In a perfect world, we’d never have to move house, but in reality, renters relocate around every 4.5 years on average.
The time, tension and financial pressure involved in moving all our possessions from one location to another combine to make it an experience most of us would rather avoid.
For renters, there’s also the added stress of bonds.
Simply put, the Tenants Union of Victoria states that renters need to leave the property in “a reasonably clean condition” to get their bond back.
It’s a phrase that will mean different things to different people, but a good rule of thumb is to leave the property in the same condition as when you moved in, with minor wear and tear.
So here’s what you need to do to get your bond back every time, in full.
1. Compare your property to your condition report
As soon as you decide to move, you should start thinking about the property’s condition. Don’t leave things to the last minute, as this will just cause stress later on.
The good thing is that the home will have an expected amount of wear and tear after each tenant moves out – so it doesn’t have to look brand new.
The leeway you’re given on the “wear and tear” front will depend on how long you’ve lived in the property and its condition when you moved in.
To provide a clearer picture of what you need to do when you vacate, Belle Real Estate senior property manager Candice Deane advises tenants to use their condition report as a reference point.
Your condition report should list any faults your property had when you moved in. It should also contain photos, which will go a long way towards helping you put in the elbow grease needed during your deep clean.
2. Report issues as they arise
Accidentally put a hole in a wall or break a towel rail? Tell the property manager about it at the time, rather than waiting for the end of the lease.
You’ll still have to pay to fix it if it’s damaged beyond simple wear and tear, but sorting out the issue then and there means you won’t be kept waiting to receive your bond back at the end of your lease while the property manager hires tradespeople to repair the damage.
Normal wear and tear
Homes by their very nature are places meant to be lived in. So it’s natural for them to incur wear and tear as they house people.
Below are some examples of what landlords and property managers should expect from a home that’s been lived in and enjoyed over several years.
- Faded, cracked and peeling paint
- Worn flooring
- Faded carpet or curtains
- Loose grout in the wet areas
- Clogged drains if the pipes are old
- Cracking in walls due to the natural movement of an older property
On the other hand, the damage that’s occurred due to a tenant that hasn’t looked after the house usually means money will be taken out of the bond if it’s left unrepaired. This can include:
- Unapproved renovations
- Stains or burns in walls, flooring and surfaces
- Broken windows
- Chipped sinks, toilets or bathtubs
“Always be upfront if you damage something throughout the lease,” Deane advises.
“At the routine inspections, if it’s raised, talk about it then and fix it then, don’t wait until you move out because then it will delay your bond, and you want to get your bond back as quickly as possible. If you damage something, contact us, and we’ll refer you to a tradie so you can get it fixed. At the end of the lease, if everything’s perfect, you’ll get your bond back.”
3. Obtain a checklist from your property manager
Deane also says it’s helpful for tenants to obtain a checklist from their property manager to know exactly what they are expected to do when they vacate.
“For them to get their full bond back, if they tick off every single thing on the checklist, in terms of cleaning, things will be ok,” Deane says.
“Things that will prevent them from getting their full bond back are leaving a property dirtier than when they moved in, if the property doesn’t match up to condition report and if there’s any damage to the property that we don’t consider to be wear and tear, like holes etc.”
4. Have a pre-vacate inspection
Your interpretation of “good condition” and an agent’s interpretation could be very different.
So it makes a lot of sense to have the property manager inspect the home before you vacate to advise you on areas you’ll need to address to receive your whole bond back.
“At that time, we’ll have a look through the property to see what condition the tenants have got it in and things we need to prepare ourselves for when the tenant vacates. We can then raise any concerns with the tenant about the condition of the property,” Deane says.
5. Hire a professional cleaner
Yes, hiring a cleaner will cost you a bit of money, but it’s money that you’ll likely have to spend anyway if the property manager takes issue with parts of the property you’ve cleaned yourself.
A professional cleaner will steam clean the carpets, for one, which is mandatory for many rentals and often guarantees their work so the agent can go back to them if they’re not happy with the job.
You can hire your cleaner or use one the agent recommends, which often streamlines the process as the cleaner knows the standard the agent expects and requires.
Deane says you can also cut the cost of the cleaner significantly by first giving the property a quick clean yourself.
“If the tenants move their things out and do a quick once over when our cleaner goes in, it can be up to $200, just to go over the top and steam clean the carpets,” she says.
“But if we have a tenant vacate and they leave it in a disgusting state, cleaning can cost up to around $600. And that’s just for a two-bedroom apartment, doing walls, power points, floors, windows, blinds, full kitchen, full bathroom. Just to clean the stove, if we had our professional cleaner do it, they charge $80.”
6. Pay your last month’s rent in full
Many renters believe their final month’s rent will be deducted from their bond, but your bond is a separate issue from your rent.
You shouldn’t withhold rent simply because you think you may have future difficulties getting your bond back. If you do so, you run the risk of being blacklisted on a tenancy database, which would wreak havoc on future rental applications.
What’s more, in some states, withholding your rent will be deemed a violation of the law.
How renters can avoid getting blacklisted
Most renters understand that if they seriously damage their property or don’t pay the rent, it will not end well for them.
But did you know that if you fail to comply with the terms of your lease, you could be listed on a national database that potential landlords can check at any time?
That’s right: landlords have the power to ‘blacklist’ you, which can impact your ability to be approved for rental properties in the future.
What does it mean if you are blacklisted?
If you are blacklisted, your name has been placed on a database, providing information and rental history to landlords.
This list is reserved for serious breaches of a tenancy agreement, including but not limited to unpaid rent and malicious property damage.
The tenant databases are run by private companies that collect information about renters and share it with landlords for a fee. Most real estate agents also subscribe to at least one of these databases.
The largest tenant and public record database are the National Tenancy Database (NTD).
Used for residential and commercial properties, the NTD contains basic tenant information, such as public record and tenant history files. Landlords use the NTD to assess the reliability of a potential tenant when reviewing a rental application.
How long will I be blacklisted?
Once blacklisted, a tenant can remain on a database for three years before the information must be removed.
However, you can dispute the reference anytime if the information is inaccurate or there is a change of circumstances.
For example, if someone is listed for not paying their rent, the list must be altered to reflect the tenant has settled the debt once it is paid.
How can I find out if I’ve been blacklisted?
A property manager will check to see if you’re listed on a tenancy database before giving the green light to your tenancy application. If they find out that you’re blacklisted, they should let you know within seven days and provide you with information on which agent listed you, as well as their reasons for doing so.
You can then ask the agent who listed you to provide the information the database holds on you. They are obliged to provide this information free of charge, within 14 days.
Alternatively, you can find out whether you’ve been blacklisted by contacting the databases directly. Most of the companies, however, charge a fee for providing this information.
How do I get off the database?
Renters should avoid being blacklisted in the first place, however once on a database; there are several steps to take to fix the situation.
Firstly, you must rectify any of the issues, such as paying outstanding debts.
Once the issue has been fixed, you can write to the real estate agent or landlord asking them to remove the listing, and they are required to contact the database, who will take action within 14 days.
If no changes are made or believe the initial listing is unlawful, you can apply to your state tribunal to review the case.
It is not recommended you contact the database company directly.
As a renter, what else should I know?
Persa Kapsali, a department manager at Ray White Southbank, says it’s not only landlords who lodge complaints with the NDT; utility providers can also blacklist problem customers.
“I’ve come across some renters that haven’t paid phone bills for months and months. And if you can’t afford to pay your phone bill, you’ll struggle to pay rent.”
However, things have to be pretty extreme for a third party to complain. The amount you owe a landlord – in rental payments or damages – must exceed the amount of your bond.
Suppose a landlord or utility provider intends to list you on one of the tenancy databases. In that case, they must advise you in writing or make a reasonable attempt to notify you before doing so.
Once you’ve received a letter of intent, Kapsali says there are a few things you can do to stop your name from being added to the database.
“If a potential landlord tells you that you’ve been blacklisted, you can take steps to remove or change the listing by paying the amount you owe,” she says.
“If the amount you owe is paid within three months of the due date, you are eligible to have your name removed from the database. If you take longer than three months to pay what you owe, your listing can be changed to ‘inaccurate’, but it can’t be removed.”
As a landlord, why should I use the database?
As of 2016, an NTD tenant check cost $13.98.
In Kapsali’s eyes, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind – especially when you’re not quite sure about a potential tenant.
“At the end of the day, your property is your investment, and for $14, an NTD tenant check is worth it,” she says.
“It would be ideal if everyone used it. To have all agencies working together to protect landlords would be great.”
Kapsali says many tenants on the database are repeat offenders, but most tenants do the right thing.
“We manage around 2300 properties in Melbourne’s inner north, and we might lodge one or two complaints a year.”
How to survive a rent rise
It’s the news no tenant wants to hear: the rent is going up.
But while no one wants to fork out more cash than necessary, it is possible to survive a rent rise – using a healthy dose of realism and some planning.
Belinda White, who runs The Fierce Girl’s Guide to Finance, a “financial literacy resource for smart women”, says it’s wise to plan for potential rent hikes.
“Rental rises are governed by laws in each state and the restrictions on how often they can be imposed, and by how much, varies from state to state, so there are some protections for you as a tenant,” she says.
“However, it’s best to assume that rent increases are a fact of life every year or two. Then, if you don’t get one, happy days!” White says.
Tenants should factor in possible rent hikes and not choose a property that stretches them to their limit, she says.
“The bigger buffer you give yourself with fixed costs like rent, the easier you’ll sleep at night.”
White says consistently putting money away can also help soften the blow.
“It’s always a good idea to have an emergency fund for anything life throws up at you; ideally, at least three months’ living costs, i.e. rent, bills and groceries.
“But even a month’s savings is better than nothing and can help get you out of a pickle without resorting to costly credit cards,” she says.
Another trick is to offset rent rises by keeping a close eye on the other costs of renting, like insurance, internet and energy bills.
“You can often get a better deal after a year or two by shopping around or negotiating with your current provider. Don’t be afraid to talk them down,” White says.
For many tenants, a rent rise prompts them to consider moving, but don’t be rash.
“Don’t be afraid to negotiate! As annoying as it is to move, it’s also annoying for a landlord to find a new tenant. Check the local market and see if you can convince them of a reasonable amount,” she says.
“If it is a done deal, do the sums. Is the annual cost as much as a removalist? What about mental stress? It’s going to come down to the questions of can you afford the extra rent and the extra stress?” White says.
Renting can also be a “dry run” for life with a mortgage, according to White.
“Renting is the time to form good habits that set you up for success later. Find a budget system that works for you, whether it’s an app, a spreadsheet or a nice notebook. Track your spending and look for leakages,” she says.
White recommends a free budgeting app from the Federal Government called TrackMySpend.
“It can be a real eye-opener! Try and save money above and beyond the rent for emergencies and long-term goals like a home deposit.
“There are advantages of renting, but in the long-term, homeownership can provide the peace of mind that comes with ‘owning your own patch’ and is often a good way to build wealth,” White says.