By Gillian Bullock
You're moving out of your rented flat and you want your bond back. The real estate agent gives you a string of reasons why you are only entitled to a minuscule amount back. What do you do?
In many cases, the estate agent is just trying it on, says David Imber, policy and liaison worker at the Tenants Union of Victoria.
"Stand up for yourself, it's a negotiating exercise," says Imber. "If you are confident that you haven't done any damage (beyond regular wear and tear) then don't be scared off by comments from the real estate agent. They are only trying to get the money so they can pay for professional cleaning or perhaps some general repairs. But they don't want trouble and will mostly negotiate."
If you are out of luck here then you may need to take your case a step further and seek help from the tenancy tribunal in your state.
Tenancy arrangements vary from state to state as do the rental bond requirements.
In NSW, for instance, the maximum you can be charged for an unfurnished property is four weeks rent. If it is furnished then it is a maximum of six weeks rent and there is no limit at all if the rent is more than $250 a week and the property fully furnished.
But whatever the bond, it's important that you have on record the state of the property at the time you move in.
In most states a condition report is required when a landlord charges a bond.
"You need to be diligent when filling out your condition report," says Imber. "If there are a number of scratches, then make sure you say there are several and don't just write 'scratch'."
The landlord has to accept general wear and tear, so there may be a good argument for taking photographs of any damage to the property from the outset.
For many, getting your bond back is vital if you need one for your next property.
So what recourse do you have if your landlord won't come to the party?
After you vacate the premises and a final inspection has taken place, then the landlord or agent should give you a Refund of Bond Money form they have filled in for you to sign.
If you disagree, then talk with them first and if that fails to deliver satisfaction, then send the unsigned claim form to your local Office of Fair Trading. They will notify the landlord, who then will have a specified length of time to apply to the Tribunal to dispute the claim. The time varies. It's 14 days in NSW and 10 working days in Victoria.
The Tribunal will get the parties to conciliate in the first instance in order to resolve their differences.
Imber says that unless there is clear evidence supporting one or other of the parties, in general the Tribunal tends to draw a line down the middle.
"While it is hard to generalise, our experience shows that if the landlord is offering $100 bond return and the tenant is seeking $600, the Tribunal will tend to go for the middle ground of $350 but if you come well prepared you can do better."
The cost of lodging an application is not onerous. In NSW it is $31.50 while in Victoria, this fee does not apply to bond claims. Imber says this waiving of the fee should provide an added incentive to pursue your rights if you believe you have been unfairly treated.
While many cases are resolved between the landlord and the tenant, the Tribunal deals with a number of cases. According to the 2004-05 annual report of the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal in NSW, some 8.6 percent of applications in the tenancy division related to rental bond issues.
Keep reading - next article