When things go wrong – dispute resolution and avoiding tribunal

Property management

It’s natural to imagine everything will go smoothly with tenants. Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan. Disputes can arise between landlords and tenants. In fact, in about 80% of cases, the landlord has a dispute with a tenant. That’s not to say tenants don’t have disputes with landlords, too.

Some landlords don’t hold up their end of the bargain. Tenants are often reluctant to take a dispute to the next level because they are afraid of a rental increase or eviction. This may skew the numbers.

The last measure you want to take is to go before a tribunal to resolve a dispute. It can be a major expense, sometimes even involving the help of a solicitor. In many cases, you can avoid having to go before a tribunal. It’s best to try to resolve a dispute before taking the final step of going before a tribunal.

Common disputes between landlords and tenants

Tenants can have problems with landlords for a variety of reasons. They usually have something to do with the integrity of the building. In some cases, a landlord might not perform an emergency repair within the required 24 to 48 hours. In other cases, a building might have structural damage the landlord does not get around to addressing.

These are legitimate reasons why a tenant can have a dispute with a landlord. The easiest way to resolve these types of problems is to do emergency repairs quickly. If an emergency repair isn’t needed, landlords have up to 14 days to make other repairs. Structural repairs are more costly, but if a tenant sees large cracks in the wall or feels the foundation is sinking, they have a right to have the structural damage repaired.

Another source of dispute is the rental bond. If a tenant has neglected the property and repairs or renovations are necessary, the landlord has the right to use the rental bond to cover the costs, but they must go through the proper channels first. If a tenant has maintained the property and cleaned it before leaving, they have a right to have most or all of their bond returned to them.

Tenants may have problems with neighbours, too. A frequent source of complaint is a falling down fence. If the fence is on the boundary between two properties, the cost of fixing the fence should be shared with the neighbour. Unfortunately, neighbours often complain to the tenant, who is not responsible for the fence unless they did something to make it fall down. If they are not at fault, they should speak to the landlord first. If their landlord fixes the problem, the dispute will be resolved easily.

If the landlord does not address the issue, the neighbours will continue to complain to the only person they can complain to: the tenant. In one instance, the tenant gave the name and phone number of the landlord to the neighbour. The landlord considered this offensive and refused to take phone calls from the neighbour.

Ultimately, disputes that come from tenants should be addressed by repairing or replacing anything that is worn or broken. If the landlord feels the tenant caused the damage, the tenant is responsible for the repair. If they don’t carry out the repair, the landlord can take the repair cost out of the rental bond after going through the proper channels.

Dispute resolution when the tenant is at fault

As mentioned above, 80% of complaints are made by landlords. The disputes can arise for any number of reasons. The Residential Tenancy Authority (RTA) of Queensland recommends several ways to resolve a dispute with a tenant. Rather than react angrily to a complaint, take a more objective look at the situation and consider the situation from the tenant’s point of view.

Do they have a legitimate complaint? If they do, it is your responsibility to rectify the problem. Tenants pay rent expecting the landlord to rectify problems they did not cause. Our article, Rental repairs and maintenance: who’s responsible, the landlord or the tenant? outlines several scenarios that may come up. In all cases, it depends on who is responsible for the damage.

It is the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs if the repair is caused by wear and tear over time. It is the tenant’s responsibility to repair damage done by them, including accidental damage such as spilling a drink or accidentally breaking a window.

The RTA also stresses the importance of communication. If a landlord can communicate with a tenant directly and without antagonism, many disputes can be resolved quickly:

  • Stay calm and discuss the issue with the tenant.
  • Be realistic and don’t blame the tenant until you know the facts
  • Negotiating with the tenant will be a give and take situation: avoid being overbearing
  • Whoever is at fault, agree to a timeframe for rectifying the problem. A tenant may not have enough money to fix a problem caused by them immediately. A landlord may need to get quotes from several tradespersons before they can fix a problem.

The RTA also recommends keeping a record of communications with a tenant in case a dispute arises later.

In some cases, a tenant may not have read the rental agreement or may have forgotten what was stated in the agreement. If a tenant is a long term tenant, they may have forgotten they are responsible for painting the interior every three or five years. An easy way to resolve this is to show the tenant a copy of their rental agreement. If it is stated clearly, they have no reason to complain.

Go through the proper channels when you can’t resolve a dispute with a tenant

Tenants have rights. One of their rights is that the landlord can’t take matters into their own hands. The landlord must go through the proper channels to resolve a dispute with a tenant. A frequent cause of dispute is when a tenant does not pay the rent on time. In some cases, they may not pay the rent for months. As a landlord, you can’t evict a tenant alone. When should you evict a tenant and what is the process? mentions several reasons why a landlord may want to evict a tenant.

One thing a landlord cannot do in any state is evict a tenant alone. The article outlines the process of eviction in every state. In all states, a police officer or other official is the only person who can enforce an eviction.

If a tenant moves out and leaves the property in a shambles or fails to pay the rent and just leaves to avoid paying back rent, they still have rights. A landlord cannot withhold the bond without permission from the authorities in their state. The authorities will look at the situation objectively and make a decision based on the facts. While tenants have rights, so do landlords. This regulation is in place to avoid further disputes between tenants and landlords.

In some cases, a tenant will move out and leave personal items behind. They are still their personal items and a landlord cannot dispose of them without going through the proper procedure. The first thing they need to do is list the items and notify the tenant. The landlord must also give them a reasonable time frame to collect their possessions. If they do not respond, the landlord has the right to sell the items and keep the cost in exchange for storage and the cost of selling the items.

Is going before a tribunal worth the cost?

The final step in dispute resolution is to go before a tribunal. Before you take this step, ask if the cost of going before a tribunal worth it. In many cases, the cost of a solicitor and tribunal costs will be higher than rent in arrears or repairs needed on the property. If this is the case, it might be better to be glad you’ve gotten rid of a bad tenant and look for a better tenant.

If the tenant has done extensive damage to the property and vacated without paying several months rent, a landlord may still run into problems when they go before a tribunal. Tenants like these may not have the funds to pay for the damage and rent in arrears. If they don’t have the money, the landlord is not likely to collect it. They will be able to keep the rental bond if they have a record of the damage and can prove the tenant did not pay the rent. While the bond may not cover all the costs, it’s better than nothing.

If all else fails, a landlord can contact their state government authority before going before a tribunal. If they have a good case, the authority will notify the tenant of a breach in the rental agreement. Tenants tend to take this seriously and may be willing to rectify the situation. Going before a tribunal should be the final step and only if the landlord feels it is worth the cost.

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