy of the reasonableness of your property manager and the owner of the property unless you are willing to invest the time, energy and expense of taking the matter to the Queensland Residential Tenancies Tribunal.
So what is the best way to protect for tenants to protect their bond? Prevention. Be proactive. Plan well in advance.
Listed below are some practical steps to help avoid problems, get your bond refunded more quickly and strengthen your position when negotiating a bond refund with your property manager.
1. Invest the time to complete your entry condition report accurately
Our consultants have lost count of the number of times a property manager has said to a client: “The damage is not noted on the entry condition report so you are responsible for it” but a client insists it was
there when they moved in. Many property managers do a very poor job at accurately completing an entry condition report. The report is often prepared quickly in between tenancies, may be completed by inexperienced staff and is often copied over from an old entry report and may not be updated for more recent damage. This leaves the onus on the tenant to ensure that any pre-existing damage is clearly recorded in the entry condition report. It is not an easy task, given that you have only 3 days (not business days) to complete the report and you are most likely in the middle of supervising movers, unpacking and setting up your new home. However, it is the most important task you can undertake to protect your bond.
When completing the tenant section of the entry condition report use accurate language to describe damage (don’t just state that items are dirty), for example: faded, stretched, chipped, dented, scuffed, pulled, pilling, corroded, delaminated, frayed, indented, loose, stained, pock marked etc. It is helpful to complete the entry condition report prior to delivery of furniture and household goods otherwise there is more risk that items can be missed.
Take photos of any pre-existing damage if clear photos have not been included in the entry condition report by your property manager and submit these with the completed entry condition report. Keep these photos on file so you can rely on them at the time of exit if required.
Ensure that you note that walls and skirting boards have minor scuffs if they are present and make special note of any larger noticeable marks. Open all cupboards, check all appliances carefully. If there is grease, dust, dirt, cobwebs in corners, door/window tracks, windows make note otherwise you may be obliged to clean them to a higher standard upon exit. Make note of anything not functioning correctly, including any lightbulbs not working and all screws, nails, holes, chips or peeling paint on walls and doors, scratches, scuffs and gouges on floors, chips or cracks in tiles or bench tops and so forth.
2. Report any damage throughout the tenancy in writing
If you notice any additional damage after the initial 3 days has passed, report the damage to your property manager in writing so you can rely on this later if necessary. This includes damage that you missed at the time of entry or damage that occurs well into your tenancy. Remember that it is an obligation of the tenant to report and mitigate any damage so ensure that leaks, storm damage, damage caused by factors outside your control are reported to the property manager in a timely manner.
3. Know your departure obligations
Read carefully through your lease to ensure you fully understand your departure obligations. Most leases will require the property to be fully cleaned (sometimes professionally) including carpets, appliances, internal windows, external windows that are easily accessible, window coverings, tidy and mow gardens, pool cleaning. If you have pets, a pest spray will be required. External areas may need pressure washing. All garbage will need to be removed. We do recommend that you use cleaners recommended by the property manager where possible as this often makes rectification of any cleaning issues at exit a more straight forward process.
Note that it is the tenant’s obligation to ensure that all remote batteries are operational and all light bulbs are working throughout the property at exit.
However, do remember that the fundamental obligation on the tenant is to ensure that the property is returned to the owner / property manager in the same state in which it was handed over on entry subject to wear and tear. This may mean that there is some flexibility on certain items depending on the state of the property at the time of entry and as long as this is highlighted in the entry condition report.
4. Ask for property manager feedback prior to exit
It is prudent to ask the property manager if there are any issues they have noticed in recent routine inspections that may need rectification prior to exit. This allows you to engage a handyman / painter or other contractor to do the necessary repairs. Do take care if you decide to do repairs yourself as poorly completed jobs may need to be redone on exit and this will be arranged by your property manager with little input from you with regards to price and choice of contractor.
It is also helpful to email a list of any items that you feel might be an issue at the property but you feel are repair and maintenance items that should be repaired by the owner, rather than the tenant and have this agreed to in writing by the property manager in advance of the exit.
5. Request to meet the property manager on site
If time permits, it is prudent to arrange to meet the property manager on site at the conclusion of their completion of the entry condition report. This allows you to see any damage being claimed and to discuss the matter immediately. Bring a copy of the entry condition report as well as some basic cleaning items with you. You may be able to reach agreement at the time or you may be able to rectify minor matters immediately (e.g. taking down 3M picture hooks, wiping a scuff mark off a wall, wiping out crumbs, dust in a drawer, removing cobwebs).
6. Submit a unilateral request for a full bond refund
If it is clear that you are in disagreement with the property manager over certain items being claimed as damage then you do have the option of unilaterally lodging a Form 4 Bond Refund Form to request a full bond refund or a refund of the bond amount you agree to. Once this is lodged, the property manager will be contacted by the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) and given 14 days to either agree to your claim or dispute the claim and request RTA Dispute Resolution. Once this process commences, it requires the property manager to justify all costs and get all quotes in a timely manner and, thereby, encourages a faster resolution of matters in dispute.
Do ensure that you provide accurate an accurate forwarding address so you receive any relevant RTA notices in the event that your property manager lodges a bond claim prior to reaching an agreement with you. This then allows you the chance to submit the matter to the RTA for dispute resolution within the prescribed time limits if you are unable to reach an agreement.
7. Seek third party advice early on
If you are unsure whether your property manager or the property owner is making a reasonable claim for damage, you feel the amounts they are proposing to claim are too high or you are not sure what your rights are with regards to disputing their claim then seek advice as soon as possible. The best contacts at first instance include the Residential Tenancies Authority (ph 1300 366 311) and the Queensland Tenants Union (1300 744 263). Both organisations offer free information, advice and have websites containing fact sheets and information on the bond claim process as well as many other tenant related matters.