Landlords often require rental bonds as security to make sure that tenants meet the terms of their rental agreement. These days, bonds are usually collected by the landlord (or agent acting on their behalf) and held by a statutory authority. In the ACT, for example, bonds are lodged with the Office of Rental Bonds (ORB); in Victoria, the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA); in NSW, NSW Fair Trading.
The bond is collected at the commencement of a new lease. The landlord is required to give the tenant a completed bond lodgement form that records the amount of bond paid. Once the bond is lodged, a receipt is sent to both parties.
Before the tenant moves in, they and their landlord must complete a condition report. This report is important because it notes the condition of the property prior to the lease. If, at the end of the lease, there’s a dispute about the state of the premises, the report can be used as evidence.
When you complete the condition report, be as detailed and specific as possible, especially if your observations differ from that of your landlord. We also recommend that you take a good set of date-stamped photos of all the rooms, fixtures and fittings. And don’t forget the outside areas as well.
Damage and repairs
The tenant is responsible for keeping the property reasonably clean, with an allowance made for ‘fair wear and tear’. Tenants are also responsible for:
- notifying the landlord of damage and defects, including those that could cause injury
- paying for damage caused by occupants and visitors
- replacing light globes and batteries for smoke detectors.
The landlord is responsible for making sure that the property is in a reasonably clean condition on the day the tenant moves in. They’re also responsible for keeping it in good repair and attending to requests for urgent and non-urgent repairs in a timely manner.
Each Australian state and territory has different Acts that govern residential tenancies. These Acts distinguish between urgent and non-urgent repairs.
In Victoria’s Residential Tenancies Act 1997, urgent repairs include burst water services, gas leaks, blocked toilets and drains, serious roof leaks, dangerous electrical faults, damage due to weather (for example, flooding, storm, fire), failure and/or breakdown of essential services and/or appliances (for example, hot water, cooking, heating, water supply) and faults or damage to the property which render it unsafe or insecure.
The landlord, or their agent, must attend to these repairs immediately. If they do not, the tenant can arrange the urgent repairs (in Victoria, for up to $1800) and claim the costs back from their landlord. Make sure you keep records of your attempts to arrange urgent repairs and the related receipts.
It’s recommend that both the tenant and the landlord communicate all requests and responses in writing and keep copies in case of a dispute.
Before you move out, talk to your landlord or agent about how the bond money should be divided. If you believe that you’ve kept the property in good condition — with fair wear and tear only — and that no damage has been caused, you can claim the full bond back.
If there’s some damage to the property, the parties should get a quote for the costs of the repair and discuss who will pay.
Both the tenant and the landlord must complete and sign a bond claim form. This sets out the amount to be repaid and the tenant’s bank account details for the bond’s return. The tenant cannot use the bond for their final rent payment; bond and rent are separate items.
A landlord may claim some or all of the bond in circumstances where:
- the tenant has left or abandoned the property and owes rent
- the tenant has failed to pay bills they were responsible for, such as water usage, and has left them for the landlord
- items such as fixtures or fittings are missing from the property
- the property has been damaged
- the tenant has failed to clean or repair the property (beyond ‘fair wear and tear’) and the landlord incurs cleaning/repair expenses.
Tenants can dispute a landlord’s claim by applying to the relevant tribunal in their state or territory; e.g. the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) or the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT). Similarly, the landlord can also apply to the tribunal if they and the tenant are unable to agree on the division of the bond.
As the bond money is the tenant’s money, the onus is on the landlord to prove their claim. Documents such as condition reports, dated photographs, repair quotes and receipts can be used as evidence. The more documentation, the stronger your position, so do yourself a favour: know your rental rights and responsibilities and start your new lease on the right foot.
Trang van Heugten is a senior associate in Maurice Blackburn's Melbourne office.