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Frustrated or angry couple moving in to their new rental home

Renting rights: Lessons from real estate hell

The warning signs were there from the start.

Just before we took possession of our new rental, we were informed that the kitchen on the lower floor had been flooded. Not an event anyone could have foreseen. So we decided to move in after an agreement outside the lease was made to reflect the need for repairs.

At first, we were all working together to get the job done. But the real estate agent soon showed how bad life can get with a terrible property manager. In fact, as our experience showed, the property manager is far more important than the property.

A good property manager is someone who understands the laws that protect the rights of both landlords and renters, certainly. But you also need an excellent communicator who follows through on promises and uses common sense in all situations.


Young couple denying to sign bad rental contract


Belle Property ticked none of those boxes. Their service and processes were substandard, and their lack of proper communication and consultation was astonishing.

Tenants must be notified that tradespeople will be entering the property they are renting. And, more often than not, agree to an appropriate time that suits all parties. Our agent failed to do so on multiple occasions. We had tradespeople turn up at five separate times without any notice. On three of those occasions, they had full access to the property.

Your home, even when you’re renting, is your sanctuary. Not only does everyone have a reasonable expectation to privacy in their place of residence, but the law also acknowledges that right: “The lessor, or lessor’s agent, must not interfere with the reasonable peace, comfort or privacy of the tenant in using the premises.”

What are reasonable requests?

If your property manager requires access for repairs, or even a routine inspection, they should notify you in writing. If the suggested time doesn’t suit you, it’s not unreasonable to ask for an alternative that works for both parties. It’s not about being difficult but about applying common sense.

What is unreasonable is to simply ignore emails or phone calls from a tenant requesting a change or asking for something to be followed up. This happened to us too many times to list. Strange, given this is a real estate agency that proclaims its dedication “to delivering a personalised and tailored approach”.

By then, we should have cut our losses, given the agent the requisite two weeks’ notice and vacated the property. This was clearly an agency and landlord that cared nothing about the process, let alone their tenants. It would certainly have been better for my mental health if we’d left earlier.

This was further evidenced by the fact that the agent did not provide us with a completed incoming condition report for either level of the property. Not the one we moved into, nor the lower level when it was repaired.

Chasing up the property manager

Then there was the battle to get contact details for service providers to maintain the pool and yard, which was part of the lease agreement. No tenant should have to chase up a property manager with multiple emails and phone calls to get information designed to look after one of their clients’ properties. I had to follow up with them six times, when once should have sufficed.

It is also reasonable to expect that when a tenant does provide access to have something repaired, that job will be done.

By red flag number four - or was it eight, I was losing count – we had been pushed too far.

We lodged a formal complaint with the Residential Tenancies Authority, listing the reasons Belle Property and the property’s owner had failed to uphold their end of the lease agreement.

Unanswered complaints

And that’s when things got nasty. Within a week of our formal complaint, the real estate agent notified us of the owner’s intention to sell the house via auction. For the next four months, we were subjected to never-ending phone calls, despite our request for communication via email only.

The phone calls persisted to the point we felt both intimidated and harassed.

When we complained about this to Belle Property head office, including state and national managers, our complaints went unanswered. So much for a premium service.

Added inconvenience

Then the landlord decided he would access the property every second Saturday to do maintenance and mow the lawns. Why? This had previously been done by a professional company on weekdays, which was more convenient for us. We work during the week, so Saturday was our one day to enjoy the outdoor entertaining area.

Ludicrously, while they were ignoring all our complaints and making our lives difficult, Belle Property sent us suggestions for alternate properties to rent from them. As if we were ever going to put any money their way again.

A couple stressed with their rental hell experience

Things got so bad I hired a security guard to prevent unauthorised access to the property. This was brought about because Belle Property refused to offer an alternative time when we declined access on my birthday. They insisted they would come when they wanted and, then despite their belligerence, failed to show up anyway.

In an email to Belle Property, we suggested alternative days and times for future access. This correspondence was, once again, ignored.

Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, it did. The person who thought they were buying the home had become eager to move in. A tradesperson showed up without notice to install a gate. The prospective owner also organised to connect a new energy account not once, but twice, to the property we were still occupying lawfully.

Following the process

By this time, my mental health was taking a hit. I’m no wallflower. I’m used to fighting for other people’s rights. If this was badly affecting me, I can only imagine how it would impact people who have little understanding of their renting rights and tenancy agreements.

When the agent threatened that the owner would have grounds to seek compensation if we didn’t vacate immediately – seven months before our lease was due to expire – because they wanted to move in, we decided enough was enough. And we left.

This was our second mistake. We should have given the two weeks’ notice, paid in full. Because even when you know you’re in the right, when a situation is not of your own making, one wrong move can cost you.

It’s hard not to be emotional when you feel stressed or intimidated, but it’s important to remain calm, stay professional and follow the process. Even when you feel the process isn’t working for you.

That way if you do decide to take a dispute further, to the appropriate tribunal as we did, you know you have done absolutely everything right.

Ambitious demands

Even though our agent demanded early termination from us on more than 20 occasions, so they could sell the house vacant, they demanded we pay for early termination of our lease.

They withheld our entire bond, demanding payment for carpet and timber flooring damage they claim we caused, which we did not. Given they never provided completed condition reports for either level of the property, how would they even know what was or wasn’t damaged? They also erroneously claimed we took items from the property and didn’t return keys that we were never given in the first place.

This is despite us leaving the property in a far better condition than when we took possession. We provided receipts for professional cleaners who worked for two days to clean inside, as well as pressure cleaning, lawn mowing and yard maintenance – despite the latter being the responsibility of the owner under the lease.

How to avoid a rental nightmare

I was left traumatised by this experience. We were bullied out of our tenancy, from a home that we loved and were even considering buying when it went to market.

At the tribunal, we were ordered to pay rent for six days, as demanded by the owner and agent. However, we weren’t required to pay for any damage or alleged missing items as we could provide documentation to support our claim.

To say the whole experience was stressful is an understatement. But I’m a big believer in taking my own misfortune and turning it into something positive. So how can I help you avoid a similar rental from hell? As well as the red flags outlined above, there are 13 ways you can protect yourself from rental hell:

1. Read your tenancy agreement

Yes, it’s dull and dry but you should have a good understanding of what agents/landlords can and can’t do before you move in.

2. Don’t let your love for a property outweigh misgivings you have about the agent

Check out their credentials and choose them with more care than you would choose the property itself.

3. Never move in without a completed condition report

You need to inspect it thoroughly and sign off with the property agent to ensure you don’t get slugged for damage you didn’t cause.

4. Ask for the supplier's name

If pool and yard maintenance are included in your lease, have the supplier’s name added to the lease — otherwise you may find the owner rocking up every Saturday afternoon like we did.

5. Act as soon as you see a problem

Put your complaint in writing, asking for a prompt response in writing, and follow up in writing if you do not hear back or your issue is not resolved.

6. Insist on written correspondence

While some phone calls are unavoidable, it’s best to have everything that is agreed upon in writing.

7. Keep accurate records

Organise all the correspondence into a folder on your computer. Print them off if you can so that you can refer to the timeline of events quickly.

8. Keep the relationship professional

It's easier said than done but it pays to be courteous, no matter how angry you feel.

9. Don’t be fobbed off by the property agent

If you’re not getting anywhere, go straight to the top. Show up at head office in person if need be, to get a situation dealt with.


Unhappy couple discussing their renting rights


10. Seek help before it’s too late

There are plenty of free tenancy groups or advisory bodies that can give sound advice. They can help you prevent small issues from becoming big ones.

11. Don’t be afraid to take it to the next level

You have rights as a tenant. Don’t be stomped on. File a complaint with the appropriate authority in your state or territory.

12. Cut your losses early

If you’re not getting responses in a timely manner or are simply being ignored, it’s better to break an agreement, in writing, early than hang on for months of pain.

13. Follow the process

If you decide you want to end your lease, do it the right way. Give notice, get the property cleaned, and take lots of photos. Provide an exit report before you leave.

If a property agent isn’t following your lease agreement or fixing issues with your property in a timely manner, we’re here to help. Just say the magic words ‘help me handle it’.