We are just about to move house, and once again I'm thinking about that most peculiar of Australian customs, the bond. I've rented for the last 11 years since leaving the UK, and before that I'd rented in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, but never before had I encountered the terror of the bond - a deposit which you get back only once the real estate agent is completely satisfied that the house is exactly as you found it when you moved in. In practice this means several things:
- It doesn't matter what the house was like when you moved in. Especially if you have no documentary evidence of what it looked like. In Sydney, for example, we moved in after the owner had moved out - no bond, therefore no obligation to clean, so the place was filthy. When you move out, it has to be as if no one has ever lived there and it's been scoured from top to bottom twice daily. Even if you've actually taken this approach, however,
- It doesn't matter how much you do - to the estate agent this is a revenue stream. D's brother got bond deducted for leaving two coathangers in the wardrobe. When we left Sydney we got bond deducted for leaving cleaning products under the sink. In short, they'll find a reason. But the real kicker is that:
- They don't actually deduct from your bond, because this would affect your ability to rent a new place and might mean that you are annoyed enough to contest it and/or report the agent. They tell you to pay them direct and then they won't deduct from your bond. And,
- The amounts involved are at a certain level too - low enough to mean most tenants won't complain, but not so low as to be negligible - let's say $240 out of a $2,000 bond.
In other words it's a scam, carried out under the radar and perpetrated against vulnerable tenants from someone in a position of great power with control over your money. When I first moved to Australia D insisted we photograph everything in the new flat and check against the extremely detailed inventory. I thought this was a bit over the top, with all the laissez faire experiences under my belt. How wrong I was.