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Renters, 30% of you won’t get your bonds back: Know your rights and protect yourself

A pair of tenants kicked out of their house.

finder research shows many Aussie renters lose their rental bonds. Here's how you can make sure that doesn't happen to you.

According to the 2016 census, nearly one-third of Australians are renters. Unfortunately, over 30% of these renters won't get their bonds back.

This is according to a recent finder survey of 2,003 Australians, which found that up to 1.45 million people who've rented and moved house in the last 5 years have lost all or part of their bond. This equals up to $2 billion in lost money.

The research is a timely reminder that it's essential for renters to understand the laws around renting, property damage and bond return.

Breaking down the numbers

Property damage is the main reason landlords won't return bonds to tenants (11.5% of respondents), followed by properties being left unclean.

Men were more likely than women to lose their bond (36% to 26%), while renters in Sydney were more likely to lose their bond (37%) compared to their counterparts in Melbourne or Brisbane (35%).

According to the survey, 43% of generation Z renters lost their rental bonds, beating (or losing to) generation Y (38%) and generation X (31%). Adding further salt to young tenants' wounds, only 10% of baby boomer renters failed to get their bonds back.

No doubt most boomers will tell you (at great length) that it's because they're better, cleaner tenants.

How can I make sure I get my bond back?

By global standards, Aussie renters have relatively weak protections. If you're worried about losing your deposit bond, there are two things to do: keep the property in good condition and know your legal rights as a tenant.

The first is self-explanatory. Your landlord can reasonably expect to withhold your bond if you leave the place in a complete mess or cause damage to the property.

But what constitutes damage? This is where you need to know the law and be prepared to argue your case if your landlord is trying to pull a fast one.

According to Tenants NSW, there's a mutual obligation for renters to keep the property "reasonably clean" and for landlords to "provide the premises in a 'reasonably' clean state and fit for you to live in" (keep in mind that laws do differ by state).

Tenants are obliged to tell landlords when something is damaged. Landlords are obliged to carry out proper repairs.

A key point to understand is that "fair wear and tear" is not considered damage. Small scuffs, minor carpet damage and worn paint are not fair reasons for a landlord to withhold your bond.

To fully protect yourself, make sure you do the following:

  • Keep copies of all relevant communication between you and your landlord or agent.
  • Document any significant damage and inform your landlord.
  • Refer to previous inspection reports if the landlord tries to claim you've caused damage that was there before you moved in.
  • Get a receipt if you're paying for repairs that are the landlord's responsibility and make sure you have the landlord's written consent and confirmation they will pay you.
  • Be sure to get a final inspection report.

Knowing your rights and arguing your case (with documented evidence) is half the battle. You also need to know the avenues of appeal if it comes to a disagreement. Every state has some form of tenants' tribunal and there are advocacy services who can support you.

Tenancy services by state

Help is available wherever you live. Here's a list of organisations that help tenants deal with rental problems. Note that there are also specific tenant services organisations for Indigenous Australians. If you're a student, your university may offer free help and advice.

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