Host: Belinda Heit – Communication and Education – RTA
Guest: Ben Gerwald – Customer Experience
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.
Routine inspections can be a source of frustration for both tenants and managing parties and it can bring up a range of sensitive issues, including entering a home, privacy and lifestyle habits. Today's expert from the RTA is Ben Gerwald, Support Officer from our Support Team. Welcome, Ben.
Guest: Well thank you so much for having me today.
Host: Now can you tell us about your role at the RTA and what you're responsible for?
Guest: Yeah, so I've got a bit of a blended role here at the RTA. I've been here for three years now. I have worked in the Contact Centre—so when you call in, I can answer your questions in regard to bonds and tenancy calls. I have also worked in the support department helping out with processing forms, also in the transaction centre, and I've also got a little bit of dispute resolution knowledge here at the RTA, as well as an intake officer.
Host: Wow, you know it all, Ben! That’s amazing.
Guest: Absolutely. I try to anyway.
Host: Now we're going to talk about routine inspections today, which no doubt you probably get a lot of calls about and have answered a lot of questions on. Now, my first question for you: are routine inspections mandatory and how often can they take place?
Guest: OK so routine inspections aren't mandatory. The legislation does allow four routine inspections to happen during a tenancy, so once every three months. So, if an inspection happens, well under the legislation it indicates that there needs to be three-month gap between the next inspection, unless there is some arrangement between both parties to hold them sooner.
Host: OK. So if, you know, a managing party doesn’t do any inspections at all, that’s completely fine?
Host: Nice. So how much notice must be given for an inspection and how is a tenant notified?
Guest: OK so it is seven clear days’ notice before an inspection. The recommended way to notify a tenant that there's going to be an inspection is the approved form, which is the Form 9—the entry notice.
Host: So when you say seven clear days, are we talking business days?
Guest: Well, it is seven clear days. Now the notices should not be issued on a Sunday. So if you are wanting to come through the premises, it is just seven days under the legislation.
Host: Right. So, yeah, seven calendar days then.
Guest: Yeah, you could say so in calendar days, yes.
Host: So what if the tenants not available on the suggested date for the inspection?
Guest: Well there's nothing in the legislation to say that the tenant has to be there. Inspections can happen when the tenant isn't at home, so if that entry notice is issued correctly then the managing party does have the legal right to enter the premises at that time. But there is also the possibility of both parties talking to each other and arranging a time that may be suitable for both parties to conduct that routine inspection when they're both available.
Host: So, and this is the whole thing when it comes to a tenancy, is open and clear communication will alleviate any issues that you're experiencing.
Guest: Well, that's it. It's key. You know, keeping those lines of communication open, being on the same page is really important, super important. We talk to people about that a lot.
Host: OK, so what if the managing party raises concerns with the property that the tenant doesn't agree with?
Guest: Well, again, first step: self-resolution—"Hey look, these are the issues”, “OK, let's try to get an agreement over these issues.” If you can obviously reach that mutual agreement, great. Lots of benefits with that one, less stress and it helps to maintain relationships as well.
Host: Yeah. OK so, here's a scenario for you, right?
Host: I'm the managing party, and I've done an inspection and the property is in a horrible state. What do I do?
Guest: OK, so the managing party should put that in writing to the tenant just to advise that an inspection has happened and these are the concerns with the tenancy. Ideally, the managing party should give the tenant a reasonable amount of time to respond to the things that they've brought up on that inspection, and I guess progress from there. Obviously you don't know what the response is going to be from the tenant, but maybe set a reasonable time that you'd like the tenant to respond to those issues.
Host: Yeah, I mean, we're talking like, you know, really bad.
Guest: Oh yeah.
Host: They're going to have to rectify that. So, can you give us some examples of common complaints we see at inspections?
Guest: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, just the premises being in a generally poor state—dirty, I guess, is a big one that comes up. Sometimes there can be a little bit of argument over, you know, what one person considers to be dirty than another person. But I mean, if there's grime all over everything; you can see carpets haven't been vacuumed; there’s stuff spilt all over the floors; the lawns are a foot high; and things like that, those are probably the things that I’d go “Alright, this is pretty serious”.
Host: Yeah. When we look at breaches, these are things that could actually cause permanent damage to the property, right?
Guest: Yeah, and that's the thing. I mean, the managing party shouldn't be telling a tenant how to live in the premises, providing that the way that they are living isn't damaging the property. If they see something in there that has the potential to damage the premises or cause damage to the premises down the track, those are the things that are generally brought up at these inspections.
Host: Yeah and I guess it's, you know, that neglect over time that sometimes as a tenant we find ourselves doing, can actually cause that permanent damage. So it might be, you know, not cleaning a shower screen and it ends up permanently marked.
Guest: Yeah, you get that soap scum damage that we're all familiar with, or they get the scale buildup on the bottom of the screen, it can cause the screen to go milky. All of those things are things that generally get brought up at these inspections.
Host: I know they're a pain, but boy, it's going to save a lot of pain later on.
Host: Now, accidents happen. What do I do if I'm a tenant and I accidentally damage the property? So for example, I spilled something on the carpet and I cannot get that stain out.
Guest: OK best practice is to inform the managing party, let them know that an accident has happened. Yes, accidents do happen, like you said. But, you know, I guess maybe turning a blind eye to that could cause some issues down the track. Try dealing with it at that point—it may be a little bit unpleasant, but it may save so much more issues at the end of the tenancy.
Host: So really, if you spill your red wine deal with it immediately.
Guest: Yes, well, look, if you can, I mean, yes, it would be beneficial to do that.
Host: Now, a routine inspection is not a housework inspection, is it? Like you were saying?
Guest: No, no.
Host: You know, keeping the property clean and tidy is one thing, but going through a housework inspection is not what this is about.
Guest: No, no, it's not. I mean that the agent is coming through for a couple of different reasons. One, just to just to even look at if there is any general maintenance to be done to the premises—their responsibility under Section 185 of the legislation is to maintain the premises in a reasonable condition at all times the tenant is living in the premises. They may not notice something that the managing party would, and they can bring it up. The other reason why they're entering the premises is to make sure that the tenant is abiding by their obligations. Section 188, tenants' responsibilities generally, so they are also responsible for maintaining the premises in a reasonable condition and keeping it in a fit state.
Host: I love how you know the sections of the Act!
Guest: Well, we refer to them a lot! And it is beneficial, people do appreciate knowing which parts of the legislation apply.
Host: Yeah, you're a guru. Now, are there instances where disagreements based on inspections go through to the tribunal, to QCAT?
Guest: Well, yeah, they can. I mean, one step before that is going through the dispute resolution process which the RTA offers. But if there is something there that can't be resolved at dispute resolution, if parties can't come to an agreement, there is the option to progress it to QCAT in extreme circumstances, yeah.
Host: And we're talking super extreme here.
Guest: Oh yeah. Generally when they become serious, I mean, you'd want to hope that a resolution can be met at conciliation or the dispute resolution process.
Host: Yeah. So, what is expected during a routine inspection?
Guest: Well, just that the place is in a reasonable condition. I know that kind of sounds a little bit subjective and this is why issues come up at routine inspections—one person’s idea of what is reasonable and another can differ, right?
So, I guess it is just a matter of maybe just being a little bit mindful. Yes, you're not required to have the place looking like a show home for the inspection, but know that one is coming up and just know that, you know, just make things a little bit, maybe neater and tidier. Make sure that in the morning before the inspection starts, maybe you do run the vacuum cleaner over the floor or something just along those lines, as an example.
Host: So, some kind of tips that we could give tenants obviously is, you know, make sure that you've done your routine kind of cleaning like your dusting, sweeping, that kind of stuff. And also look at, you know, if there's any mould on any surfaces, take care of that. And then there's the outside of the property as well, so the lawn and the gardens and things like that. It's your obligation to keep those tidy as well.
Guest: Yes, it is. Because the ‘premises’ is not just the house—it's the yard as well. If you've got a place with a yard.
Host: Yep and that includes the outside areas like decks or patios or, you know, entertainment areas and things like that. And then, you know, looking at any health and safety issues or repairs that you need to highlight with the managing party as well and going through their processes for that.
Guest: Yeah, absolutely. And this is also good for the tenant as well if the managing party is going to be coming through and the tenant knows that there is going to be a routine inspection, this is also a good opportunity for the tenant to maybe look at certain things that they may not look at every single day. Something to bring up for the agency to look at as well. And it may mean that, you know there maybe do a little bit more of a clean-up in a part of the yard that they don't go to all the time and things like that.
Host: So what's the difference between a routine inspection and an end of tenancy inspection?
Guest: OK so a routine inspection is to ensure that the premises is being maintained while the tenancy is in place. Now an end of tenancy inspection that differs a little bit—actually, can differ quite significantly—because it is to ensure that the tenants have returned the premises in the condition that they received it at the beginning of the tenancy, allowing for fair wear and tear on the premises.
Host: And so that’s when we’re doing an end of tenancy inspection, that’s where that exit condition report comes into play, doesn’t it?
Guest: It does. The exit condition report is something that the tenant needs to do under the legislation at the end of the tenancy. At the beginning of the tenancy, the managing party does the entry condition report, and the tenant has three days to fill that out and return it. At the end of the tenancy, that process is reversed. It becomes the tenant's responsibility to do the exit condition report—which is the Form 14a, available on the RTA website—and they fill that out and they give it to the managing party, and then the managing party has three working days to do the exit inspection.
Host: Excellent, and that's super important because that's basically how they get their bond refund, right?
Guest: Well, that's it. Well look, it forms part of the process that then flows onto getting the bond back, you know, and it's a really good way to have everything written down. And if there are any concerns, that you can systematically go through that or address those concerns, whether those concerns are your responsibility or not. But if they are, you can go, “OK well I've dealt with this”, or it starts the process of self-resolving any issues at the exit.
Host: Yeah and I know based on my experience I’ve had some tricky times on exit condition reports, particularly when you’ve been in a property for a long time. So, I think having that open communication, can’t stress that enough, but yeah, making sure that you address everything that’s raised through that, so that you can get as much as your bond back as possible.
Guest: Absolutely, and the exit condition report goes through each room and each part of the room, so you can make sure that, you know, you’re covering off all those bits and pieces that you know are your responsibility. Have I forgotten that fan blade? Did I do that shelf in the bedroom of room number two in the property? Little things like that.
Host: Now if anybody has got any questions about routine inspections or end of tenancy inspections, where can they go to find out more?
Guest: Firstly, the RTA’s website. The RTA’s website just has a huge amount of information about these processes, you know, and it’s easy to search on the site and things like that to be able to find that information. There’s a multitude of fact sheets. And if you can't find the information on there, you can always phone the Contact Centre to speak to somebody, such as myself, about any issues that you may have.
Host: And, you know, if you're listening to this podcast and when you do ring up and you get Ben, make sure you mention it.
Guest: Please, please do.
Host: Well, Ben, thank you so much. We've learned so much about routine inspections today. But obviously if you want to find out more, like we've said, jump on the 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.