No landlord wants to find themselves in a dispute with their tenants. Whether you’re dealing with tenant damage, delayed reports of maintenance issues or haggling over the bill for emergency repairs, these are issues you want to get sorted as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Imagine this scenario: you discover your tenant has damaged your front door during a routine inspection. The tenant claims the problem was there before they moved in, and you don’t have an Entry Condition Report that proves otherwise. So, who foots the bill?
When it comes to handling maintenance disputes right, you need to know exactly what you are and aren’t responsible for to put yourself in a good negotiating position.
Plus, by fostering open communication with your tenants you’ll know any maintenance problems will be brought to your attention quickly to reduce the chance of disputes.
Keep reading to discover the most common disputes that crop up between landlords and tenants as well as the practical steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of conflict in your current and future tenancies.
What common maintenance disputes can arise between landlords and tenants?
Out of all the disputes that happen between landlords and tenants, what do you think is one of the most common? If you guessed repairs, maintenance and upkeep, you’d be right.
In most cases, it’s not as simple as landlords neglecting the front yard or putting off fixing a leaky tap.
The reality is that poor communication is often at the heart of disputes. That can cause tenants to struggle to get in touch with their property manager, and jeopardise the quality of your rental property, too.
We also know that communication (or lack of it) is a big headache for investors, too. 14% of the owners we’ve spoken with say that communication is their main pain point when working with a property manager.
So, let’s look at some of the most common scenarios investors face when it comes to maintenance disputes:
- Who needs to pay for tenant damage? While the general rule is that tenants need to pay for any damage they cause to the property, there can be a bit of grey area here (especially if the property is poorly maintained and the damage is caused by a lack of maintenance).
- Who covers the cost of urgent repairs? If tenants can’t reach their landlord or property manager when urgent repairs are needed, they might find themselves out of pocket for these repairs. And if they’re not reimbursed within 14 days, disputes can easily arise.
- What happens when tenants fail to report maintenance issues? Landlords can find themselves facing significant repairs bills if they fail to maintain their rental. Plus, if tenants don’t have an easy way of contacting their property manager, issues may go unreported for weeks or even months (which can lead to unnecessary disputes down the line).
Nobody wants to spend their time navigating disputes. But when it comes to maintenance and repairs, it’s not just your time and energy on the line.
Maintenance disputes usually crop up in the context of urgent repairs, damage or serious problems related to the condition of your rental. In any of these scenarios, your investment property’s condition and value are at risk (as well as your rental income if your tenants decide not to renew or even break their lease early).
Instead, it’s a wise move to work with a good property manager that fosters open communication with your tenants, conducts regular routine inspections and knows what maintenance issues to look for at your property.
Plus, if a dispute does arise, a property manager will have the conflict resolution experience and skills to help you get the problem sorted quickly and efficiently.
What rights and responsibilities do tenants and landlords have?
Getting clear on what rights and responsibilities you and your tenants have is a great first step to avoiding maintenance disputes.
That’s because these guidelines can help you stay on top of your obligations as a landlord, meaning less chance of your tenants lodging a dispute in the first place.
But we get it: Australian Property Law is tricky to navigate and understand. So, we’ve broken down your tenant’s rights for repairs and maintenance below:
- Tenants are required to keep their property clean and tidy during their tenancy.
- Tenants are required to not cause any damage to your property.
- Tenants are required to let you know of any maintenance issues at your rental property that crops up in a timely manner.
At the same time, here’s a quick checklist of what falls under your landlord responsibility for maintenance:
- You need to make sure the property is clean, secure and liveable when a new tenancy moves in. That includes steps like conducting pre-lease pest control, making sure gas and electricity are working, checking security systems and keeping smoke alarms up-to-date.
- You need to keep the property in the same condition as when the tenant moved in through routine maintenance tasks, updates and repairs.
- You need to handle and fix tenant’s maintenance and repairs requests in a timely manner.
There’s also a bunch of specific rules that apply in different states and territories across Australia that you need to be across to understand what you and your tenants are responsible for.
By knowing what obligations you have, you can make sure proactive maintenance is sorted to avoid disputes cropping up. Plus, you’ll know when your tenants aren’t following their obligations and can take the right action to get maintenance issues in your rental property resolved quickly.
How to prevent maintenance disputes
You want to do everything in your power to prevent disputes with your tenants. Not only will it save you time and money, but a good tenant-landlord relationship is key to ensuring your tenants are happy, satisfied and keen to stay in the long run, too.
Think about it like this: instead of spending hours of your spare time fielding questions and dispute claims from your tenants, you could be enjoying the things you love. And it makes financial sense to prevent disputes, too.
Let’s run the numbers.
Say an ongoing maintenance dispute over a broken garage door causes your tenants not to renew their lease. Now, you’ve got a vacant property that you’ll need to lease and a maintenance issue you need to pay for out of your own pocket.
Say you’re charging $700 per week in rent. If your rental is vacant for four weeks between tenants, you’ve lost $2,800 in rental income.
Instead, you could have easily fixed the problem with your garage door (which typically costs just $190), and have kept your tenants happy enough to renew their lease, too.
So, what practical steps can you take to lower the chance of maintenance disputes with your tenants?
- Get an Entry Condition Report completed at the start of every new tenancy: this report is how you and your tenants agree on the condition of your property. That way, everyone knows who’s at fault for damage or maintenance problems that may crop up down the line.
- Book in routine inspections: make sure you or your property manager is inspecting your rental to check for potential maintenance problems before they turn into big, costly issues. That way, you don’t have to wait for your tenants to request a repair either.
- Keep clear records of all repairs requests: having a paper trail is really helpful to ensure everyone is on the same page about maintenance issues and repairs. Keep a clear filing system of photos, receipts and documents with dates so there’s no wiggle room for disputes.
- Make it easy for your tenants to report repairs issues: did you know 77% of tenants put up with maintenance issues for fear that reporting it will increase their rent? Instead, it’s important to foster open communication with your tenants and give them a single point of contact so they can quickly report and resolve maintenance issues.
Preventing maintenance disputes is all about communication. By being proactive, having clear records and making it easy for tenants to get in touch with you is what will stop small issues from turning into major conflicts.
How to manage and resolve landlord tenant disputes
Even with the best plans in place, landlord and tenant disputes might happen from time to time. So, what should you do if you do find yourself navigating a dispute with your tenants?
Here are the practical steps you should take when a maintenance dispute arises:
- Step one - try to resolve the dispute internally: the easiest and quickest way to resolve a dispute is to work with your tenant to come to a resolution. Whether you work with a property manager or not, go back to your Entry Condition Report and review everyone’s rights and responsibilities to suggest a path forward that keeps your tenants happy and your property in good condition.
- Step two - get in touch with your state or territory's tenancy and real estate compliance service: if you can’t reach a resolution between yourselves, it’s worth reaching out to Fair Trading to help you fix your maintenance dispute. This service is free and aims to resolve most disputes within 30 days.
- Step three - go to your state or territory’s tribunal or court: if nothing has worked so far, your final step is to head to this independent body to reach a settlement. This process involves an informal hearing where both sides give evidence and the Tribunal makes orders on your behalf. This process does involve a fee, so it’s worth avoiding this step wherever possible.
No matter what stage of this process you’re at, your aim as a landlord needs to be reaching a resolution quickly and efficiently. Going to court involves costs and the longer you let maintenance issues in your rental property drag on, the more you’ll need to pay in out of pocket costs.
Plus, it’s important to tackle the dispute logically (not emotionally). Remember: you want to treat your investment property like a business and make decisions that are in the best interest of your bottom line.
And that means you need to prioritise getting any maintenance disputes sorted quickly by reaching a decision that has a minimal impact on your rental returns. Even compromising with your tenant and paying a bit extra on maintenance is better than having a vacant property.
When it comes to getting maintenance disputes right, being proactive and knowing your rights and responsibilities is what will help you get problems of maintenance sorted quickly. Having an experienced property manager by your side can help you keep emotions out of the way and work towards a resolution that works for both parties, too.
Ultimately, the best approach is to avoid disputes from cropping up in the first place with routine inspections, preventative maintenance and open communication with your tenants from day one.
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