Friday, 30 November 2012

Fighting the System: My toaster has more rights!

Matt was a frustrated and fed-up tenant. Matt and his family moved into a rental property in Victoria. Be warned if this property is still being rented out. The address is 20 Orange Grove of Bayswater.

They realised after they moved in that the property needed serious repairs. Some of the problems made their lives absolutely ‘miserable’. Water from leaking gutters splashed into the rooms during heavy rains and damaged the wooden floors. They had to put newspaper and clothes under the doormat to absorb the water. This is a serious problem. We’re talking Melbourne here. The city of four seasons in one day.

There were several leaking points under the eaves. The stove had three defect burners and they had to use a match to light the oven every time they used it. From what I understand, the automatic ignition was broken. As anyone would, Matt and his family found this pretty annoying. The fly screen nets in the lounge room didn’t fit properly which meant they couldn’t keep the mosquitoes out. Matt couldn’t sleep because the little bastards kept biting him.

Then there was the three taps dripping throughout the night. Drip, drip, drip!!! The taps could not tighten properly so Matt would get up in the night and tighten them again. Matt and his family used containers to catch the drops. Then there was the bedroom doors which could not be closed, a heater which did not work, faulty power points, missing outside light switch and broken kitchen light switch, as well as defective and missing florescent garage lamps.

Matt did what anyone would do in his situation. He emailed the property manager, Danielle Hunter, and informed her that the property had a number of faults. This was at the end of November 2011. He then filled out a repair form listing each fault. This was at the beginning of December 2011. And Ms Hunter responded shortly after. She flat out said, ‘In regards to the gutters, these will not be repaired or replaced. You took the property as inspected. We are willing to fix issues that affect you living in the property but the guttering does not’.

My mouth dropped when I saw this. Ms Hunter is a Senior Property Manager at Wantirna Professionals and agent of Dawne Hedges. Is she not aware that a landlord is responsible for maintaining rented premises in good repair under section 68 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)?

Ms Hunter actually refers to the historical concept of caveat emptor or ‘let the buyer beware’ when she says, ‘You took the property as inspected’. But this an out-dated concept. And I don’t see how an ordinary person could possibly notice the need for gutter repairs at a property inspection on a sunny day...unless of course you’re super-psychic or superman.
In the olden days, buyers did not have recourse against sellers for faulty products unfit for ordinary purposes. The prevailing theory of laissez faire was that market forces of supply and demand would regulate the quality of goods in a fair way. The government intervened in the 19th century and introduced consumer legislation because the free market economy produced unfair outcomes.

This history lesson comes with a point. To illustrate, I will use a simple toaster. Today, if I buy a toaster and it doesn’t work, I can take it back to the store tomorrow and get a refund or exchange. This is simple and easy in most cases. And if doesn’t work, you call Consumer Affairs Victoria, and they hassle the business. But if you rent a house, and it turns out to be faulty, then it’s a lot more complicated, and significantly different to the purchase of a product. A renter has expended money, time and effort moving into a house. It’s not that simple and easy to get a refund or exchange.

So I think we have the situation where the government has intervened with residential tenancies legislation to prevent unfair outcomes. But I think it’s a failed experiment. The current construct does not work. The market forces of supply and demand still operate. In most cases, if a renter moves into a house and it is unliveable they simply move out, find another place, hope for the best, and incur additional costs. A consumer with a broken toaster has more rights than a renter.

Matt actually responded to this letter more politely than what I would have. He pointed out that the leaking gutter affected his living because the rain splashed into the lounge room and the water needed to be mopped up constantly. So basically, Ms Hunter’s attitude is about two centuries out. I almost feel guilty picking on poor Ms Hunter. Actually no, I’m just joking. But I am very concerned about the attitudes of some property managers.

In Australia, consumers have more rights than tenants under the law. This must change.

1 comment:

  1. Problem is, when you are looking for accommodation time is tight, choice very limited. You give notice you look around and find something within days, can you afford to make the new landlord wait/ will they wait whilst you serve out your notice at your present accommodation? You leave looking until the last week, find something that isn't really suitable but you are desperate by now. In both cases there are no good choices just choices made under pressure. Landlords will not wait as they have a q behind you, last minute means you accept standards that you would rather not. In some cases agents are letting places before they are even emptied of tenants which can mean that windows can get broken, carpets stained curtain rails broken- all possible during a move which you have not seen having viewed before the sitting tenant moved out. You may hope that the agent will have carried out a final inspection but they may decide not to tell you about the damage and my actually try to blame you- well it wasn't there when we did the inspection they say wide eyed. My goodness how has that happened they ask. There are many many instances where tenants are trapped into situations they know are not ideal. You only have a choice when there are choices on offer, for tenants choice is a luxury. No time for a last minute inspection, can't turn the removals around, someone waiting at your previous tenancy to move in. Times Up. Time for landlords and landlords to clean up their act I would think.