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May 13, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Clean Flats, Dirty Business

Property-management companies may be cleaning you out of your bond money, as dodgy practices are leaving students hundreds of dollars out of pocket after moving out.

Salient has found reports of companies taking large sums from tenants’ bond to pay for professional cleaning, after residents did not leave flats clean enough or did not get flats professionally cleaned. Often, cleanliness was disputed at exit inspections, with tenants asked to pay for cleaning despite having cleaned the flat to what they considered a reasonable standard.

Landlords and tenants are governed under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (RTA). Under the RTA, tenants are required to leave the property reasonably clean and tidy at the end of the tenancy. If the property is not left clean and tidy, the landlord may take money from your bond to cover the cost of cleaning, on the proviso that these costs are reasonable. Any clause within a tenancy agreement which explicitly requires floors to be professionally cleaned by the tenant breaches the RTA.

Fifth-year BSc student Matt reported his flat was asked to pay for professional cleaning after the cleanliness of the flat was disputed at the exit inspection.

“Once we threatened to take them to the Tenancy Tribunal, they dropped it,” Matt told Salient.

Matt believes the backdown suggests the property company had no reasonable claim to require professional cleaning to take place. Salient contacted the company in question, but no comment was provided by the time the magazine went to print.

Salient spoke to a number of different groups of tenants who reported cleaning money being taken from their bond after exit inspections for cleaning, despite the flats being left in a clean condition.

Law student Ollie had $288.75 taken from his flat’s bond money after an exit inspection undertaken after the tenancy ended, when all flat members had left the city for the summer break. His flat had some mould on four ceilings, a couple of rusty oven trays, and had not been properly cleaned under the fridge. Eight and a quarter hours of cleaning at $35 per hour was deducted from their bond, a sum Ollie did not believe was fair.

“The problem was that you can clean it up to what you think is a reasonable standard, but they won’t give you another chance to make the standard if they don’t think it’s good enough.

“They just came in, used the professional cleaners to clean it up, and then dropped this big bill on us. We didn’t dispute it because we didn’t have any photos from when we moved in.”

Despite the tenancy ending in early February, their flat was not repaid their bond money until late April. The property-management company in question also did not respond to a request for comment.

Another Victoria student’s flat had nearly $300 of their bond taken for cleaning costs to professionally clean the carpets. She accompanied the property agent on the exit inspection, and disputed the agent’s assessment of the property’s cleanliness.

“I had cleaned the house myself, we scrubbed the walls. It was in good condition,” flat member Harriette told Salient.

Sue Yiannoutsos, owner of Full House Management—the company managing Harriette’s property—said she was adamant her company ran its operations by the book, providing tenants the opportunity to clean themselves.

“If we don’t have a [new] tenant moving in [the next day], we will give [old tenants] 24 hours and a list of things we want them to do.

“I can categorically say that we don’t [take money from people’s bond without asking]. You can’t get commercial cleaning done unless they agree to it, and we cannot do it until they agree to it. And if they don’t sign off to the cleaning, we go to Tenancy Services.”

A Tenancy Tribunal ruling can allow a property-management company to take money from bond without tenants’ signatures. However, only one signature is needed, and Yiannoutsos blamed miscommunications among flatmates for misunderstandings with bond money.

“You can’t take [money] out of the bond unless the tenant signs it and says that we can. Say [one flatmate] signs the form, that’s not a problem for us, that’s a problem for the other flatmates.”

VUWSA President Rory McCourt said flatting could be a “terrifying experience”.

“While most landlords are good and fair to students, there are some real bastards out there. The power imbalance means students are often pressured into not claiming the conditions they’re entitled to,” McCourt said.

Nicki McLeod from the Wellington Citizens Advice Bureau recommends new tenants photograph everything when they arrive, as property-management companies can be “cagey” about cleaning costs.

“It’s a bit subjective, but if the tenants think ‘no, no, no, that’s completely unfair’, they would have the right to take it to the Tenancy Tribunal.

“If it’s not in the contract, it’s pretty rough. But students do have the right to get a quote for that cleaning [if they feel costs are unreasonably high],” McLeod told Salient.

Students who feel they have been unfairly treated by landlords can make an application to the Tenancy Tribunal online at dbh.govt.nz. The Citizens Advice Bureau can answer questions about renting and provide advice, and can be contacted on 0800 367 222.

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