Host – Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest – Sam Galer – Manager – 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.
There's a lot to remember when it comes to renting a property, and it can be quite overwhelming if you've never done it before and are trying to find your way on your own. Renting rules and legislation can vary quite a lot state to state. So, first time renting in a different state also has its own challenges.
We can help you understand your rights and responsibilities in all stages of the tenancy and point out the resources available to help you make a home and settle in as quickly as possible. Today's expert on Talking Tenancies is Sam Galer, Manager of Customer Experience. Welcome Sam.
Guest: Thank you.
Host: Tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Certainly, so my role is Manager, Customer Experience Contact Centre, which is our call centre who handle inquiries from public, so that's from tenants', owners, agents, friends of any of those, anyone and everyone, we try and be as helpful as possible. I also managed the Dispute Resolution team for when things can't be resolved between parties, we are there as a free service to try and help everyone reach an agreement or give them the next steps to move forward.
Host: Excellent, so no doubt you get a lot of calls about first time renters? When it comes to first time renters, where should we start when we're interested in renting a property in QLD?
Guest: Yeah, look, it's a really important point. First time renters, by definition, don't really know what they're looking for. So I guess that's the starting point, is really working out what the requirements are? So obviously you know everyone thinks about where do I want to live? But it can be easy to rush into a rental property.
You go in, have a look, and “Oh wow, this looks great!” It might be the first place, maybe you're moving out of home. Those sorts of things, but due diligence at the start really can assist further through the tenancy, so making sure that the property is right for you. So, location is one thing, but also the standard things - number of bedrooms, whether you're going to be living with housemates, whether you are happy to rent from a professional agent or perhaps renting privately, directly from the landlord.
Probably talking to family and friends who've rented. But then you're also looking at the practicalities as well. So, something that we might see is the condition of the property for instance, are there fly screens that are in good repair? And not assuming anything. You might walk through the place and see there's some phone points in the property, but you should clarify with the person that you are looking to rent from as to whether there's an active phone line? For instance, if it's required for broadband if you're working from home or just generally needing internet, making sure that those things are available.
Host: There's nothing worse than when you find that plug in the wall. And it doesn't work.
Guest: No, that's exactly right, and those are the sorts of calls that we get. And then we will try and step people through how they can try and negotiate and resolve it, but far better off to look at that first up.
Host: Yep, so is there anything else that you know, first time renters should be looking out for when they pick that property?
Guest: Look, one of the things to really look out for as well is making sure you can afford the property.
Host: Yeah, that's a big one.
Guest: You know the agents and landlords will endeavour to ask questions and make sure that they can establish that you can afford it, but you've got to be sensible. There's no point in having a wonderful property that looks amazing and impresses all your all your friends and family, if you can't afford it and you end up in a degree of hardship.
Host: Yeah, sometimes we see a property and we just fall in love with it, so those are some of the things we need to be mindful of. When it comes to making deposits on a property, what kind of deposits can a tenant be expected to pay when they're choosing that rental property?
Guest: Sure, there's some standard deposits that we would commonly see - a bond is very common. There are rules around that I won't get into the specifics too much, but obviously there's a lot of good information on our website. Generally speaking, in a general tendency, we're looking at four weeks' worth of rent, so four times the weekly rent as a bond.
You'll also then find that, quite commonly, the agent or owner will want two weeks of rent paid as well before you can move into the property. So, it can be quite a large sum of money to actually put up at the start of the tenancy and that can catch some people off guard.
Host: Yeah, so with bonds, if we go into that, yeah, so we pick a property we fill in all the paperwork, we get all the money together and we pay a bond, say to an agent or a landlord. What happens then?
Guest: So, the bond has to be lodged with the RTA. Now that can be done by the agent, or the landlord, or it can actually be done by the tenant directly to the RTA. So, the RTA now has a process to make this quicker and easier. You can lodge a single bond online via the RTA’s web services, that's through our website, and you can do that on your home computer, on your work computer, or even on your mobile phone.
Host: That's such a great service too. It's so quick and easy to use.
Guest: Yeah and look it's proving obviously to be really popular. Part of the attraction for that is the reassurance that you know where the money has gone. We work really hard so that our system is set up to notify everyone of the payment, so it gives everyone peace of mind that the money has been paid. Particularly for an owner or an agent, they're reluctant to obviously hand over a property until they're confident that that money has been paid, so it's really important for us to make sure that all parties are kept informed on that.
Host: Yeah, and that's so good cause sometimes when you know you pay the money to an agent, you’ve got no idea what's going on after that, so this is really transparent. Excellent, so, what are the forms of paperwork that are needed to start a tenancy?
Guest: Sure, so the forms of paperwork that we'd commonly be looking at is the lease - the general tenancy agreement. It should be outlining essentially all of the key information – where you pay rent to? how you pay rent? what day you pay rent? and then also any special terms that are included in the agreement. It's a form of formal communication for both parties, so it's really important that it’s read, understood and communicated.
Anything that's different, like a special term potentially to do with gardens, for instance, that's brought to the tenants attention, and then everyone's clear on that before it's signed and formally agreed to and the other things you're looking at is the information booklet, so that's required to be provided, and that has a lot of really good information on rights and responsibilities of all parties in a tenancy, you can also find that information on our website.
Host: OK, and so signing the agreement - What do first time tenants need to be aware of before they sign on the dotted line on that agreement?
Guest: Well, I guess you're really looking at the agreement to make sure there's no surprises. So, something that does tend to come up is when you've got rent payment dates. You want to be really clear with rent. Sometimes you'll get an agreement that doesn't have that spelled out clearly. It just leads to miscommunication, people paying rent on different days, for instance. So, you want to make sure that both parties are clear when the rent is going to be paid.
From an agent's perspective, something that comes up from time to time as well is that an agent obviously wants to see the money in the account. Yet, under the legislation, the rent is considered paid if it's being paid electronically. When that payment is made, not when the money is received by the agent is something that we look for. For instance, when you've got public holidays, it's not within the tenant's control. If they’re paying it on the day that it's supposed to be paid, it's considered paid. So that's something that that can come up in a lease - if it's not clear the day it should be paid, then make sure it is clear.
Host: Yeah, so when we're looking at those agreements, a tenant can actually question the terms of the agreement as well, can't they? They don't just have to accept what those terms are?
Guest: Absolutely. I guess if I'm looking at it, and I rent myself and I've been a first-time renter, so, if I'm thinking back a fairly long time ago now, not disclosing too much about my age. When you're looking at it, it can feel imbalanced. It can feel like you have to just agree to things. What you need to remember and what I preach to everyone is to treat it as a business arrangement all the way through, same as if you were in business. If you were in business with the other party, you'd be clear with your communication instead of just agreeing to things that you're not really sure about, you're setting yourself up for trouble.
One of the other things that you would need, so we'll talk about forms and paperwork at the start of the tenancy, is the Entry Condition Report. This is a really crucial piece of information.
Host: I love those.
Guest: [laughter] I don't know if I go to love, but it’s really important. With the Entry Condition Report, it’s really important that it's filled out accurately. From time to time, we will hear stories where an agent or an owner is maybe not sure on how to use the Entry Condition Report and I have heard stories where tenants have been required or requested to sign a blank entry condition report.
Host: No way.
Guest: So, it's not how it's supposed to be, the agent or the owner is supposed to provide the Entry Condition Report with their version of how they see the property, and it can be subjective, but they should be diligent and including as much detail as they possibly can.
It's then given to the tenant to take away to the rental property, ideally before they've started moving everything in and they fill out their side of what they feel is potentially wrong with the property, things that were missed by the agent, and then give the copy back to the agent.
Signing a blank one is essentially agreeing that the property is completely immaculate and perfect and there's not that many of them around and can lead to real sort of difficulties at the end of the tenancy.
Host: Yeah, and I think historically I know for myself when you know those entrance agreements are done, that's where some of the biggest disagreements come in. I think, because it is quite subjective and what I might think is damaged, an agent might not.
Guest: It is, yeah. Absolutely. So, we commonly will see that a tenant will feel that the condition of the property relates to fair wear and tear and the normal thing in the property. The owner or the agent feels that it is damage. Ultimately, the only one who can make that determination is an adjudicator in the tribunal. But it's a really important document to demonstrate the condition of the property at the start and then be able to compare it to the Exit Condition Report at the end of the tenancy.
One of the things that I would also recommend is when the tenant fills out their side of the Entry Condition Report, they take a copy of it at that point. This can be made easier if they’re able to e-mail it through to the agent. Then they have a record of having sent it and what it looked like.
We do find that, like a lot of paperwork, things go missing, not necessarily maliciously, but you might get a change of property manager, you might get a change of agency, you might get a change of owner and the Entry Condition Report remains the relevant piece of information. You don't have to do a new one if a new agent comes in, for instance. It is your document and should be treated like a business.
Host: So that condition report basically sits alongside their agreement for the property and that forms part of their whole agreement for renting, right?
Guest: That's correct, yes.
Host: So, it's also good to know that property managers and owners should tell a prospective tenant about tenancy databases that they might use in the event that they're required. What are those tenancy databases and why are they important for us to understand upfront?
Guest: Sure, so the tenancy databases, relate to, I guess the common lingo is a blacklist, so there are requirements on who can be listed on the blacklist. It's a tenancy database that essentially has a list of tenants who have done the wrong thing. Now these are serious things, or they should be. There are certainly rules and requirements which I'm not going to go into too much. But I will say that the tenancy databases are run by private organisations. They are not held with the RTA and have nothing to do with the RTA.
We do get calls on them. We're happy to talk people through how they can find out whether they're listed and that is by contacting the company and the agents, and the owners have requirements about notifying the tenants about what tenancy databases they use.
There are also requirements about what to do, what they have to do, prior to listing someone. They tend to revolve around making sure that someone's got an opportunity to fix up a situation if it's got out of hand, they owe potentially a substantial amount of money, those sorts of things and to notify them that they're going to be listed. There is a lot more information available on our website.
Host: OK, so if someone ends up on a tenancy database, what can that do to their renting potential?
Guest: It becomes a challenge, particularly with agents, so the best thing to do is to try and resolve the situation. Again, there's more information on our website on who to contact regarding that. If someone feels that they've been listed unfairly, then there's processes to go through. Often it will be an application to the tribunal for the tribunal to make an order for that listing to be removed. If it's unjust, essentially, if it shouldn't apply.
Host: OK. So, tenants also need to understand their rights and responsibilities up front under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (The Act). What's the best way to find out what these are and how to stay informed?
Guest: Yep, look in short, going to the RTA website would be my starting point. There's also the information booklet, or information statement that has to be provided. It's a booklet outlining everyone's rights and responsibilities given at the start of the tenancy that I mentioned earlier, but certainly the website is the way to go.
Host: Yeah, I've heard it's a pretty good website. This podcast might also be useful. So, if a first-time renter got a pet, like a dog or a cat or even a bird that they would like to keep at the property, what do they need to do?
Guest: OK, so this is really important for a first-time renter, or for a renter of any kind, but certainly when you asked earlier about first-time renters especially if they've got pets. That's going to be a requirement for the property. If they're already in a tenancy and the family wants a dog or something like that, it’s important to be really upfront and clear with the agent. You need to get permission from the owner to be able to keep a pet.
Things that you're then looking at, let's say for instance, you're given permission to have that pet. You want to be clear with all parties as to what the requirements are. So, for instance, there's a dog, is the dog allowed to be inside the house or is it just to be outside in the garden?
Other things that you're probably going to look at is commonly at the end of the tendency. If you're moving out, the owner and the agent will likely want pest control done. That doesn't mean that they're insinuating that your pet has pests. It's not “your dog's got fleas,” but it's about returning the property to the original condition as far as possible, fair wear and tear accepted.
Host: Yep, so do they also need to be mindful of fencing and stuff like that? You know? I mean, obviously you don’t want your dog to get out.
Guest: No. Look that's about making those judgments - is the dog that you'll want to get suitable for that property? Are you getting a bull mastiff when you're in a one-bedroom studio apartment? Possibly not going to go too well, no?
Host: It's not a good idea, no, so obviously if you're in a unit, there's going to be different rules that apply around that as well.
Guest: Hmm yeah. And in units, particularly townhouses, you can find things like body corporates. They may also have requirements about pets. That's not necessarily going be within the control or influence of the agent or even the owner. They have their own rules to follow. In that event, it's essentially about contacting that organisation. Yeah, so body corporate community management can help about the rules and how you can negotiate those.
Host: Yeah, so talking about living in units and body corporates and those rules can change all the time. And when you're a first renter, it can be really hard to understand that. What do they need to know when it comes to the body corporates.
Guest: Yeah, so if they're in a body corporate those rules and regulations and requirements should be provided as part of the tenancy agreement. That should be upfront. It's similar to special terms - these are the rules. So, it might be to do with use of a communal pool for instance, it might be pets, it might be where people can park on the property. Those things should be looked at up front to make sure that everyone's clear on their obligations and potentially avoiding issues later in the tendency.
Host: OK, any of those kind of things, they would need to deal with the on-site manager or the body corporate themselves and be really clear on what those terms are and that everybody can have an enjoyable time in those units, yeah?
Guest: Yeah, that's correct and it's the body corporate rules. They're generally there to make sure that everyone can get along and have fair use of the property. But things like parking, for instance, is there sufficient on-street or off-street parking or visitors parking? those sorts of things that you wouldn't necessarily think of before you move in, but once you move in and then you have a housewarming BBQ, that's when the situation comes around.
Host: Yeah, you soon test it, don't you?
So earlier we were talking about things like phone and Internet and property and it's really important to check that everything meets our needs there. What other things do we need to be mindful of? You know, things like electricity, water, utilities. What do tenants need to address with property owners and managers here?
Guest: Yeah, so again, we're looking to clarify those things that you've rattled off there. Yeah, thank you for doing my job. That's perfect, yeah, look, but it's clarifying and not assuming. So, when we're looking at, for instance property, is there a significant garden? Is there going to be upkeep? On that, is that going to impact on water usage? Do I pay for water? With the Internet – is broadband available? is the NBN connected? who's going to pay for connection if it needs to be done?
Best to be asking those things before you sign the agreement, making sure that the property is going to be suitable for you and having that clear. There's nothing worse in these situations then just signing that you agree for water, for instance, that the tenant's going to pay for full use of water, there's conditions around what needs to be present in the property for that to happen. But signing that and then getting a bill out of the blue is never a good look, no.
Host: So, we've got ourselves to the point where we're in the property, right? We're the first renter. We're in there. We've finally got a home. Now, there's a whole bunch of documentation that goes with us as part of this renting journey and quite often we just throw it in a corner and forget about it until we have to move out. What's something we need to remember with that documentation for the duration of our tenancy?
Guest: Yeah, so and I'll speak from experience. I'm very good at taking paperwork and just throwing it in the corner somewhere, so I think we've got a little insight into my life there.
I would be recommending, as I said earlier, treating it like a business. Whether you've got a designated drawer, or, you know, a shelf in in your home office, but somewhere where you're keeping this information to be able to refer to through the tenancy or to refer to at the end of the tenancy.
Maybe you keep it as an electronic file so that you're not then worried about the spring cleaning coming through and then losing a copy of your entry condition report. I'd be always keeping copies of things electronically, so it's then available on a range of devices you can call on it when you need to. It just makes it that much clearer for everyone and I'd probably include in that, any correspondence that you have from the agent or owner or tenant throughout the property lease.
Host: Yeah, and it's really handy, like when those little situations pop up, you can go back to your actual agreement and go, “well, it says here that I can do this.” Yeah, so that that is a really important thing to remember - to keep it secure and keep it electronically if we can.
Guest: Yeah, absolutely.
Host: And really, it's up to each party to take care of their own documentation, and you can't expect the property owner or manager to deal with that.
Guest: No, and sometimes you've got a property manager who's managing multiple properties, calling them up and demanding a copy of something that you should be looking after yourself. It's not necessarily going to go too well.
Host: Well, we know all about first renters now Sam. Thank you so much for your help today.
Now the best place for people to go to stay up to date with the RTA, particularly when they're first renter is obviously our website rta.qld.gov.au.
Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies Podcast. For more information about the residential Tenancies authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.