If there was ever a word to strike anxiety into the hearts of real estate agents and property owners alike, it’s the dreaded “Tribunal”.
The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) is the main forum for resolving residential tenancy disputes between landlords and tenants in New South Wales. Under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010, NCAT can make legally binding and enforceable decisions on tenancy dispute. These can include rental bond payments and refunds, rent increases, unpaid rent, termination of tenancy agreements, compensation, repairs and other breaches of the residential tenancy agreement.
To be completely honest, if all parties keep open communication, abide by the terms and conditions of the lease, and conduct in-going, routine and outgoing inspections with precise records, there will be no need to get external parties involved in tenant disputes. Unfortunately, some people don’t see things that way. If a matter cannot be resolved amicably, the best place is the Tribunal. This comes at a price.
Here’s an outline of how going to Tribunal works:
First up, a landlord, Landlord’s agent, tenant, co-tenant or occupant must apply to NCAT to resolve a tenancy dispute. After lodging your application, you can expect a first hearing within three to four weeks.
Before going to Tribunal, a mediator will ask the parties to try to reach a settlement. If this cannot be achieved, the case will then be heard in the Tribunal hearing room. Both parties will be requested to tell their side of the story, and present any evidence.
Witnesses are not usually called on to give evidence at a Tribunal hearing, and the person who has made the application to the Tribunal must provide evidence to convince the Tribunal that their request should be granted. It is not enough to say “This tenant owes money,” or, “This tenant breached their contract by causing damage to the property”. Actual evidence must be produced.
At the end of the hearing, any orders made are binding. As a landlord, the cost to you will be paying the agent to prepare documents, and spending the day in court. You’ll also be responsible for paying any costs ordered by the Tribunal.
The process of going to the Tribunal seems quite straightforward compared to other types of court cases, however there is still a significant outlay in terms of preparation, time and potentially money if the outcome is not in your favour.
Here’s a sample story from the ABC:
“Carla Garetti’s time living at a Blue Mountains granny flat turned sour at the end of her lease in 2017, when the landlord alleged she had damaged some bathroom tiles.
The tiles were chipped and the landlord claimed it would cost $1,485 to repair the bathroom.
Carla ended up fighting the landlord in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, winning back her bond of $1,200, plus interest.
With help from the tenants’ union, she gave the tribunal the original condition report which noted the damage and statutory declarations backing her evidence.”
What I find interesting about this story is that there was really no need to go to Tribunal. The tenant had been sensible in keeping the original condition report and the landlord should have done the same.
I suspect this landlord was self-managing their property, rather than handing the responsibility to a professional property manager. At the end of the proceedings, their failure to keep a detailed record of the condition of their own property resulted in a day lost in court, perhaps the cost of a lawyer and a great deal of stress. They were no better off and even had to pay the bond back with interest. What a huge waste of time!
Avoiding the Tribunal
The above story is a simple example of how basic errors can result in a one-way ticket to the Tribunal.
To date, our agency has not needed to attend the Tribunal, largely because of my vigilant, almost excessive record keeping. By being stringent with condition reports, contracts, visual records and document keeping, it is easy for me to demonstrate where a tenant has gone wrong, or be open with the owner about their obligations and their tenant’s rights. It’s also important to note that when renting a property there’s a ‘commercial risk’ and that’s reasonable wear and tear, which cannot be claimed.
My goal is to always be upfront and honest with both tenants and landlords, being very clear on what is required of both in order to keep the relationship harmonious and protect the property. As a result, any disputes are easily resolved, either by referring to documents or simply talking things through.
Should any claims remain unresolved and you as the landlord feel the Tribunal may be your only course of action, I’ll explain the costs and potential risks of doing so to help you make the right decision. In the event that we do go to Tribunal, you can rest assured we will be prepared with every necessary form of documentation in order to prove our case.
If you currently have an investment property and would like a professional property manager I’m only too happy to assist.