Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn tackle your legal rights when it comes to rental bond disputes.
QUESTION: My landlord is trying to scam me into fixing his property. I moved out of my rental apartment in Melbourne two weeks ago. My time there was fairly uneventful and I definitely left the place cleaner than I found it, and I have pictures to prove it.
In fact, it was in a pretty bad state when I moved in – the carpets were filthy, the kitchen was disgusting and it stunk of cigarette smoke. I left it spotless, but shortly after moving out the real estate agent contacted me and said the owner wanted me to pay for new carpets and to have the place painted because it smelled like cigarettes (which it doesn’t really anymore, thanks to me getting the carpets cleaned and scrubbing the walls with sugar soap when I moved in). I refused but they’re saying they will take my bond, and have sent me an invoice for a further $2000. Do I have to pay this? What are my rights when it comes to tenancy agreements – Mel, Victoria
ANSWER: It sounds like your former landlord is trying to use scare tactics to get you to fund a mini renovation on his property.
There are some really important steps you should have taken at the start of your tenancy which would have safeguarded you at the end of your tenancy, particularly against a landlord trying to claim your bond.
Before paying any bond you should always ensure you have not only signed a lease, but also received two copies of a condition report signed by the landlord.
A condition report will outline what the property looked like when you moved in, the more detail you include the better, and the pictures you have taken will help with this.
Ordinarily, you should avoid paying any bond until you have seen the condition report and have completed your part as this will be evidence of the state of the property when you moved in.
The law says that during your tenancy you need to take care to avoid damaging the property; general wear and tear is allowed, for example, carpet that has been worn down because of general use.
Any damage due to wear and tear, or any damage that was present when you moved in (like the smell of cigarettes), is the landlord’s responsibility.
You should tell your landlord in writing that he has no right to the bond, give him a copy of the condition report and the photos which prove that the property was in a worse condition on moving in. Also request that he prepare a Bond Claim form to allow your bond to be returned.
The landlord will likely refuse which means you need to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). Alternatively the landlord may apply to VCAT himself to claim the bond.
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The VCAT process is relatively straightforward, and free.
You need to complete and lodge an application form, which is available on their website, and detail the reasons why and provide evidence (photos, entry/exit condition report, cleaning receipts, emails about the property condition) about your entitlement to your full bond.
This application form can be lodged by mail, online or in person; keep a copy for yourself and provide a copy to your landlord.
The Tribunal member will have read all of the material before the hearing, however make sure you know the facts of your case as you will likely be asked questions and need to dispute what the landlord says.
To be successful in claiming your bond, and claiming the cost of new carpets and painting, the landlord would need to show that you have damaged the property, this damage has caused him monetary loss and if so, the amount being claimed is reasonable.
Sometimes the cost of these repairs may be more than you have paid in bond. The landlord would need to apply to VCAT to keep your bond and also the Magistrates’ Court to obtain an order that you must pay them more than the amount of your bond.
If in the unfortunate event VCAT decide you are liable for the cigarette smell, you need to ensure that the landlord’s claim (currently the cost of the full replacement of carpet and painting) is reasonable.
The landlord can’t stand to gain financially from any claim, for example:
Carpet cleaning may be an appropriate (and cheaper) option instead of replacing carpets;
The condition of the carpet may be so old, stained and worn that it has no financial value anyway (ATO guide lists carpets as having a 10-year life);
The landlord may not have replaced the carpets and relet the property at the same price, so there is no loss
For more information, contact VCAT.
This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor.
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