Updated: May 26, 2020
It’s a long time since I was a tenant.
We moved cities for work and I was pretty excited about the prospect of a bit of a sea change. It’s been great. Well, I’ll amend that, it was great until we had to move out of our rented premises and I tried to get our bond back. Silly me thought this would be a simple matter. We’d looked after the place, made it our home for three years and I’d developed a cordial relationship with the owner.
Or that’s what I thought.
You see, like most people, all my dealings are underpinned by the notion of trust. What I experienced has challenged that assumption. Not only that but it has made me fear for people who may not be as dogged or informed as I am. Young people, people who for whom English is a second language, older people who might be easily intimidated.
As it turns out I was naïve beyond belief. When the Real Estate Agent rang and asked if the owners could come over for a routine inspection I volunteered to give them a guided tour. I couldn’t wait to show them the rose garden I had resuscitated, the camellia I had successfully transplanted, the vege garden I had created, the shed my kids had turned into a play centre. I had nothing to hide. Or so I thought.
All seemed to go well. It was all very amicable and we exchanged anecdotes about this and that, including the owner offering up the information that he was delighted with the way we had looked after his home and was happy for us to stay for as long as we liked.
A few days later we received notice to vacate the premises. That was a bit of a surprise and a bit inconvenient but we took it in our stride. We got cracking finding somewhere to live, arranging removalists and attending to all the other nightmarish tasks associated with moving.
The owner had told me he wasn’t moving back for a while so I wasn’t too worried that I spent the day we were meant to hand back the keys cleaning. The owner didn’t seem too fussed either. When he dropped in with some tradesmen to get some quotes he told me we didn’t have to break our necks getting out on time and he would have been quite happy for us to stay a bit longer.
We shook hands, wished each other well and off I went.
A couple of days later an email arrived from the Agent . I opened it, fully expecting our bond to be returned. Instead, I was assaulted by an extraordinary log of claims and some very dodgy photographs. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Then, before I could draw breath I received a notification that I had to appear before VCAT. I didn’t know what VCAT was but I soon discovered that the owner was intending to keep the bond and that all the “hail fellow, well met” stuff was an act. And that VCAT was a tribunal and I had to appear before a magistrate. It was not only absurd, it was insulting. No point in crying over spilt milk though. I had our family’s honour to defend and a considerable amount of money to try and retrieve. Even though I was spitting chips I called on all my experience as an actor/teacher and approached the tribunal calmly and collectedly.
Then I was handed a further log of claims by the Real Estate Agent who blithely informed me it was my fault for “engaging “with the third party. Who happened to be the owner. The idea that you could have an honest and open relationship with the person who owned the house you were renting seemed incomprehensible to her. The fact that it was assumed that you couldn’t trust the person you rented a house from was astonishing to me.
The hearing was as formal as it was intimidating. Swearing on the bible, calling the magistrate “Ma’am”. I thought I was in a bad court drama but this was real. And way more frightening. All I wanted was my bond back and now I was before a beak. What was going on?
Fortunately most of the claims were thrown out but not before I had politely refuted each claim as it arose.
No, we didn’t get under the bed in stilettos and damage the floor. The “rubbish” in the garden was some old tiles I had used to reinforce the soil around the camellia I had transplanted. The “weeds” were leeks, chillies, silver beet and rocket. The “rubbish” in the house (a couple of kids sandwich bags that had slid down the back of a drawer) was probably not worth $330 to remove. The single strand of black hair, microscopically photographed on the bathroom floor, didn’t belong to any of us. The dog, although a clever little thing, had yet to master the art of chiselling paint off an architrave. I didn’t know what the “shug” windows were let alone noticed the “fracture”, let alone extrapolated that, because the owner found a cricket ball under a bush, that it had been the cause of said fracture. Thrown by the dog?
If was Pythonesque. Except that it was real.
We forked out nearly $500 so the owner could replace the glass door the dog (called Micro) had scratched. We got most of the bond back and I lost a huge amount of faith in human nature. I know it sounds absurd but I was really taken aback by this whole episode.
Now this may have been a nightmarish experience for me but I’m one of the very lucky generation who were able to buy homes when they were affordable. That particular Australian dream has long gone. We live in an age when renting is the norm. Just like it is in the rest of the world. You only have to look at the rate homes are being torn down in major cities around the country to be replaced by apartments to get the picture. More and more of us are going to be renting and for longer periods.
Governments need to act quickly to provide protection for renters so that they are not shamelessly ripped off. They need to change the system so that long term rents can provide the kind of security home owners take for granted. They need to prevent owners from renovating their homes on the back of renters bonds. They need to create an environment that encourages trust rather than distrust in the rental market.