WHEN Claire* moved out of her Sydney rental apartment last month, she hired a professional cleaner to make sure the place was pristine.
With three kids and a full-time job, the busy single mum wanted to make sure the process went smoothly, so she paid $385 for an end-of-lease clean with an online company that guaranteed a full bond return.
She was horrified when her real estate agent told her the landlord had ordered a second professional clean - costing another $385 - because he had spotted several marks on a wall, four bowls in the dishwasher, and one cobweb on the ceiling.
The landlord also hired a professional painter to cover the marks on the walls - a decision which Claire claims was unnecessary - which meant that in total, the Sydney women ended up with just $243.16 of her bond returned, with $3156.80 of her bond deducted.
Claire said she believed it had been a blatant cash grab by her landlord and real estate agent, who she described as "bullies".
"My real estate agent and people of his ilk are bullies. If you don't have the strength of character to push back and you're not resilient, you just pay to make the problem go away - that's what they're banking on," she told news.com.au.
"It's not reasonable behaviour. For most people, the most stressful things in life are divorce, deaths in the family and moving so problems like this could really push some people over the edge.
"These days there are so many people renting who are not able to own their own home. I'm a strong person with a sense of humour and I can handle it, but a lot of people can't."
Claire's story is not unique.
According to NSW Fair Trading statistics, the NSW postcodes with the highest proportion of withheld bonds include Liverpool (2170), Tamarama and Bondi (2026), Surry Hills and Darlinghurst (2010), Parramatta (2150), Westmead (2145) and Woolloomooloo and Potts Point (2011).
Withheld bonds represent a loss of millions of dollars for Aussie renters, and while it's difficult to know who is really at fault, Ned Cutcher, from the NSW Tenant's Union, said tenant queries about bond disputes were very common.
"About one in every five callers to the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service across NSW raise questions about bonds and bond disputes," he said.
"We get between 25,000 and 30,000 calls each year. It's in our top three inquiry types along with questions about repairs and evictions."
Currently all Australian states have different bodies which handle bonds and disputes - for example, in NSW they are handled by NSW Fair Trading, in Queensland it's the Residential Tenancies Authority and in Victoria its Consumer Affairs Victoria.
A spokesman from Residential Tenancies Authority said in Queensland, when a dispute could not be resolved it could be taken to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
"When tenancy disputes occur, the RTA encourages tenants/residents and property managers/owners to try to resolve disagreements by talking to each other. Often disputes arise when someone does not meet the terms of the tenancy agreement, so it is a good idea for everyone to understand their rights and responsibilities."
However, real estate expert and Property Mavens founder Miriam Sandkuhler said the principle of the bond and the processes surrounding final inspections and condition reports was the same across the country.
"If there is a dispute and you can't agree on the circumstances you have the right to appeal to a body or organisation, but you have to understand if you've caused damage to a property, whether intentionally or not, absolutely your bond can be held," she said.
"The definition of 'clean' is open to interpretation, but there's got to be a degree of reasonableness.
"It's about talking to the rental manager as to what will get you your bond back ... Yes, you're paying rent, but you need to look after and maintain the property as if it was your own, otherwise there will be consequences. It's not unreasonable to expect people to look after an asset that's worth hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars."
According to a study by home services marketplace UrbanYou, 19 per cent of NSW's 821,830 renters are losing part or all of their bonds due to the property being deemed "messy" upon their departure - and it is an issue that is occurring across the country as well.
Co-founder Elke Keeley said landlords were most likely to pull renters up on unclean carpets, mould and dusty cupboards and drawers.
- Name has been changed to protect the individual's identity.
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