Host - Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest – Michaela Alletsee – Customer Experience – RTA
Host: Welcome to the Talking Tenancies podcast, brought to you by the Residential Tenancies Authority. I’m your host, Belinda Heit. Join me as we explore everything you need to know about renting in Queensland, with experts from the RTA and industry. We're here to help make renting work for everyone.
Sometimes during the life of the tenancy, disagreements may occur between the parties involved. The RTA is here to help all parties in an impartial way whilst ensuring all obligations under the legislation are met through our dispute resolution service. If an agreement cannot be reached, this is where there is the option of taking the matter to the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).
Today's expert from the RTA is Michaela Alletsee, welcome Michaela. Now you're joining us back by popular demand. Can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: So, my name is Michaela and I'm a team leader with our dispute resolution department, here in the customer experience division of the RTA.
Host: Yes, now that's what we're talking about today, dispute resolution and also when it goes beyond dispute resolution. Now a common scenario for when a dispute might occur is when the tenancy comes to an end, there's a disagreement about the exit condition report, and a claim is made on the bond to cover costs. What happens in these circumstances?
Guest: Yeah, so at the end of the tenancy, bond claim dispute is definitely a common one. Disagreements often revolve around the condition of the property at the end of the tenancy. Sometimes the property manager or owner doesn't think that the property has been returned in the same condition as it was at the start of the tenancy and this is why completing the entry condition report and taking photos when you move in is so important. You note the standard then for comparing to at the end of the tenancy and have evidence to base your negotiations upon.
When one of the parties submit a bond refund request to make a claim on the bond, the other party in the tenancy will receive what's called a notice of claim, notifying them of the claim, which gives them fourteen days to agree or disagree with the bond refund and submit a request for dispute resolution. Either the tenant or the property manager or owner can submit the bond refund request after the tenancy has ended and the other party who receives that notice of claim will be in the position to request dispute resolution if needed.
Host: So where is the best place to start if you want to request free dispute resolution from the RTA?
Guest: The best place to request free dispute resolution from the RTA is online, so you can use the RTA's bond refund web service to submit or respond to a request for the refund. If there is a disagreement, the party who disagrees with the bond refund will be able to request dispute resolution directly online. The same goes if you're using the paper refund of rental bond form. The person who responds to the notice of claim will be able to request dispute resolution.
If the dispute or disagreement does not relate to the end of the tenancy bond refund and is about something else like repairs or maintenance during the tenancy, then you can use the RTA’s tenancy dispute resolution web service to request dispute resolution online. Using this web service means that you can provide all related correspondence digitally to help the RTA in the process. If you are unable to use our online services, you can request dispute resolution by completing and submitting the paper dispute resolution form to the RTA.
An important thing to note though is that once the RTA is notified about the disagreement for the particular bond refund within the 14 day time frame, the bond money will be put on hold while the dispute resolution case is created and followed through.
Host: How long does it take from requesting that dispute resolution to the RTA getting in touch about the case?
Guest: So, the time frames for this process can really vary depending on the volume of requests we receive. It could be anywhere between two to four weeks on average for the RTA to process the request and get in touch so you can have your say on the matter. We follow an internal process with dispute resolution requests to make sure disputing parties are given an opportunity to have their say and to have the correct information so they can make an informed decision during the conciliation.
Processing the request does not happen overnight. Our free dispute resolution service is quite popular as it has the potential to help tenants and property managers or owners avoid legal action and save time and money. The RTA’s dispute resolution service has consistently been able to resolve more than 70% of disputes coming through conciliation where disputing parties volunteer to participate, so most of the time it's worth the wait, but your issue will be resolved quicker and it's free.
You also learn some valuable self-resolution skills through the process which may help you address future tenancy issues that pop up. So, it does take some time for the RTA to process the request, set up the conciliation session via teleconference and get an outcome. But just because you requested dispute resolution does not mean that you should sit there and wait. You can still continue to attempt self-resolution by sharing information with each other and understanding their perspective. This will help save time, effort and frustration in the process.
If the dispute resolution process is delayed due to high demands, you can also take the time to read information and go through resources from our website on the relevant rights and responsibilities to help make more informed decisions. And have your supporting evidence ready and think about what compromises you're willing to make and what outcomes you'd live with. Thinking about these options and decisions ahead of time will make the conciliation smoother and quicker when it comes around.
Host: Yeah, it's really important that you understand what it is that you will live with. That's a common theme that comes through when we talk about dispute resolution. So, when someone from the RTA does get in touch, what happens next?
Guest: Yeah, so in some situations where the dispute is not about the bond, the RTA may only contact the party who requested the dispute and provide information around next steps in resolving the matter. This is to ensure that the relationship between the disputing parties is preserved. Most other times the RTA will make contact with both parties who are in the dispute and make sure that they are willing to participate in the conciliation. Participation in dispute resolution is a voluntary process. We can't force anyone to join if they don't want to, so we do need to make sure that we have both parties’ consent.
If there are multiple tenants involved in the tenancy for the dispute, then we will seek a representative or spokesperson for the tenants, as this will streamline the process. If one of the parties don't consent to participating in the conciliation or teleconference, it may result in a notice of unresolved dispute (NURD) or what we call a NURD being issued straight away. The RTA may also issue a NURD straight away for disputes that are deemed not suitable for conciliation. These may revolve around non lodgement of bond or things that require an urgent tribunal application like termination of a tenancy or if a party is seeking compensation over the bond amount held at the RTA.
Host: Then what happens when it comes to the teleconference with the RTA?
Guest: Yeah, so if both parties are willing to participate in the conciliation, then we will confirm the time of the teleconference with both parties. The teleconference appointment usually takes about one hour, and participants can join via phone call. The teleconference is the conciliators time to shine, to help the disputing parties come to an agreement on their own. Now all RTA conciliators are impartial which means they don't take sides and they don't make recommendations or decisions. They are there to provide guidance on the legislation and to facilitate the conversation and negotiations so disputing parties can come to a mutual agreement on the solution for the issue, or a way to move forward that is compliant with the law.
Through the teleconference there are few outcomes that may happen. The first one is that the disputing parties are able to reach agreement on their issue. This is the best outcome as no legal action needs to be taken and both parties have a clear approach on how to move forward. If parties reach an agreement, then the conciliator will put what was agreed during the teleconference in writing and sent a copy to each party for signing. The conciliation agreement provides a shared understanding of what actions were agreed upon, who was responsible for them, and how and when these will be done.
The second outcome is that the disputing parties are unable to reach an agreement through the conciliation. A notice of unresolved dispute will be issued to the person who requested the dispute in the first place, and they have the option to lodge an application with the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT for short) for their dispute. Timeframes you have to apply to QCAT differs depending on what the dispute is about so make sure you are aware of those and take action before the date outlined in the NURD.
QCAT is like the small claims court and they deal with many different matters including tenancy and rental bond issues. Once the tenancy or bond matter is with QCAT the RTA is not privy and does not have access to the forms and information that is submitted to QCAT.
Host: So, what happens if the dispute is not resolved, and no action is taken from here?
Guest: Great question and a very interesting one. So, if the NURD was issued for a bond dispute after conciliation and an application has not been made to QCAT within seven days, then the bond money in the dispute will be paid to the person who submitted the original bond refund request. If a NURD was issued for a tenancy dispute after conciliation and no action was taken, it is possible that the disputing parties came to an agreement based on further discussions after conciliation. In this case, they would put their agreement in writing, so everyone is on the same page and be able to move forward and sustain their tenancy.
Host: And if action is taken within the required timeframe to lodge an application with QCAT?
Guest: Yeah, so for bond disputes, if they do apply to QCAT within seven days, they complete a form attached to the NURD and send it to the RTA. The RTA will hold the bond money until we receive further instructions from QCAT about how to pay the bond. Again, timing of when you will get a hearing at QCAT will depend on QCATs caseload and it could take a few months.
During the conciliation, our conciliators will make disputing parties aware of the time investment and the amount of money involved to see if parties can come to a different agreement and compromise. Sometimes you have really got to toss up your time investment, the stress involved, and the amount you're in dispute for to see if it's worthwhile. Most of the time, if the bond amount in the dispute is small, then it is often not worth the wait for QCAT hearing for an outcome or decision.
Most people prefer the money in their pockets instead, which is no surprise. It is also possible that while waiting for QCAT hearing, the disputing parties come to an agreement on the bond claim based on further discussions after the conciliation. In this case they can submit an agreed bond refund request form and withdraw their application to QCAT. The bond money will then be paid according to the newly submitted bond refund request form.
If the QCAT hearing does not give the desired outcome an appeal can be made, but the RTA is unable to hold bond money for the appeals process. For tenancy disputes, if they do apply to QCAT within the prescribed timeframe, they will go through a similar process to the bond dispute on a longer timeframe. They will wait to get a hearing date from QCAT so there can be a decision and outcome made and this timing depends on QCATs caseload. Again, it is definitely possible for disputing parties to arrive at an agreement after conciliation and after lodging an application with QCAT. In this case, disputing parties will put their agreement in writing to keep everyone accountable and the QCAT application will be withdrawn.
It's also important to know that there is a cost involved to lodge an application with QCAT, and so often financially it may not be worthwhile unless there is a big sum of money involved. QCAT application fees can vary according to the amount of money being claimed. As an example, if you were disputing a bond claim under $500, the application fee is around $50. The application fees and time involved in applying for a QCAT hearing can provide some motivation for disputing parties to come to an agreement. Not many people want the stress and emotional toll involved in waiting for and participating in a QCAT hearing in front of an adjudicator, but on some occasions, a QCAT hearing can be worthwhile.
Host: Some people worry that going through this process might hinder their chances in getting another rental property. Is this true?
Guest: No, that is not true. So, the outcomes and your participation in dispute resolution is not recorded on anyone’s rental history or database. In fact, the parties that go through dispute resolution are bound by strict confidentiality terms and disputing parties and the conciliators involved are not allowed to discuss the outcomes, negotiations or any details within the conciliation with anyone. Although this is not recorded in any databases or rental history if you need a reference for your next rental application, it may be mentioned in the reference from the managing party who you went through the dispute resolution with.
We understand that this is an important part of the goal in dispute resolution in addition to helping disputing parties reach agreement, we also tried to preserve the relationship between disputing parties. I cannot stress enough that coming into conciliation with an open mind and a willingness to consider different options and work with the other person, plays a huge part in whether the conciliation is successful. There is bound to be some give and take from both sides.
Host: So, to wrap it up, what is your recommendation if someone is considering requesting dispute resolution with the RTA?
Guest: As always, we recommend attempting to self-resolve in the first instance with the other person by having a conversation and sharing information and perspectives. Make sure you keep the communication open, transparent, be reasonable and realistic, and try and work with each other. We understand that this could be somewhat of a difficult conversation. The RTA has a great resource page on our website about how to resolve tenancy issues and has a list of reminders for you to consider before and during this conversation to make sure you can make the most of it.
If after you have tried to talk to the other person and it's getting nowhere, or one or both of you are getting more frustrated and you want some assistance to facilitate and guide the discussions and negotiation in a productive way, then yes, by all means, absolutely request dispute resolution with us.
Host: Well, that's some great advice Michaela and you know there is a lot of advice out there, but if you want to get it right, get in touch with us here at the RTA. Well, thank you Michaela for helping us to get a greater understanding on what we need to know when it comes to dispute resolution and the next steps with QCAT.
Guest: Thanks so much Belinda.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.