Aussie tenant fights $550 repair bill in fair wear and tear debate

An Australian renter is locked in a dispute with her real estate agent after receiving a hefty $550 bill for repairing a minor chip in the kitchen benchtop of her former apartment.

The woman claims that the repair cost seems exorbitantly high, given the nature of the damage, sparking a debate over what constitutes fair wear and tear.

Taking to the Melbourne subreddit, she shared an image of the kitchen surface two weeks after vacating the unit, which clearly showed the small chip, attributing it to her partner accidentally dropping a Pyrex bowl.

“The quote they gave me just seemed unusually high. I’ve gotten two separate quotes now, with the lowest being $286. It just seems they’re pulling numbers out of their a**.”

The Melbourne resident further explained that the original quote for the repair came in an informal email from her agent.

Although she expressed her willingness to have the damage fixed, her primary concern is the lack of an invoice or proof of repair, in addition to the agent’s request to withdraw their bond claim.

She sought advice on the best course of action to resolve the matter without overcompensating for damages to the landlord’s property.

What is fair wear and tear?

The legality of the situation was also called into question. In Australia, rental properties are expected to account for reasonable wear and tear due to ageing and everyday use.

According to Tenants Victoria, renters and their visitors must not intentionally or negligently cause damage to the property or common areas, but damage does not include fair wear and tear.

However, determining what constitutes “wear and tear” versus damage can be influenced by several factors, such as the duration of the tenant’s stay, the age and size of the damaged area, and its location.

More often than not, distinguishing between the two comes down to normal use. If items naturally deteriorate due to ordinary usage, it’s likely to be categorised as fair wear and tear.

“For example, minor scuff marks on walls or floors, marks caused by foot traffic on carpets, or worn and faded curtains or blinds are all considered fair wear and tear under the Consumer Affairs Victoria guidelines.”

How to dispute property damage claims

Tenants facing similar disputes should first review their lease agreement.
Understanding your lease terms is crucial.

Pay special attention to the sections related to property condition, maintenance, and your responsibilities as a tenant.
Remember to document the damage. Take clear, dated photographs or videos of the property before you move out, highlighting its condition. Make sure to capture any pre-existing damage and the specific damage you’re disputing.

This will serve as evidence to support your case.
Once everything is documented, write to your real estate agent, outlining why the repair bill is unreasonable and asserting tenant rights.

Attempt to negotiate a more reasonable cost or a 50/50 cost-sharing arrangement.

If these efforts prove unsuccessful, you should apply to the tribunal to dispute the repair cost, particularly if the bill rivals your weekly rent.

Seeking legal advice or assistance from a tenants’ advocacy organisation can be helpful if the matter becomes complex or contentious.

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