Dealing with a Dispute from your Landlord or Tenant

Rose Lawyers on 30 September 2015

Renting? Here are some common problems and how to solve them

We all dream of our ideal renting world: the Tenant who always pays on time, or the Landlord who is always happy to help. The Tenant/Landlord relationship, however, can be a tricky one to manage. In the real world, things are not always so simple – in some cases this relationship can turn ugly.

Late rent and destruction of property are just some of the situations you may have to deal with as a Landlord. For Tenants, you may experience everything from a lazy Landlord to an outright hostile one. The renting world can be a minefield for both sides to navigate.

However, both sides have rules and protections to help achieve a fair outcome if a dispute arises. But sometimes the path forward is not always clear. In some cases, simply sitting down with the other party and negotiating a solution is the best course of action. Other serious cases can go all the way to the Court.

At Rose Lawyers, we work to ensure you get a positive outcome without breaking the bank. We first aim to get a fair outcome through negotiation and mediation, before the dispute gets serious. We can, however, represent you if the dispute escalates to litigation.

To talk to a legal expert about your options, call 03 9878 5222 to schedule a free phone consultation with Rose Lawyers.

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Common Disputes with a Landlord

As a Tenant, there is an endless list of potential problems you could have with your Landlord. In some cases, it can be hard to know where the responsibility lies when things break or are in need of repair. In other cases, your Landlord may be giving you a headache over the bond.

Here are just some of the potential disputes Tenants can have with their Landlord:

Example Disputes with a Landlord

Structural damage

“I lease a building that is a fairly old, and I have recently noticed massive cracks coming down the walls. I have told the Landlord and he keeps telling me he will get around to fixing it, but he never does. The cracks have become so big that I can feel air blowing through them!”

Bond disputes

“I just moved out of a rental property. When I moved out I made sure that the property was spotless. I even steam cleaned the carpet and washed the walls. There was nothing wrong with the property when I left, but the landlord is refusing to give me my bond back.”

Fencing disputes

“The back fence is falling down. The neighbour came around to ask me whether I would agree to fix the fence. I told her that it was not my property and gave her my Landlord’s details. The Landlord is now angry at me because he says his details are confidential ...and now my neighbour is mad at me because the Landlord is ignoring all her calls!”

Tenant FAQs

landlord tenant disputes 01The above examples are just some of the many scenarios where a dispute can arise between you, the Tenant, the Landlord and, in some cases, another party. They all demonstrate the awkward and uncomfortable nature of being in a dispute with your Landlord.

The following FAQs offer some answers to some of the more common questions asked by Tenants, in relation to Landlord disputes:

  1. “Is it true that I have to repaint the walls every 5 years?”

    This is often a clause in the Lease document that the Tenant is to repaint the walls every 3-5 years to maintain their appearance, particularly in Commercial Leases. Check your Lease – it will tell you whether or not this is a requirement.

  2. “I have just moved my business to a different suburb. I did some fit outs at my old premises to make it appropriate for my business and the Landlord approved these changes. Do I have to pay to make the building what it used to be?”

    Yes. When you leave a property you must leave it in the same state which you first rented it. If you completed a fit out and the Landlord wants you to return the property to the original state, then generally speaking you must do so.

  3. “I have recently noticed that there is a huge crack in the bathroom mirror. I have told the Landlord about the problem and he says I have to pay to get it fixed. Is this true?”

    Yes. Generally speaking, your Landlord is responsible for all structural defects – but they not responsible for everything on the premises, such as a bathroom mirror.

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Common Disputes with a Tenant

Renting can be a headache for the Landlord as well; an unstable or irritating Tenant can be a regular and potent source of anxiety. Everything from property damage to Tenants on-the-run – the list of potential problems is just as long!

Here are just some example scenarios of disputes with your Tenant:

Example Disputes with a Tenant

Excessive property damage

“My Tenant has left the place as an absolute pigsty, there is damage everywhere and the bond will not cover it.”

Neighbour Complaints

“I am getting complaints from the neighbour of a premises I am renting. My Tenant uses large industrial machinery and the neighbours are complaining that this is happening at ridiculous hours of the day and night”

Troublesome Tenants

“My Tenant is really irritating. He always pays the rent late. He has not damaged the premises, but it looks messy and my wife keeps nagging me that I need to get someone more responsible. The end of the term of the Lease is almost up. The Lease says that the Tenant has the option to renew and he has sent me a letter telling me he wants to renew the Lease. I would rather get rid of him and put in a new Tenant.”

Whatever your dispute, your first step should always try to negotiate a fair outcome with the other party.

Landlord FAQs

So, what are you to do if you have a troublesome Tenant? Before you go calling a reporter for Today Tonight, read the following FAQs and find the answers to some of the more common problems for Landlords:

  1. “My Tenant has bailed, but they still owe outstanding rent. Can I take the rent out of the bond?”

    You cannot touch the bond without the consent of the tenant or an order from VCAT (or another Court). The bond should be held with the appropriate authority and there is a specific consent form that must be signed by both tenant and landlord before the bond can be released.

  2. “My old Tenant has left personal items at the premises. Can I sell these or throw them out?”

    This is called distress for rent and is prohibited in Victoria unless you follow a specific procedure provided by in the legislation. You must first give notice to the Tenant that they must collect the chattels, otherwise stating that if they are not collected then you will dispose of them. You must also give them a prescribed amount of time in which to respond. If they do not respond, you may sell the goods by public auction. You may use the funds to recover any costs you have incurred in storing and selling the goods.

  3. “I did an inspection and I can see that the old Tenant has done significant damage to the property. What can I do?”

    The Tenant must return the property to you in the state in which it was rented. It may become necessary to sue your Tenant for the cost of rectifying any damage they have left. If this becomes necessary, you will likely have to go to VCAT or potentially the Magistrates Court to resolve the matter.

  4. “My Tenant has told me they want to renew the Lease. They haven’t done anything wrong, but I do not want to give them another Lease. Do I have to?”

    Yes. Under the terms of the Lease, if you have granted your Tenant an option to renew the Lease then you must do so when they exercise their option. They must exercise their option correctly by giving you notice within the prescribed period of time. Assuming that this has been done correctly, then you must provide them with a Lease for the prescribed period on the same terms and conditions as the previous Lease.

How to deal with a dispute

landlord disputes come to comprimiseWhatever your dispute, your first step should always try to negotiate a fair outcome with the other party. If you’re the Landlord, get in contact with the Tenant and try to hear their side of the story. Likewise, if you’re the Tenant, try to call or meet your Landlord and discuss the situation. If you can both come to an agreement before a disagreement turns into a dispute, you could save yourself a lot of time, money and stress.

Unfortunately, however, not every dispute can be so easily resolved. A dodgy Tenant may dodge your efforts to contact them, or a uncompromising Landlord may dig their heels in. There are steps to take when a dispute gets ugly, including mediation and litigation.

The primary legal bodies for these kind of disputes are:

  • The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
  • The Victorian Small Business Commissioner (VSBC)
  • The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV)
  • The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV)

Depending on your circumstances you may need to engage the services of the VSBC, the LIV or the REIV. These organisations can assist you in facilitating mediation with the other party.

If the mediation is unsuccessful, then the mediator will issue a Certificate of Unsuccessful Mediation, which will allow you to take the matter to VCAT. However, if your claim is for rent then it may not be necessary to go to VSBC or VCAT; there are circumstances in which you can initiate the matter immediately to the Magistrates Court.

Every renting dispute is different. If informal negotiations have failed, it is best to seek the advice of a legal professional early to discuss your options and the next steps to take.

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Avoid costly litigation where possible

The choice whether or not to go to litigation may boil down to a financial one. There is no point in perusing litigation if the costs outweigh any outstanding claims you may have, such as rent in arrears.

As a Tenant, always make sure that you take photos of the premises and any defects you notice before you move in. As a Landlord, make sure you do background checks on potential Tenants, and keep an open line of communication with your Tenant so that you are aware of any potential issues early.

If issues do arise, then it pays to get legal advice early to avoid costly, time-consuming and stressful litigation. At Rose Lawyers, we can help you with both mediation and litigation matters relating to your Tenant or Landlord.

To talk to a legal professional, call Rose Lawyers ton 03 9878 5222 to schedule your phone consultation.