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Renting nightmares – how having a property manager can help

March 21, 2019

It is often said in western society that three things are certain: death, taxes, and rental horror stories. Everyone has heard the nightmarish accounts of what happened to friends of friends, and, if we’re unfortunate enough, we may just have a horror story all of our own. 

Jessica has her own torrid tale, and agreed to share it in the hope that it might prevent even just one tenant from making the same mistakes she did. 

Jess moved out of home and into a studio apartment in Braddon at the start of 2015. She signed a 12-month lease and moved in in February. A few months after moving in, she noticed a few things she hadn’t on her initial inspection of the property: there were three cracked tiles in the bathroom and a few small dings in the living room wall where the couch had previously sat. She sent her self-managing landlord, Mark (alias), an email outlining these issues and admitted that she had overlooked them when completing the Inventory and Condition Report she received. He called her about 15 minutes later assuring her not to worry, and that he would make a note of it on his copy of the report. 

It wasn’t until she decided to leave after the 12 months were up that she emailed Mark asking for her bond to be returned. He told her that the bond would not be returned due to “damages obtained” during her lease, namely those faults she had already outlined to him at the outset of her stay. Mark denied any knowledge of any communication and asked her to produce written proof that they had come to an agreement, which of course she couldn’t, as Mark had only given her a verbal reassurance over the phone. The only written documentation was her outgoing email, but as this had been sent a few months into the lease, it was effectively useless without his written response. 

The helpless nature of Jess’s situation was only exacerbated by the fact that she was made to look dishonest and foolish, and when she threatened legal action, Mark bullied her with intimidating emails in complex legal jargon until she eventually decided it wasn’t worth the headaches and gave up. 

We caught up with Independent Property Group’s Hannah Gill, Managing Director of Property Management, who’s helpfully outlined how to avoid such disasters from the perspective of both the tenant and property management. 

What can property management actually do for tenants? 

I think there’s a real lack of understanding about the value of property management in offering support to tenants. There’s this perception that property managers are the bad guys for tenants and we’re there to make life difficult, and unfortunately the reason that perception exists is because that’s the way a lot of tenants are treated. It’s hard because generally people don’t choose a property manager, they choose the home and have to live with what they get. We always recommend that if you find a property manager you like, check out their website and look for other properties they manage when it’s time to move.  

So how can you help these people? 

Property managers should take the time to build trust and educate tenants properly about the expectations of the tenancy. We have to help them understand complex legislation and make life easy for them. Ultimately, making things clear from the beginning translates to fewer disputes, more transparency and allows tenants to be comfortable in their own home. 

What about bond disputes…how do you avoid them? 

Bond disputes are super easy to avoid. One of the most vital things in a tenancy agreement is the Inventory and Condition Report. Tenants are often so busy moving in and unpacking that they forget this document was given to them, and so they don’t fill it out…plus it’s boring and it takes a bit of time to do it properly. It’s essentially there to protect both the tenant and the owner, and just makes everyone’s lives easier both through the tenancy and at the vacate, so the more detail included in the report, the better. Take photos if you can and include those so that you have a good ‘before and after’ record.

From a Property Manager’s perspective, how do you make a tenancy agreement run smoothly? 

When it comes to educating our tenants, there are a few key steps we’ve taken. Firstly, we rewrote all our correspondence to be in simplified, plain English, so they could understand everything more clearly. As property managers, we’re not trying to hide anything so it’s imperative that all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities. We also created a short animation, which we show every tenant when they sign, which basically takes the long-winded standard residential terms and presents them in an interesting and engaging way. It’s also great because, as we show every tenant the video, we ensure consistency across the board and everyone gets the same message. 

The Independent team has compiled a list of five safeguards you can implement as a prospective tenant to avoid any unpleasantness down the track: 

1. Inventory and Condition Report 

This is of the most important documents for your tenancy. Take the time to ensure complete accuracy in your assessment of the condition of your home, and equipping yourself with an arsenal of dated and clear photos of the property is also highly encouraged. Fill it out Day 1 – but wait a week to submit it, because as you live in the home you’ll begin to notice other things. Just ensure you return the completed version to your landlord or property manager within the 14 days. 

2. Standard Residential Terms 

You can easily find the standard residential terms for any state in Australia online. Access these at any stage and read up on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, as well as what’s expected from you, the owner and the Property Manager or landlord. 

3. Contents Insurance 

Many lease agreements make no mention of contents insurance, so it’s crucial to take the advice of property managers when they suggest you insure yourself. In case of anything going very wrong, your uninsured personal belongings will not be covered by the agreement and you could be left in a difficult situation. 

4. Keep a paper trail 

Ensure that you file away any important documentation given to you by the property manager or your landlord. If any issues arise, it’s always beneficial to have written proof of any communication, as well as the points of legislation outlined in the lease agreement. As Ned Clutcher from the NSW Tenants’ Union says, “If you don’t have that kind of written agreement, the chances you have rights under any kind of legislation are pretty slim.” 

5. Know your rights 

Do your research. For tenants in the ACT, the Tenants’ Union ACT website contains links to informative factsheets covering privacy, bonds, arrears, rent increases, repairs, breaking a lease, evictions and other relevant topics. Also available are the Standard Residential Terms in a variety of different languages if you’re new to Australia. These factsheets can be accessed for every state Australia-wide, and provide tenants with legislative backing should any disputes arise. If you do have questions, you can also contact your Property Manager – they should know the legislation back to front and are a great source of information and advice. 

Turns out you can avoid disaster after all! Following these guidelines can drastically enhance your chances of a smooth tenancy, and property managers can assist you greatly along the way by implementing consistency and simplifying the most vital documents to ensure understanding from all parties involved.