Canberra rental bonds only fully refunded in less than half of cases
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Canberra rental bonds only fully refunded in less than half of cases

Canberra landlords and real estate agents are pocketing more than half of renters' bonds, either partially or in full, a figure slammed as "appalling".

Renters in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria fare better according to respective state government data.

ACT Tenants Union executive officer Deb Pippen is appalled that only 43 per cent of ACT rental bonds are fully refunded.

ACT Tenants Union executive officer Deb Pippen is appalled that only 43 per cent of ACT rental bonds are fully refunded. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

According to ACT government figures in the 2015/16 financial year, only about 43 per cent of bonds were fully returned to ACT renters, with about 57 partially refunded or forfeited.

Interstate that year, the number of rental bonds returned in full to tenants was about 55 per cent in NSW, about 64 per cent in Victoria, about 50 per cent in Queensland and about 50 per cent in South Australia.

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The following financial year, in the ACT, about 54 per cent of bonds were partially refunded or forfeited. Only about 46 per cent of bonds were returned to renters in full in 2016/17.

"That is absolutely appalling," ACT Tenants Union executive officer Deb Pippen said.

"It is not conceivable that more than half of tenancies are left with problems."

Ms Pippen said Canberra landlords and agents were taking advantage of renters, who often gave in to unfair bond claims to make "the whole thing go away".

Have you had trouble reclaiming your rental bond in Canberra? Contact finbar.omallon@fairfaxmedia.com.au.

In the ACT in 2015/16, about 50 per cent of rental bonds were partially refunded, compared to about 26 per cent in Victoria, about 35 per cent in NSW, about 31 per cent in South Australia and about 32 per cent in Queensland.

In the following financial year in the ACT about 48 per cent of bonds were partially refunded, compared to about 26 per cent in Victoria, about 29 per cent in South Australia and about 29 per cent in Queensland. NSW had not yet released its 2016/17 data.

In both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years, about three per cent of the total bonds refunded required a decision by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

In the 2015 / 16 financial year in NSW, about 1.6 per cent of the total rental bonds refunded required a tribunal decision, less than one per cent in Queensland, about six per cent in Victoria and about 5 per cent in South Australia.

The following financial year in Queensland and Victoria, less than one per cent of total refunds and about six per cent of total refunds were the result of a tribunal decision, respectively.

Even challenging in ACAT can be stacked against tenants. Feedback Ms Pippen had received from renters was they often felt pressured by ACAT mediators to compromise for a partial refund of their bond to avoid a tribunal hearing.

"It's their [the tenants'] money and the landlord doesn't have any automatic right to it because they say they do," Ms Pippen said.

She advised renters to not allow their landlords or agents to handle the bond claim but rather make an independent claim to ACT Rental Bonds.

"They can actually download a form from the office of rental bonds ... lodge it with the office of rental bonds and lodge it without the landlord or agent's signature," Ms Pippen said.

She said she often saw landlords or agents keep the bond when vacating tenants don't provide any further contacting details.

The Canberra rental market is the third most expensive in Australia after Darwin and Sydney, with the median rental being $540 per week, compared to $435 nationally.

According to a recent survey, one in three Australian renters have lost bond money at the end of their tenancy.

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The ACT government was contacted for comment.

Equivalent data from Tasmania could not be obtained before deadline. Western Australia did not collect details on types of bond pay outs. The Northern Territory has no central, independent bond authority.

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times