Heading to tribunal: What to prepare

Written by view.com.au in Renting on January 16, 2015

Heading to tribunal: What to prepare

It’s no secret that heading to tribunal to argue your side of a rental debate is nerve wracking no matter whether you’re the renter or the investor. It’s not always the case that landlords and their tenants will see eye to eye and sometimes these disagreements cannot be resolved without taking it to an authority.

Property managers often have more experience than renters and so know what to expect when heading to Tribunal on behalf of a property investor. However, there are usually some simple rules that will ensure the right outcome is achieved.

Here’s a step by step guide of how to prepare and ready yourself for an appearance at tribunal.

8 steps to consider:

  1. Speak to the other party first
  2. Expect to go through mediation first
  3. Get your evidence in order
  4. Know your desired outcome and how to justify it
  5. Consider the case against you
  6. Practice your case before presenting it
  7. Remain respectful throughout proceedings
  8. Consider professional assistance if necessary

Step 1: Speak to the other party first

The best result for everyone is to not have to go to Tribunal. Ensure you have tried discussing through the issues and coming to a mutually beneficial outcome in advance.

Tribunal can be time consuming, stressful and may not lead to the desired result for either person, so it makes sense to try and come to a conclusion before bringing in someone unfamiliar with your particularly situation.

Be reasonable during this process, explain why you think what you do and really consider whether you are in the wrong. If you are sure that you have tried to be fair with the other person with either little cooperation or unresolvable debates, then you can start to consider taking the issue further.

There are also some telephone services often offered by your state or territory government that are there to help tenancy disputes before they get any further. It is worthwhile considering this option first. Know that certain types of cases do have time limits on them – so you cannot go back and approach a tenant years after the offence has occurred. Know your local laws.

Step 2: Expect to go through mediation first

When you first commence discussions with Tribunal, it is highly likely that you will be encouraged to work through mediation first in a process of conciliation. While you may be thinking that your previous efforts to get to an outcome were unsuccessful, you may find that some formalised mediation will help. Remember, this is still preferable in most cases than a tribunal hearing.

Step 3: Get your evidence in order

Collect copies of your lease agreement, photographs and other information as necessary. You will be required to show proof of your side of the discussion on Tribunal day, usually in print format (though increasingly laptops with photos on can be used to present evidence). Know the important dates and times of phone calls and events, or have them noted down and be prepared with information from the Tenancy Act if possible. You need to be accurate and detailed.

Expert information can be very helpful. If you did have the carpet steam cleaned, ensure you have a receipt and photographs. Collecting some of this information will be tricky and time consuming, but it will be worthwhile when you are trying to prove that you did the right thing.

If you are able to demonstrate how you have abided by the law and by the other person, then you should be able to defend your reasoning to the Tribunal members who will decide the outcome. Evidence is crucial in getting them to see your point of view, so do not neglect it.

Remember to consider the following documents:

  • Your tenancy agreement
  • Statutory declarations from others who can support your claims
  • Receipts and quotes
  • Photographs
  • Copies of letters, emails and other correspondence
  • Details of your case

There are many other types of evidence that you may also want to consider.

Step 4: Know your desired outcome and how to justify it

If you want to claim a few thousand dollars from the other party, be sure you have the paperwork to justify this. Perhaps it is missing rental payments, or damages that you have had quoted for. Maybe your claim is for the repayment of your rent due to the house being uninhabitable.

Understand what it is that you want – it could even be for an end to the discussion with no fault attributed to yourself – and be able to explain how this is justified given the circumstances at hand. There is little point in going to Tribunal without actually knowing what it is that you are after.

The person who has made the application to Tribunal will find that the onus falls on them to prove that what they want is justified and reasonable, rather than on the other party to prove that it is not. There is usually a small fee to go to Tribunal.

Step 5: Consider the case against you

Have a think about the conversations you have had with the opposing party. Are you aware of what evidence and information they may present about you? You may want to write down your counter points to defend yourself against anything that may be said you do not agree with.

While the onus is on the person who brings the case forward, it is worth your while to prepare yourself to present what you think is the truth and what actually happened.

Step 6: Practice your case before presenting it

It is certainly worth attending Tribunal as you will have more of a chance to explain your own perspective and present information that may have been missed by the opposing party. Changing the date of the hearing may be possible under extenuating circumstances and it is worth calling ahead of time if this will be necessary.

Stick to the main points of the discussion and the facts. Be concise and clear about what the issue was and what it is that you would like to see happen. Have your ducks in a row by preparing to present your points beforehand, particularly if you are likely to be nervous.

Step 7: Remain respectful throughout proceedings

Be polite and respectful, even when you disagree with the other party, at Tribunal. It does not assist your case to be rude and can complicate the discussion. Remember, if you are in the right then the Tribunal member will be able to come to conclusion from your evidence. You do not need to debate directly with the landlord, tenant or property manager.

If you do hear something that you disagree with, keep notes rather than interrupt. You will be given time to talk and present your case. It’s worth waiting your term rather than putting the Tribunal members offside.

Step 8: Consider professional assistance if necessary

You may not feel well equipped to handle the Tribunal proceedings yourself. In this case you may be able to get yourself a representative. While Tribunal hearings are usually informal, in many instances you can request formal hearings, where witnesses give evidence under oath.

Renters should consider calling their Tenants Union for advice, while landlords should speak to their property manager initially.

Remember, tenants are most likely to speak on behalf of themselves. In some situations it is possible to use a tenants advocate. However, it’s not common and you are often required to justify why you require the assistance. You are, however, welcome to bring along some support in the form of family members or a friend. Solicitors are occasionally allowed, however only in specific circumstances.

Interpreting services are provided for free by the Tribunal if needed and requested in advance. Prepar to comply with any Tribunal orders at the end of the case or to launch an appeal.