Host: Belinda Heit - Communication and Education, RTA
Guest: Jill Davidson – 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.
Whether renting or not, neighbours can sometimes impact the quiet enjoyment of our living environment. This can stem from noise, smoking, parking, rubbish or overgrown properties. In this episode, we aim to give you some tips on how to live in harmony with your neighbours, and what you can do when it all gets a bit too much to handle. Today's expert from the RTA is Jill Davidson. Welcome back Jill.
Guest: Thank you so much, Belinda, happy to be back.
Host: Now, can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Absolutely. So, I'm currently one of the team leaders within our customer experience division. At the moment, I’m looking after a team of processing experts in the business unit we call bond management. So, the incredible bunch of people in this area manage all of our data entry for the RTA, so that's not only the lodgement and refund of rental bonds, but everything that happens in between. And look, they’re so multi-talented! They also help our contact center by jumping in whenever they're required to, you know, help out our customers.
Host: And what a busy team you've got. Now firstly, let's start with some of the common complaints we often hear about when it comes to neighbours. So, what are we talking?
Guest: Well, the most common scenario that comes up really, would be anything in relation to noise.
Host: Yep, totally. What can the RTA do if you have a dispute with your neighbour?
Guest: Well, we can certainly empathize with you, and I think we all know how it feels. So, it's you know, always a definitely a really tricky situation. Everybody has the right to quiet enjoyment where they live, so having a neighbour causing issues can be really, really distressing.
Now, the RTA administers the legislation for renting in Queensland as we know, so we can tell you about your rights and responsibilities in your specific situation. Depending on the issue, we may be able to point you in the most appropriate direction. And this could be towards other organisations who can help, such as the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, otherwise known as QCAT or your local council or even the Queensland Police.
Host: Yeah, so what can't the RTA do?
Guest: Thank you for asking that one. So, the RTA can't intervene in disputes with your neighbour, and we can't offer legal advice. We don't have that spare law degree sitting in my drawer so we can't provide the names or contact details either of a managing party or a tenant in any sort of scenario that might come our way.
So that's you know, talking about if it's a neighbours property we can't say yes, that's tenant so and so when they're managed by so and so, it's not going to happen. That would be a big breach of our customer confidentiality and the Privacy Act. The RTA also doesn't provide our free dispute resolution service for neighbourhood complaints.
Host: Yeah, so whilst we do provide a dispute resolution service, it's not for those kind of complaints.
Guest: Exactly right.
Host: Go back to that number one complaint we hear about noise. What are the options if you are experiencing a noisy neighbour?
Guest: So, providing it is safe to do so, the first step is to have a direct conversation with your neighbour. Now this can feel a bit awkward or “I'm not very good at that”, but it's often the quickest and easiest way to resolve an issue. So, give your neighbour the benefit of the doubt in the first instance. They might not realize how much their noise is affecting you, and a simple conversation could really quickly resolve the problem.
I'd also recommend doing a bit of research around the noise restrictions in your area. While some noise can be irritating, it's not always illegal. If you're not able to resolve the issue with a direct conversation, you've tried, you've been brave, knocked on the door, and if you think your neighbour might be breaching restrictions or being unreasonably noisy, then the next step is to find the right person to talk to. Depending on the issue, it could be a local council and as we said before or the police. Now the RTA doesn't provide dispute resolution as we've said for nuisance related issues between neighbours, but you're welcome of course, as always, to give us a call to explain the situation and hopefully we can point you in the right direction.
Host: Yeah, so if it's me doing karaoke at 10:00 o'clock on Sunday night, I completely understand. But barking dogs are also a common noise complaint, but sometimes it's not the dog's fault, right?
Guest: Exactly, poor puppy. But you know, here's some things to consider, how long has the barking been happening? If your neighbour has just got this new dog, let's call him Bob. So, it might take Bob some time to settle in. Try to give poor Bob there some time to feel comfortable in their new home before you approach your neighbour about noise.
Host: The other thing is, when does the dog bark?
Guest: OK, so if barking only happens when the owner is away from the house, happens a lot, they get lonely. Poor Bob. Yeah, feeling a bit, you know, out of his comfort zone. Or if there's any activity near the house, your neighbour may also have no idea it's happening while they’re at work, they don't know what's going on. So, most dog owners would actually be concerned about their animal's behaviour impacting their neighbours. Apologetic even. So, having a chat with them first is a good place to start.
If when you're talking to your neighbour about the barking directly and it doesn't work, so they're not receptive, if you don't feel comfortable approaching them, for example, you could submit an anonymous notification via a third party like Bark Up! that's bark up with an exclamation point (Google) or speak to your local council, as both of these options have processes in place to help.
Host: Yes, and you know some people have dogs as guard dogs as I do, and when anybody is at the front of the house they will bark. So, sorry people, that's what they're there for. Now something else that a lot of people don't like is the impact of smoking or vaping that can spread via an adjoining property or building. What can we do in this instance?
Guest: Yeah, so this is an interesting one. As I've said before, your best bet again is to speak to your neighbour about it directly, see if you can come to some sort of solution. Now, Queensland currently has legislation outlining where you can't smoke. Now, this includes children's playgrounds and hospitals, but there's actually very few restrictions placed on smokers in residential properties. So unfortunately, this means we don't have a one-size-fits-all solution. So, if you live in a free-standing house, you really only have the existing legislation to rely on. Yeah, not great. But if you live in a high density dwelling like a unit or townhouse with a complex, your body corporate may have special terms outlining where residents can and can't smoke. If they don't, you can raise the matter with them. And see if they decide to take action, so it does happen sometimes. In fact, the ABC recently broke a story where a unit on the Gold Coast was banned from smoking on the balcony following a complaint from a neighbour on a higher floor, the buildings’ body corporate deemed the smoking was a health hazard.
Host: Yeah, then that was a kind of a landmark case, wasn't it? Now, let's talk trash. What should you do if you've got a neighbour who's littering, dumping, or has overflowing bins?
Guest: So just to sound like a broken record, talk to your neighbour first and give them a chance to fix the problem. If it keeps happening, it's the tenant's responsibility to keep the property clean so as not to attract vermin or wildlife, of course, crows. If you're a tenant and you're finding that you're generating more waste than your Council wheelie bins can hold, get in touch with your property owner or manager and request a different size, you can do that. If you've tried talking to the neighbour and they're continuing to be a nuisance with their rubbish, you can contact your local council.
Host: Yeah, so those are the avenues there. Now what about an overgrown yard or a garden that needs maintenance?
Guest: Very familiar with this one personally. So, it's another interesting one, because most people assume that all maintenance is the tenant's responsibility. However, in some cases it's actually the responsibility of the property manager or owner. So, to break that down a bit, under Queensland rental legislation, the tenant is obligated to leave the property in the same condition that it was in when they first entered, fair wear and tear excepted. So, this generally includes ensuring the grounds or gardens are maintained. Now, the property manager or owner may not be able to ask the tenants to take responsibility for certain things like pruning tall trees and cleaning high gutters. All of this should be outlined in the tenancy agreement and agreed to by all parties. Now you can find more information about this on our website.
Now, while councils do have processes in place to manage overgrown properties, if you're experiencing this type of nuisance and it is a nuisance - you know, people like their views, then it might be worthwhile having a chat with your neighbour to see what the current agreement is that they have in place before you think about making a formal complaint.
Host: Yeah, and it's a really good point. We actually expand more on this particular topic in the gardens and maintenance podcast episodes, so if you go check out the episode list, you'll find that one there where we get into the nitty gritty on that one. Now, often there are complaints about driveways being blocked and parking issues, one I'm familiar with. What can be done here?
Guest: So, this definitely depends on the type of rental property that you live in. So, for concerns about people parking on the street but across your driveway, this is something you can definitely report to your local council. If it's a matter of parking within a complex or unit block, we recommend getting in touch with your complex manager or body corporate to see if there's assigned parking or any property bylaws that people need to be adhering to.
Host: Yeah, so what if a neighbour complains directly to a landlord or owner about a tenant, like what steps should they take to amicably resolve?
Guest: So, we always - oh gee, this is new – recommend speaking to the tenant first, so even if you are having a pre-existing relationship with the landlord or owner, still try and talk to your neighbour first. So, if you do end up approaching the landlord about the issue directly, instead of going to the tenant, then they can choose whether or not to issue a breach to the tenant. If they do issue a breach, it's up to them to follow up and see if it's been resolved. If the breach is not resolved or if the landlord chose not to breach them at all and the issue remains a concern, then you can lodge an application with QCAT or the police if the issue is serious.
Host: Yeah, and I guess one point to mention there as well, which we cover in another podcast episode around breaches, is you know that should not be our first step, we should be communicating first, which again is the theme throughout this entire episode. Communicate first for self resolution. So, to wrap up, what are the key things people should remember if they want to live in harmony with potentially nuisance neighbours?
Guest: If possible, always try to have a direct conversation with them first, I think we've got that one.
Host: No surprises there.
Guest: Give them the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to fix the problem. That said, if you suspect your neighbour is doing something illegal in the property, or that they might react violently, please don't approach them. In this instance, it may be a police matter if you can't resolve an issue with your neighbour, there are organizations who might be able to help, such as the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal or QCAT, or your local council. There's also some great information on the RTA website. They can talk you through how to raise difficult issues and try to negotiate an option that works for both of you.
Host: Amazing, thanks Jill, for helping us to get a greater understanding of what we need to know when it comes to nuisance neighbours.
Guest: My pleasure.
Host: Thank you for listening to the Talking Tenancies Podcast. For more information about the Residential Tenancies Authority, visit rta.qld.gov.au.