26/09/2016 Samandah Matty, Property Portfolio Manager
VCAT; a place property managers can sometimes end up but a destination we try to avoid.
So what is VCAT? VCAT stands for the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal and it’s a place where members of the public can bring their case forward to be heard in front of a judge in a less formal setting than a court. Basically, it is designed to facilitate dispute resolution between opposing parties without the fees and formalities of court.
While avoiding VCAT is an ideal situation, sometimes things can go wrong. When disagreements arise, we will try and mediate between landlord and tenant to come to a mutually agreeable outcome without having to escalate to VCAT. However, should all parties involved not be able to reach a resolution on their own, a landlord’s agent (i.e. The Hopkins Group) or tenant may need to resort to filing an application to attend VCAT.
As representatives of the landlord, we can do all the administrative work on behalf of the owner and can also attend VCAT hearings on your behalf; however landlords are of course allowed to be present for the hearing if they would like. We encourage that our landlords attend their VCAT hearings, but it is not essential.
Why would a property manager need to take a case to VCAT?
One of the most common reasons property managers end up taking their tenants to VCAT is to try and gain possession of a property after a tenant has not paid their rent.
There is a lengthy process in trying to gain possession – once a tenant is 14 days in arrears you are able to serve a 14 day notice to vacate. Three business days after the 14 day notice to vacate is served, an application to VCAT can be made. The Hopkins Group can look after all this administration on behalf of the landlord.
Once an application has been made, VCAT will then schedule a hearing in which all named parties must attend – this is usually set within two weeks of making the application. The named parties in this case are the tenants and the landlords, who can be represented by The Hopkins Group.
Another common reason property managers attend VCAT is to claim money from their tenants’ bond after they have vacated, to carry out repairs or cleaning needed to bring the property into a reasonable condition.
To try and claim anything equal or less than a tenant’s bond, a standard hearing is all that is required. However, if the amount of money we need to claim exceeds the bond amount, a more complex hearing will need to take place to try and gain possession of both the bond and additional compensation.
In both instances, invoices are required to be presented as proof that works have been completed and are equal to the compensation claimed.
How do you serve a VCAT application?
Applications are served online through the VCAT website; there are also hard copy forms that can be completed.
Once your VCAT application has been finalised, you will need to post a copy via registered post to the respondent in addition to a copy mailed via regular post.
We also recommend emailing a copy of the notice to the respondent to ensure all bases are covered.
The last thing you want is to be bogged down in paperwork. As your managing agents, we can take the hassle away from you and manage these steps behalf of a landlord.
What happens during a VCAT hearing?
There is a lot of preparation that takes place before a VCAT hearing – we need to ensure that we have all the evidence we need to support your case, including copies of all documentation for both the member and the respondent (the tenant).
Then, once everyone has been gathered at VCAT, all speaking parties are required to be sworn in to be heard by the presiding member – an impartial official versed in the law. Parties either swear in on the bible or take an oath or affirmation to declare that everything they will say in the hearing is true and correct.
Once everyone has been sworn in, it’s time to present your case!
The applicant will then present their case first; after the member has heard the applicant’s claim, the respondent will then have their chance to speak. After the member has heard a sufficient amount of evidence, he/she will determine the outcome. A VCAT order is then given to both parties (either immediately following the hearing or posted in the mail) with a summary of the member’s findings from the hearing.
How can you avoid a VCAT appearance?
Most of the time, we can avoid going to VCAT by coming to agreements with your tenants before disputes develop or escalate. We can achieve this by having all tenants pay their rent by their due dates – our team runs daily ‘rental arrears’ reports to chase up any tardy tenants so we can stay on top of it before it gets out of hand.
We also carry out regular routine inspections – initially at three months and then every six months according to the Residential Tenancies Act. This ensures they maintain the property in an immaculate condition and if there are any issues, we can nip them in the bud early. The main objective is to ensure the tenant can vacate the property without issue at the end of their tenancy.
What if I have a pending VCAT appearance?
Attending VCAT can be a very daunting experience, but with the right preparation it doesn’t need to be.
The best advice I can offer is that there is no such thing as over preparing. The more information we have, the easier it is to answer any question the member throws our way. In the lead up to a VCAT hearing, we will stay in touch with our landlords to make sure they’re aware of the issue and the current state of play, and keep the lines of communication open throughout the whole process.
While VCAT is an extreme we hope we never have to resort to, it is always good to know you have someone on your side should the worst happen. Navigating our way through the VCAT maze is just part of the service offering we provide to our clients.
Our property management team has extensive experience in dispute resolution and gaining the best results for their landlords. We know your rights and our obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act and have systems in place to minimise the need to make applications to VCAT.
If you would like to find out more about placing your investment properties in the safe hands of our property management team, why not contact us today?
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