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NIGHTMARE tenants are leaving property investors thousands of dollars out of pocket, with a surge in the number of landlords trying to claw back unpaid rent and property damage costs.
One of the nation’s biggest debt collection agencies has seen a near 30 per cent jump in the number of claims from its clients across Queensland in the past 12 months, at a time when investors are already dealing with rising interest rates, tougher lending restrictions and harsher tax rules.
And it’s not just tenants in the state’s lower socio-economic regions who are to blame.
High-income earning renters in Brisbane’s affluent suburbs are also leaving investors high and dry — costing them up to $45,000 a pop in some cases.
According to Barclay MIS Protect and Collect Australasia, which has 40,000 Queensland landlords and about 1000 real estate agencies on its books, regions where claims have increased include areas hit hard by the mining downturn and unemployment including Townsville and Mackay, followed by the lower socio-economic hot spots of Caboolture, Beenleigh and Logan.
But some of the biggest claims have come from high income, high rent suburbs including Red Hill, Paddington, Toowong, Samford, Kenmore and Aspley.
Barclay MIS chief executive David Banks said claims could range from $120 for an outstanding water bill to tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and property damage.
“We currently have a claim for a tenant in Samford for $7500, of which $5000 is rent, as a direct result of loss of occupation,” he said.
And Mr Banks said there was a direct correlation between rent owed and damage caused to property — often as a form of “payback” after a tenant has been notified of eviction.
“The higher the rent, the higher the damage — it’s a very common situation,” he said.
Mr Banks said the main causes of tenant evictions were ill health, loss of income, relationship breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse and gambling.
“We know from the claims we process that these are the six prime causes,” he said.
“The last three cause the first three and can quickly turn what has been a dream tenancy into a nightmare.
“We see the end result of this when we carry out the eviction on behalf of the landlord.
“It’s a lot safer when a third party like ourselves are doing it because ... tenant wants to blame somebody else, not themselves, so they blame the property manager.
Mr Banks gave examples of tenants living in squalor, infant children being left in the same nappies for days, holes in walls and the doors of every cupboard being removed from one house.
It comes as rent increases are failing to keep pace with rising house prices, piling extra pressure onto the nation’s two million-plus property investors — and their tenants.
The latest Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) Market Monitor report shows significant rises in weekly rent for the first quarter of 2017, when compared with the same period last year.
Average rents across the southeast have risen as much as $25 a week for townhouses and $5 for units.
Mr Banks agreed increasing rents and the rising cost of living was putting pressure on tenants.
“That’s when the spiral starts — people start to think ‘the rent can wait’ and pay for other things instead,” he said.
Brisbane mum of two Aileen Devine knows what it’s like to have a problem tenant.
She was left $2500 out of pocket after the tenants in her investment property in the Brisbane suburb of Gaythorne fell behind in rent and caused minor damage to the home before abandoning it.
Ms Devine, who is now a property manager at Huis Rentals, said she made the mistake of managing the property herself and not monitoring the rent payments closely enough.
“You don’t realise until you’re a property manager how much goes into making sure you’ve got good tenants and keeping an eye on them,” she said.
Terri Scheer Insurance executive manager Carolyn Parrella said 40 to 50 per cent of claims handled were for loss of rent, but it was also common for tenants to cause malicious damage to a rental property after an eviction notice.
“Those sort of claims can go into thousands of dollars,” she said.
Ms Parrella said it was important for property investors to have landlord insurance.
“Make sure you’ve got that insurance cover and make sure you’re getting on top of arrears really quickly,” she said.
“Don’t let the unpaid rent start building up.”
But Mr Banks said he had noticed an increase in the number of property owners seeking his company’s services to recover the shortfall not covered by a landlord insurance claim.
REIQ spokeswoman Felicity Moore said she was surprised at the reported sharp rise in claims for unpaid rent and damaged properties.
“While these issues can, unfortunately, be a fact of life for landlords and property managers, from time to time, in our experience they are not frequently occurring and our members haven’t reported a discernible rise,” she said.
“It’s possible that a contributing factor could include less scrupulous property managers and eager or inexperienced landlords who rush through a tenant’s application without doing the due diligence required to ensure a tenant has a good rental history and capacity to service the financial commitment.
“This is more likely to occur in areas where vacancies are higher and landlords are keen to get a tenant in as quickly as possible.”
According to Tenants Queensland the main issue tenants have with landlords is early termination of their leases.
Spokesman Penny Carr said requests for advice regarding tenancy terminations accounted for more than 32 per cent of cases the group dealt with.
Other major issues include disputes around bonds and issues with repairs and maintenance. Ms Carr said there was much needed reform of Queensland rental laws.
She said the ability for landlords to end tenancies without any reason caused a great deal of unnecessary churn and distress for renters.
QLD’S WORST REGIONS TO BE A LANDLORD
Regions where claims have increased:
— Townsville region
— Mackay region
— Emu Park
— Caboolture region
— Deception Bay/Mango Hill
— Beenleigh/Logan region
— Toowoomba region
NIGHTMARE TENANT TRIGGERS
1. Ill health
2. Income loss
3. Relationship breakdown
4. Alcohol abuse
6. Drug abuse