Landlords withholding bond money from Qld flood victims
FIVE rental dispute claims a day are being lodged in Townsville amid reports tenants' bonds are being withheld for flood-related clean up.
Since the floods, the Rental Tenancies Authority has received 128 dispute cases from the Townsville region, 84 of which are related to rental bond refunds.
Sean and May Sulistio's $1700 bond could remain in limbo for months after they hit a hurdle while vacating their Kirwan home in the midst of the floods crisis.
"A move that would ordinarily take two days took nine days because our removal truck was cancelled, cleaner cancelled, mower guy couldn't work in the rain and with the schools closed and no local family support, I had to move our stuff in the rain slowly on my own while my wife looked after the kids and then she cleaned while I had the kids," Mr Sulistio said.
The former army officer said he warned the agent they might be late in vacating, raising the issue of mould and the likelihood of overgrown grass due to the wet weather.
"They sent a message saying that the mould and yard is our responsibility to keep on top of which was their expectation before we hand the keys in," Mr Sulistio said.
Despite leaving the property in what they say was a high standard, the couple claim they only heard from their agent more than two weeks later when they were told they would not receive their bond refund.
"We are professionals and our rent was paid up till the due date and the property was very thoroughly cleaned; my wife has high standards as she can't stand anything untidy," Mr Sulistio said.
"The problem with the RTA mediation process is that because of their back log, we are told the arranged meeting won't be for another three to four weeks."
Hermit Park resident Michael Buschel was forced to leave his "unliveable" two-storey rental after floodwater went two feet under the house.
"I was told by the real estate to fill out a Form 12, I handed it in and there has been no contact after that - no phone messages, texts, emails from real estate or the owners," Mr Buschel said.
"I rang up the RTA last week to find out what was happening after filling in my Form 12 to be told they put in a full claim of my $1170 bond for cleaning, damages and rent."
"The owners surely had insurance but I even offered to get a cleaner in for the top half of the house after the repairs were done, that's the kind of person I am. But I heard nothing since except to say I won't get my bond back."
The couple, who are landlords themselves, say they are "honest and understanding people" who are furious the process can withhold tenants' money for such a long time.
"No doubt there are scrupulous tenants out there which is probably why the current process is in place however when you think you have done everything right, the process feels quite long and drawn out," Mr Sulistio said.
"We are reasonable people and have excellent rental history. If there was anything wrong, the agent could have let us know and we would have rectified any issues."
Another tenant, who did not wish to be identified, claimed her agent wasn't able to complete an exit report on her old property until a fortnight after she had moved out.
Because of the delay, in which the real estate office was closed and the backlog of work stacked up, the tenant claimed she was charged an extra week rent, lawn maintenance and mould cleaning.
Crisis raises tensions
REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella said it was possible Townsville was facing a shortage of experienced property managers as tensions between agents and tenants escalate in the wake of the floods.
"Some of our members are frustrated that repairs can't happen quickly enough and homes can't be returned to tenants or to the market quickly enough to meet demand," Ms Mercorella said.
"I personally know of many agents who worked tirelessly - some as much as 24 hours at a time - throughout the most critical flood times, as waters peaked, to keep their clients informed of the condition of properties and to help calm tenants who were worried about their rental situations."
She said the number of rental bond disputes had increased by about 13 per cent since the floods and expected to see this figure rise.
In response to whether it was within landlord rights to use part or all of the bond for flood-related repairs, Ms Mercorella said this would ordinarily be covered by the lessor's building insurance rather than the bond.
Landlord Carol Lovasi said she returned bond in full to a tenant in her Aitkenvale property despite it being "damaged and filthy".
Ms Lovasi said she also loaned the tenant money to secure a new rental, despite allegedly owing her several hundred dollars in rent.
An RTA spokesperson said they had responded to about 800 flood-related inquiries and of the 84 rental bond disputes, 24 have had refunds.
"The RTA is prioritising disputes arising from flood damage and general inquiries from people affected by the floods via the RTA hotline 1300 366 311," the spokesperson said.
"If a tenant and their property manager/owner are unable to reach agreement over how a bond should be refunded, they can complete a Form 16 Dispute Resolution request to apply for the RTA's free dispute resolution service.