MORE PERSONAL VIEWS ON THE RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES TRIBUNAL (SACAT)
On December 23rd 2016 we talked about what we saw as the failings of the Tribunal in adjudicating residential tenancy disputes. We cited an example of how it would judge wear and tear in a long tenancy and one person made a comment that the example we gave was lame.
I find it instructive to talk about the more ‘lame’ examples because they highlighted how the Tribunal appears not able to make judgements in even the more ‘run of the mill’ cases like those involving wear and tear without injecting its own bias. I think every landlord would consider a tenant should not be responsible for a fair amount of wear and tear on things like carpets, painting, fixtures and fittings but at some Tribunal hearings it’s not hard to soon start feeling ripped off.
Here is a more extreme example;
At the end of a tenancy I arrived at a house for a final inspection with the tenant to have a look over the property to see that everything was clean and tidy before they handed back the keys. He immediately met me at the front door and apologised that the furniture removalists had damaged the hallway wall by hitting it with a cupboard.
There was a deep gouge in the gyprock about 180mm long and up to 20mm wide and I could see clearly into the wall cavity. This damage was about as unsubtle as it was possible to get without the use of a hammer. It required the hole to be filled and a 2 metre section of wall had to be painted for a cost of $150.
Initially the tenant had been happy to cover this cost but they soon changed their mind especially when a few other items came into dispute. We soon arrived at an impasse and so it went to the Tribunal.
I remember when telling my story at the hearing the tenant turned bright red and sweated profusely as he bent his head down so low that I thought his nose would touch the table. Even the Tribunal member was surprised by this demonstration.
I forget most of the details about the hearing now but the bizarre judgement remains emblazoned on my memory … fair wear and tear!
I have other examples that are just as telling;
A common problem with tiled floors can be the tendency for the grout to not only get dirty but to get stained. The more porous the grout is the easier it will stain. A simple & very effective solution is pressure steam cleaning.
At a final inspection of a house that had tiles we found them to be clean enough but the grout was noticeably discoloured. If the discolouration had been even it would be far less noticeable but the dark staining was only visible where there had been no rugs or carpet runners and it was especially noticeable in the kitchen.
The tenants had been completely unwilling to return to the house to look at the issue so we did the next best thing and that was to take photos of the tiles before and after cleaning which made the problem very clear. We showed the Tribunal member the photos which they agreed showed the problem quite graphically. Most importantly the tenant did not disagree.
But about a week later the judgement came; claim for cleaning was rejected!
Obviously the Tribunal has its own unspoken agenda. I wonder if Wikileaks can hack SACAT’s databases to find documents confessing to their prejudice.
We attended a ‘Stakeholder Engagement Session’ which was held at the SACAT city premises on 7th December. It was only 1 hour so we couldn’t expect too much but Barbara Johns, Executive Senior Member of SACAT was very obliging. The most relevant information we received was specific case evidence of some significant judgements handed down by the Tribunal which will help us to know what to expect for similar situations in the future.
This is a good start toward creating a better level of understanding between the Tribunal and the community. If Property Managers can get a better understanding of what to expect at Tribunal hearings they will be able to better advise Landlords.
Only time will tell if these meetings become an effective means of education or just token gestures.
Tell us your thoughts.