The Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) has significantly ramped up investigations and increased the number of prosecutions and Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) issued to property managers/owners.
Over the past year, the RTA has initiated more PINs and prosecutions than ever before due to a pattern of re-offending and disregard for compliance requirements. The majority of these investigations involved real estate agents, landlords or property owners, with only a very small number involving tenants.
However, not all investigations required a PIN to be issued or full prosecution, as investigations can be resolved or finalised in a range of ways, including education, before they reach prosecution. PINs have increased by 700 per cent compared to previous years, with more than 300 per cent resulting in legal proceedings.
Director for Policy and Stakeholder Engagement Meghan Hibbert said the RTA expected a high level of compliance, especially from property managers. “Lodging a bond, entering a premises lawfully and exercising your obligations in relation to providing documentation are the basic rules of property management, yet we have no shortage of investigations where breaches have occurred. Ignorance of the law is not acceptable as an excuse.”
There are some 200 offences contained in the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (the Act), with 125 of those being prosecutable. Some of the more frequently prosecuted offences include failing to lodge rental bonds with the RTA within 10 days of receipt, providing false or misleading information to the RTA, unlawful entry to a rented property and contracting out of the Act’s requirements.
“It is unfortunate that we are seeing one of the most serious breaches of the Act all too often, which involves many tenancy agreements containing unlawful special terms. Breaches include ‘contracting out’ of requirements under the Act, or the provision of a particular service as a condition of the tenancy,” Meghan said.
Meghan said that agents must ensure they are completing forms and documentation correctly, and fully. “Documentation is key, and the RTA will consider prosecuting individuals or companies found to have provided false and misleading information to the RTA,” she said.
“If found guilty a criminal conviction may be recorded by the court, and this could impact an agent personally, such as when renewing their licence or other areas of their life. These offences carry significant fines with penalties up to $3,000 for individuals and $10,000 for companies.”
This process is separate to any related QCAT matter. If a corporation is being prosecuted, the maximum penalty is five times what it is for an individual. Fines can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
“There is a common misconception among some real estate agents that offences under the Act are civil matters,” Meghan said. “The RTA would like to make it clear that these matters are criminal offences that are prosecuted through the Magistrates Court to either a plea of guilty or a summary trial in which the rules of evidence apply.
“It is critical that anyone found to have been issued with a penalty notice or received notification of legal proceedings in relation to an offence under the Act seek legal advice from a criminal lawyer.”