10 February 2015
When does regular follow up turn into harassment?
The issue of rent arrears has recently been raised by real estate’s industry body the Real Estate Institute of South Australia. Concerns have been raised about the strategies some agencies are utilising to collect rent arrears from tenants.
The Real Estate Institute of SA has held discussions with the Consumer and Business Services regarding some tactics being employed. There is concern that daily contacting of tenants who are in rent arrears between 1 and 14 days could constitute harassment. To quote REISA Section 65 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1995, it is a term of a residential tenancy agreement that the tenant is entitled to quiet enjoyment of the premises without interruption by the landlord. It also is a term of the residential tenancy agreement that the landlord will not cause or permit any interference with the reasonable peace, comfort or privacy of the tenant in the tenant’s use of the premises.
Furthermore, if the landlord causes or permits interference with the reasonable peace, comfort or privacy of the tenant in the tenant’s use of the premises in circumstances that amount to harassment of the tenant, the landlord is also guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty is $5,000.
Whilst a zero tolerance stance on rent arrears sounds good, in reality as Property Managers we are dealing with tenants who are human beings too. Circumstances can arise whereby the tenant isn’t able to make their rent payment on the due date. Whilst there are usually the serial offenders who no matter their circumstance continuously pay rent late. It is important to have clear office procedures in place to promptly contact tenants when rent is not received by the due date and continue to follow this up until rent is paid or the required Form 2 is issued if and when rent falls more than 15 days in arrears.
Serious serial late rent payment can be dealt with under the recent changes to the Residential Tenancy Act whereby there is now a 3 strikes and you’re out policy. If two Form 2’s are issued in a 12 month period on the third occasion you can apply directly to the Tribunal for vacant possession.
Care must be taken to ensure that the process is handled efficiently, effectively and respectfully. Communication with both the tenants and landlords is essential. Often setting the expectations of both parties from the commencement of a tenancy can minimise rent arrears instances. Tenants are increasingly more assertive and aware of their rights. Gone are the days that a property manager can use strong arm tactics in every instance to recover rent. As an industry we need to rise above this and utilise our negotiation skills to achieve the best outcomes. Your offices procedures need to be consistent and correspondence be it letter, email or sms’s are carefully and clearly worded.