Bond disposals Know your rights as a renter in Australia
It’s crucial for tenants to document property conditions and understand their rights to combat unjust claims. Image: Canva.
  • Renters may feel that the cards are stacked against them when facing an unfair bond claim.
  • Always ask your landlord or agent to provide evidence for bond claims.
  • Claiming the bond before your agent/landord can do so places the onus on them to dispute the claim.

Veterans of the rental market know the basics of protecting themselves concerning bond disposal claims.

The most common ways to safeguard one’s bond include documenting the conditions of the rental property upon entry, ensuring that the property is reasonably clean upon one’s exit, and asking for evidence should a landlord try to claim the bond.

However, even the most seasoned renters may not know all the strategies to protect themselves from unjust bond claims, especially in the challenging market we find ourselves in.

How did we get here?

The Property Tribune spoke to Tenants’ Union of NSW policy and advocacy manager Jemima Mowbray for more information with regard to bond claims.

“Unfortunately, too many renters find themselves in a sticky situation at the end of their tenancy, when the stress and anxiety of a move are at peak, and finances are tight, also having to worry about losing their bond.”

Jemima Mowbray, Tenants’ Union of NSW

“Some landlords and agents take advantage of renters’ vulnerability, lack of confidence, or awareness of their rights to make unfair claims on the bond,” she said.

“And the very tight rental market at present means some renters will avoid challenging their landlord or agent over bond – even when they feel the claim is unfair or overblown because they worry about an ‘informal’ blacklist or poor recommendation for their future housing if they make a fuss.

“One of the most common reasons renters contact the Tenants’ Union or local Tenants’ Advice Services is about bonds. The most common bond disputes are over cleaning costs, repair costs, or financial disputes over outstanding rent or bills.”

Protect yourself from the start of the tenancy

Mowbray said it is imperative that tenants fill out their condition reports at the start of their tenancy agreements to ensure that they have evidence that they left the property in the same condition they entered it.

“As a renter, you should fill out the condition report at the start of a tenancy agreement. Consider taking photos of any part of the property that is not in perfect condition and provide these to your landlord or agent,” she said.

“This ensures you won’t be held liable for the property’s existing damage. Alongside the condition report, keep good records regarding repairs and maintenance needed and requested throughout your tenancy. Again, it’s worth taking pictures and making extra notes so you have a solid evidence base when your tenancy is ending.

Mowbray stressed that tenants should know their rights and what is expected of them. This means tenants are expected to keep their property reasonably clean and return it in the same condition as they received it, wear and tear notwithstanding.

When should you dispute a claim

It is always worth asking for proof before accepting your landlord’s bond claim.

“If a landlord is claiming your bond, they need to tell you why, and they need evidence of the basis for their claim. If that isn’t forthcoming, it’s certainly worth asking questions about the claim and potentially challenging it at the Tribunal,” she said.

“Landlords have to show there is a problem that needs to be fixed and the costs involved in fixing it, and they have to show the tenant is responsible for the problem.

“Generally, apart from any rent-owning, a landlord will make claims for damage or cleaning or where alterations (including to locks) have been made without the landlord’s consent.

“Renters, though, are not responsible for any ‘fair wear and tear’ that may have occurred during the tenancy – the landlord needs to take into account that people have been living in this home, and that property and appliances in it will age.”

Some examples of fair wear and tear named by the Department of Energy, Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DEMIRS):

  1. Curtains faded naturally from exposure to the sun.
  2. Carpets worn due to frequent use.
  3. Old locks that fail because of age.
  4. Paint that flakes off due to improper application or old age.

“If the landlord/agent wants to make a claim from the bond without your agreement, they must give you a copy of the final condition report completed at the end of the tenancy agreement, along with copies of estimates, quotes, invoices or receipts for work they are claiming,” Mowbray continued.

“And they must provide these to you within seven days of making the claim. If renters cannot resolve a dispute about bonds with their landlord or agent, they may find themselves at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). If they are disputing a claim made by their landlord or agent, they will have to make the application.”

“A lot of the claims made by landlords that get to the Tribunal are not supported by evidence. At the Tribunal these claims should fail.”

Importantly, when disputing a bond claim, renters should know that free support from their local Tenants’ Advice Service is a mere phone call away.

What not to do

Considering how the odds are stacked against renters, some have floated ‘creative’ methods of protecting their bond before they leave.

For instance, some renters think that not paying rent a couple of weeks before their lease ends will shield them from unreasonable bond claims, forcing the landlord to use their bond as rent.

“This is not a good idea. It puts renters at risk in terms of future rental applications if their landlord is successful in making a claim for compensation for anything (could be very minor) in addition to the rent owed,” Mowbray warned.

“This is because a landlord can list a renter on a tenant database (what some people refer to as ‘blacklisting’ the tenant) where the tenant is found to owe an amount more than the bond when the tenancy ends.

“Failure to pay rent will also show up as rental arrears on your rent ledger and again risks future tenancy applications.”

Claim the bond yourself

A solid strategy for preventing unjust bond claims is to claim your bond directly before your landlord or agent can do so.

“One thing that many renters are not aware of is that you can make a claim on your bond directly through NSW Fair Trading or via Rental Bonds Online immediately once they have left the property,” Mowbray said.

“You don’t need your landlord or agent’s signature. Fair Trading lets the landlord/agent know you’ve made a claim and gives them 14 days to dispute this.

“If they don’t, you get your bond refunded. Otherwise, the landlord needs to apply to the NCAT to dispute the claim, and the Tribunal will decide how the bond will be paid out.”

“Making the claim first as a renter puts the responsibility (and cost) for applying to the Tribunal on the landlord or their agent. Very often, this is enough to stop frivolous claims by the landlord.”

We asked Mowbray for her opinion on who she believes is responsible for turning bond claims into a distressing affair.

Rather than solely blaming errant landlords or agents, she highlighted how the rental market heavily favours landlords and that any change necessitates a radical shift in Australia’s housing system to correct the power imbalance inherent in the renter-landlord relationship.

This will, in turn, give renters more confidence to challenge exploitative landlords and more confidence to assert their rights.

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