My partner and I lived in a 2 BR, bottom floor unrenovated flat in Randwick for 6 years. We were good, reliable tenants - so much so that the strata managers ended up using us as their main contact for maintenance issues in the building.
Most of the maintenance done on our flat was handled by the landlord's son, who freely admitted that his father believed in letting his properties stay in a decrepit state. Our landlord was using rent money from these rundown properties to fund his retirement.
During our tenancy the landlord increased our rent by an excessive amount each year - way above CPI. We would try to renegotiate each rent rise to a more affordable amount, but he would often refuse outright. After contacting Fair Trading we realised that there is no standard rent increase, or any protections for tenants against excessive rent rises. Our rent increased by 40% over the course of 6 years.
When we moved out in July last year, we spent a full day cleaning the flat. We were extremely thorough, scrubbing the walls, and removing dirt and dust from every nook and cranny. Although it was a mouldy flat, we ensured it was completely clean, despite the fact that it wasn't in great condition when we moved in.
Despite this, the real estate wrote to us with a long list of queries regarding cleanliness and damage. He included photos of old, decaying kitchen cupboards, the stained bath and rusty stove top - all of which were old and decaying when we moved in. We countered the agent's argument with the help of a lawyer.
The legal advice we received was that as long as we left the property as clean as possible, allowing for fair wear and tear according to clause 13.4 for the Residential Tenancy agreement, we should expect our full bond to be refunded without delay.
The Real Estate wanted us to admit that we didn't use the commercial cleaners they had recommended. Essentially, they were arguing that without commercial cleaning (using the company they had a relationship with) they would take money from our bond for cleaning. Our lawyer told us that the real estate agency would most likely pocket that money themselves and not use it for cleaning anyway!
I spoke to Fair Trading who recommended applying directly to the bond board for our bond. That way it was up to the real estate agent to dispute our claim. They would have to be prepared with evidence for the Tribunal. We sent our bond reclaim form to Fair Trading and waited for a few weeks. We didn't hear from the real estate agency again, and after a few weeks we were refunded our full bond.
What I learnt -
- Commercial cleaning is not compulsory for a full bond refund
- Fair wear and tear must be taken in account by the agency and landlord
- The Rental Bond Board has your bond money and you can apply for the refund directly. Don't be intimidated into thinking you have to go through the agency to get your money back
Our lawyer told us that it's common practice now for agents to claim bond money at the end of a lease, regardless of whether there's really anything wrong with a property. I can only imagine how many people lose hundreds of dollars, just because they're not in a position to stand up for themselves against an unfair claim.