Monday, June 24, 2013

The 3 Golden Rules of Renting

We've talked before about the history and work of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services, and the value they represent. Part of that value is in the depth of experience and knowledge of these services (and even some dedicated individuals!) who have been assisting tenants for 20 or even 30 or 40 years. TAASs get asked all sorts of questions by tenants every day. Sometimes, we hear of problems that have never been asked before, and require a bit of lateral thinking before they can be resolved. More often, we hear variations on the same theme: "Am I in the right here, or are they?"

But sometimes that doesn't matter - all that matters is what the available evidence can tell you... If we are ever to give tenants some simple advice before a dispute arises, it is to simply follow the three golden rules:
1. Get everything in Writing

We mean everything!

International relations were for a little while ruled by an old russian proverb that translated to "trust, but verify". This can be a good way to approach your tenancy as well. All too often we hear from tenants who have trusted their landlord or their agent to keep a promise that was made with nothing more than a handshake. But when it comes down to it, these promises are not worth the paper they are written on.

Having a chat on the phone is often much quicker and more convenient than a full blown sit-down - but it's also much harder to prove that the conversation ever happened. It's harder still to prove who said what about when, where, why and how...

It's always wise to follow a phone call with a letter - signed and dated - recording your understanding of all the key issues and outcomes of your conversation. Always keep a copy for yourself. That way if the details of the conversation are ever in dispute, you have a solid piece of evidence that can be relied on to support your own version of events.

2. Keep your own records

Memory is a fickle thing - you might still remember the name of the first person you kissed decades ago, but not the name of that slightly boring person you met at a party only just last week. Whether you're reporting repairs, making agreements about rent reductions, or discussing a date for an inspection, you want to be able to show that the conversation happened the way you remember it.

People have different filing systems (which aren't always the most reliable). Sometimes landlords change agents and documents don't make it across the switch. Sometimes things get lost... and sometimes promises and agreements are made that are just not adhered to.

Keeping your own copies of letters sent and received, receipts for rent paid, invoices, bills and agreements made can save you a lot of grief when it comes time to sort out the history of the tenancy.

Most importantly, sometimes there is no document to retain in the first place. Make a brief note outlining all the key facts you wish to keep track of - ie who said what, when, where, why and how. Date it, and put it in your file. That way, you've got a record of the conversation, taken contemporaneously, which will be seen as a more reliable account than a later recollection of the same facts.

3. Know your rights

There's nothing harder than being in an argument where only one side knows what they're talking about. There are a lot of myths out there about renting, too, so knowing your rights can be easier said than done. But there are lots of resources available for tenants, so you can always know what the deal is.

Here are our three favourites for tenants in New South Wales:

Read something!

There are 26 factsheets available. They cover the main topics TAASs get asked about all the time, and we add new ones periodically as well.

Read something else!

Available online and for free at the NSW State Library's Legal Information and Access Centre is the Tenants' Rights Manual, written by the Brown Couch's own Dr Chris Martin, with the rest of the Tenants' Union and many Tenants' Advocates and other workers contributing. The online Manual is updated as the law changes, and fleshes out much of the information contained in the fact sheets.

Ask someone!

Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services are just a phone call away - you can find your local service's details here. As we've discussed before, Tenants' Advocates are under the pump with ever increasing demand for their time and services - but if your question hasn't been resolved by looking at the above information, they'll be happy to take your call.
The Tenants' Union of NSW is also on Facebook and Twitter (and you'll find some of the TAASs using social media, too).

Come by and say hello!

The 3 golden rules of renting are the mainstay of Tenants' Advice & Advocacy Services. They are articulated here in a form made famous by Sundar Mahtani, a legendary Tenants' Advocate who has been giving advice and assistance to tenants across Sydney for the better part of 30 years.

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