Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Paying to pay the rent

You might think that collecting rents and keeping rent accounts are a core part of the service offered by real estate agents, and a core part of what landlords pay for when they pay agents to manage a property.

But not all agents see it that way. Over the years an increasing number of agents have given the job of collecting rents and keeping rent accounts to rent collection companies... which charge tenants a fee for collecting the rent. Less work for the agent, and the tenant pays!

The fee is typically about $10 per quarter, but you can be hit up for more: an extra dollar or so for payments by BPay or POSTbillpay, an extra 1.32 per cent for payments by credit card, $3.30 for a statement, $5.50 for a cancelled payment, $22 for a declined payment....

Tenants are still getting stung by these arrangements – and you shouldn't have to. If you're in one of these arrangements, or if your landlord's agent proposes that you enter into one, consider telling the agent that you'd rather pay some other way, that doesn't incur a fee. Point to section 35 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010:

35   Manner of payment of rent
(2)  A landlord or landlord’s agent must permit a tenant to pay the rent by at least one means for which the tenant does not incur a cost (other than bank fees or other account fees usually payable for the tenant’s transactions) and that is reasonably available to the tenant.

If they're stubborn about it, you might also point out the sting in the section for landlords and agents.
Maximum penalty: 10 penalty units.

A couple of other things to look out for. We're aware of some agent asking tenants to enter into direct debit arrangements with them – that is, authorising the agent to take money directly from the tenant's account. Please – don't do this. It's too risky.

There's the risk of the agent trying to withdraw money before the rent is due and before the tenant's pay goes in – the result is an overdrawn fee for the tenant. There's the risk of the agent nipping into the account for other charges, such as water bills, and leaving the account overdrawn or cleared out. And there's the risk of the agent nipping into the account for their own enrichment, and clearing off.

So if you've got one of these arrangements, or the agent proposes that you enter into one, consider instead setting up a scheduled transfer from your account to the agent. This keeps control of your account – and your money – in your hands, and is no less convenient.

Finally, whatever your arrangement – scheduled transfer, direct debit, rent collection company – make sure you cancel it when you end your tenancy. If you don't, the money will keep going out. You'll probably notice pretty quickly if your old rent keeps going out, but those rent collection company fees can fly under the radar for months... and there's no straightforward way of getting those fees back. (The rent collection company will say that you have been paying for the availability of their so-called 'service' to you.)

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