Friday, August 25, 2017

New Bonds data released but more is needed

Yesterday Fair Trading released bond data for the first time other than through the Rent and Sales Report. We welcome the release of this data as it will be very useful to enhance understanding of issues and trends in the rental sector. As the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, Matt Kean said in his media release, “I want to put consumers first and this data does that by allowing open, transparent access to useful rental information.” Sounds good to us, Minister!

However, it pays to understand what this data tells us - and just as importantly what it does not.

An article this morning helped to demonstrate the limits of this data. Looking over the data, the journalists discovered that a much larger proportion of bonds being refunded in some areas of Sydney and New South Wales were going to the landlord rather than the tenant. The problem is we don't know the context of those bond refunds, and how they were claimed.

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Bonds can be released from the Rental Bond Board in one of three ways. The landlord and tenant can come to a mutual agreement and lodge a bond refund form with both parties agreeing to amounts payable either way. If the parties can't come to an agreement, one or other of them  can make a unilateral claim for what they think is appropriate, without the other party's signature. The person who didn't sign is given 14 days to lodge an application to the Tribunal if they disagree with the claim. If they do not take it to the Tribunal the bond is paid out as requested. This is the second option. The last option is that the dispute does go to the Tribunal and the bond is decided either by a final negotiation, or as decided by the Tribunal Member.

Tenants and landlords should both be aware that the bond is the tenants' money. It is held in trust by the Rental Bond Board - it is not some common pool of money and landlords should not regard it as theirs for the taking. Vulnerable tenants may be unaware of their ability to dispute a claim against the bond, or indeed feel unable to assert their rights due to their vulnerability in the rental sector.

Whether bond refunds are agreed upon, or disputed, and whether a claim made by the landlord has been tested in the Tribunal is a crucial piece of information which the Rental Bond Board already has in its data banks and could release. It would go a long way to allowing researchers and journalists to peer behind the information that's already been released and examine the geographic differences that have been drawn out.

We've also heard that exit surveys on bonds have been considered - we think this is an excellent idea. For instance there is no information currently collected about how and why tenancies in NSW end - this means a government and community making decisions about how effectively tenancy legislation is working have a very deep and dark blind spot on an incredibly important aspect of renting law. An exit survey on the bond claim form would be a simple and effective way of adding a depth of knowledge to our collective understanding of the renting experience in our state.

In the spirit of open and transparent access to information, we encourage the Minister and Fair Trading NSW to consider releasing both the currently available information of whether bond claims are disputed and tested, and strongly consider implementing the bond survey to develop a truly excellent source of data.

1 comment:

  1. Most of the tenants I know do not know that they can make a claim on their bond without first having the Land lords approval. Landlords often see the rental bond as 'their money' used at the end of a tenancy to do basic repairs and maintenance that should never have been the tenants responsibility. It is often too time consuming and downright scared for tenants to dispute the claims of a landlord at the end of a tenancy and tenants are worried about getting a 'bad reference' if they dispute the landlords claim. I think this fear by tenants and the willingness just to relinquish their bonds so they can have good references and get on with their lives is not currently counted in any of this date. The exit survey idea might prove very useful.

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