Commissioner's Blog: Protecting renters’ rights
With Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe
When you think of Consumer Protection you might associate the agency with helping people who have bought products or services, however tenancy is a big part of what we do.
Recently, a landlord who spent tenants’ security bonds, harassed a tenant and took too much rent money up front, was fined $24,000 after we prosecuted him. 37-year-old Carl Raymond Olsen of Meekatharra, who owned and leased out a property in High Wycombe between 2013 and 2014, didn’t appear at the Midland Magistrates Court on 27 October 2015 but was found guilty of 13 contraventions of the Residential Tenancies Act in his absence.
Mr Olsen took bonds from three tenants and failed to deposit the money with the Bond Administrator at the Department of Commerce, as required by law. Landlords cannot spend money given as security against a rental property. The funds must be protected by being held in trust and will be returned to the tenant at the end of the rental agreement provided the property is left in an appropriate condition.
Another tenant felt harassed when Mr Olsen would constantly turn up unannounced and uninvited during her tenancy and repeatedly phoned her and sent her texts. A landlord must respect a tenant’s right to privacy, peace and comfort. Notice of no less than seven days and no more than 14 days must be given for any routine inspections, which have to be at a reasonable and convenient time and can only be carried out four times a year. Even in the case of inspecting necessary repairs, 72 hours written notice is required.
On top of this Mr Olsen made tenants pay him four to six weeks rent up front when a landlord is not legally allowed to take more than two weeks rent in the first two weeks of a tenancy. This was one of the important changes to the Residential Tenancies Act in July 2013 to help ease financial pressures when renting a home in WA.
Charges also related to:
- The use of incorrect forms when putting new tenancy agreements in writing.
- Not providing receipts for rental payments.
- Taking six weeks rent as bond money when the bond should be no more than four weeks rent, unless the weekly rent exceeds $1200.
Upon reading this story, other Western Australians may realise that a landlord is breaking tenancy law. Tenants should not put up with illegal behaviour out of fear of eviction. I would encourage wronged tenants to lodge a complaint with Consumer Protection. Online complaints can be submitted via www.commerce.wa.gov.au/complain or call 1300 30 40 54 to obtain a hard copy of the complaint form.
Landlords can learn about their rights and responsibilities by reviewing Consumer Protection’s webpages and videos, at www.commerce.wa.gov.au/tenancy. The forms to use when putting new tenancy agreements in writing are also housed there.
Consumer Protection also developed a free app for tenants. iRentWA has been downloaded by more than 5,500 iOS and Android device users to-date. Features include:
- a calculator to work out the maximum amount of rent payable before moving in;
- a place to store photos from compulsory property condition reports;
- reminder functions for payment deadlines, routine inspections and notice periods.
July 2020: Please note the iRentWA app is no longer supported. The Renting a home section of this website continues to be WA consumers’ go-to place for all renting information.