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David vs Goliath in the student rental market By Chloe cufflin

As a 19-year-old university student it was my first time on my own. Despite no damages and leaving the place as clean as it was before we moved in, I initially did not receive a cent of the bond with no explanation as to why.

I spent three months in a limbo of back-and-forth communication with the real estate agency, waiting to receive my bond back.

Finally after contacting the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA), who chased the matter on my behalf, I received part of my bond back with the real estate agency claiming an amount was deducted for ‘cleaning fees’ that where never mentioned in the final inspection report.

Mine is not a singular case, but a normal occurrence among students and young people nation-wide.

According to survey data collected by Finder.com.au, over 30% of all renters in Australia won’t get all of their bond back.

This number is even higher for young Australians where it was discovered that this will happen to approximately 43% of generation z (Under 25’s). Students from The University of Queensland, Erin, Sarah, and Tom, have stories of their own to share about receiving unfair treatment from real estate agencies.

Caption: A breakdown of the reasons why bonds are withheld from tenants. Source: https://www.finder.com.au/30-of-aussie-tenants-dont-get-their-rental-bond-back

Tom Ryder (20) who studies a Bachelor of IT and Business was charged his full bond for ‘general repairs’ when leaving student living accommodation.

Ryder said this was to “compensate themselves for pest removal because the entire floor I was on was infested with cockroaches and they were purposefully not specific about repairs.

I called the RTA for advice and then talked to three residents in similar fights with the building, and we all emailed the manager with a list of policies and laws they weren't following,” he said.

“The situation sucked. It was really a David and Goliath sort of thing, I was a freshly 18-year-old idiot and there was this huge business with six buildings saying they had to keep my $1000 for something that wasn't my fault; it was their lack of upkeep. Really scummy practices. I was trying to move to a new house and also study during this.” - Tom Ryder

Ryder managed to receive his full bond back after threatening legal action and having the RTA call the company for their release of bond forms.

Another student, Erin Fae (20), also ran into some trouble when the real estate agency wouldn’t refund her bond payment. Fae, who studies a Bachelor of Secondary Education and Science, was another victim after she broke her lease six months early because the agency refused to fix the hot water system.

Caption: Forest Lake – where Fae lived at the time. Source: Brisbane City Council/flickr.com/photos/brisbanecitycouncil

“They tried to bill us for things like having a pile of bricks in the backyard which were there when we moved in. As well as lightbulbs, which when we moved in there was only one working and we had replaced them all by the time we moved out,” Fae said.

“They tried charging us for the outside tap dripping when we had already notified them it was broken ages ago and warned of termites. It got to the point of not only using our entire bond but also charging us more money. We had paid for an $800 bond clean too,” she said.

“I spent nights awake worried about the money because we needed it to move. I honestly wish I had left the house a bomb site because that's how they made it out to be. It was weeks of emotionally draining arguments.” - Erin Fae

Fae managed to receive 80% of her bond back after questioning the agency and arguing the ‘damages’ were expected wear and tear.

I can empathise with how Fae felt, as at the time I was fighting for my bond back, I was juggling studying and looking for a new place to live which comes with saving up for new upfront bond payments.

Caption: First email I sent enquiring about receiving my bond.
Caption: Last email correspondence I received which is from the RTA and confirms the conclusion of my bond enquiry.

Sarah Ellen (27), who studies a Bachelor of Health Science, is yet again another student who received unfair treatment when she used to live in Swan Hill, Victoria.

None of her bond was returned after the owner claimed she needed to pay to clean the windows, weed the garden, and for the damaged wooden flooring.

“I lived in a rural area and the window tracks were super dusty and dirty from the dry summers. The garden was obviously not maintained as well and the wood flooring that we had, had clear signs of use (i.e. stiletto dents, scuffs, normal wear and tear),” Ellen said.

“There was also an ant problem where they would crawl into a gap in the window sealant to where the sink was and drink the water droplets. This was a pretty constant issue that required the owner to do repairs and insect spraying. This was covered by the owner, but it was still a huge inconvenience for us, as well as just uncomfortable living like that,” she said.

Ellen said she understands the need to hold tenants accountable; however, she believes there is “a grey area that is exploited by realtors and landlords.”

“I have always found it funny that the level of ‘tidy’ they want the property to be does not often match up to the standard the property was when you moved in.

I was 19 at the time, and the other two were 22 and 24, so we just did what they asked. We never got our bond back.

I felt pretty helpless, and quite frankly angry. I was young so I didn’t feel like I had much power to fight this. I was so angry, but I just grit my teeth and let it go.” - Sarah Ellen

This issue is prevalent and significant among young people, with all three students mentioning that they knew of people with stories similar to their own.

Ellen experienced this unfair treatment almost ten years ago and I’m still here writing about the same issue happening today. Is this systemic inter-generational exploitation against young people?

I’m thankful that I didn’t have to undergo my bond battle during Covid-19, and now I question how other students are dealing with real estate agencies under the added stress of the pandemic?

The federal government has issued a six-month moratorium on all rental evictions due to delayed payments, but just like how bond refunds are meant to be regulated, how regulated will the evictions be?

Appendix for un-captioned images - in order they appear. Image 1 – Header https://www.onthehouse.com.au/property/qld/st-lucia-4067/6-225-carmody-rd-st-lucia-qld-4067-3960051 Image 2 – Houses stock photo (copyright free) Image 3 – Map of Victoria https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_City_of_Swan_Hill Image 4 - Railway (copyright free) Image 5 – Student in library (copyright free)

Credits:

Created with images by Maximillian Conacher - "Rooftops" • Charles G - "untitled image" • bantersnaps - "untitled image"