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Tenancy Disputes and the Tenancy Tribunal Process
As a landlord, you may have heard horror stories about the Tenancy Tribunal. However, if you know the process and are well prepared you can ensure you come away with the best possible outcome every time.
Tenancy disputes can be resolved in a variety of ways and a Tenancy Tribunal hearing is not always necessary. In this article we discuss the different methods for resolving disputes and the ways to prepare if a Tenancy Tribunal hearing becomes inevitable.
What is a Breach?
A breach occurs when a tenant or landlord fails to follow the rules set out by the Residential Tenancies Act July 2020.
Someone can breach the Act by not doing what they are supposed to do, doing something they’re not allowed to do or adding unenforceable clauses to the tenancy agreement.
While some breaches are more serious than others, any attempt to avoid your responsibilities under the Act can be deemed an unlawful act.
Essentially, the Tribunal helps settle disputes that landlords and tenants can’t settle themselves.
Remedying a Breach
A remedy is what you need to do to fix a breach of the Act. While some breaches can be remedied, others can’t. The remedy will depend on what the problem is.
As a first step consider whether your issue could be resolved through ‘self-resolution’. A tenant or landlord may not be aware they have committed a breach and often when it is brought to their attention the tenancy dispute can be easily resolved.
If self-resolution is not possible you can send a ‘14-day notice to remedy’ to the person who has breached the Act. If the person does not fix the problem within the time allowed you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to help resolve the problem.
It’s worth noting that it is not always necessary to wait the full 14 days before applying to the Tribunal. Making an earlier application may mean you are given an earlier hearing or mediation date, should self-resolution fail. This may be particularly prudent when it is likely the case is beyond easy resolution.
Applying to the Tenancy Tribunal
Once you have established that the breach cannot be easily fixed, you can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal for assistance.
It is possible (and preferable) to apply to the Tribunal via an on-line form. The process is quick and you will know you have submitted a correct and complete application form. If you prefer to use a paper form, contact the Tenancy Services Service Centre on 0800 836 262 (0800 Tenancy).
It pays to keep your language simple and to the point and ensure you have all your supporting documents in order. You should provide copies of the tenancy agreement, the 14-day notice to remedy and any letters or communication between you and the other person. You should also provide any documents to support your particular dispute. Documents should be clear and easy to read.
Based on your application, the Tribunal will offer you one of three remedies:
- FastTrack Resolution: A service provided by Tenancy Services to help formalize an agreement that landlords have reached with their tenants
- Mediation: Tenancy mediation is when Tenancy Services helps landlords and tenants talk about and solve their problems with a mediator (third party) present
- Tenancy Tribunal: Hearings are scheduled for tenancy issues that can’t be resolved or mediated, and an adjudicator can issue legally binding orders.
It is important to note that while a mediator will help you talk about the issue with the other person and guide you to make an agreement, they can’t decide anything for you. This is different from a Tenancy Tribunal hearing where the adjudicator makes a decision on the tenancy issue. If an agreement has been made between parties during tenancy mediation it still needs to be legally signed and returned before it can be enforced.
If FastTrack resolution and mediation can’t fix the problem, a hearing date will be set to resolve your tenancy dispute.
Your Tenancy Tribunal Hearing
Once you know you are going to attend a Tenancy Tribunal hearing it is imperative you prepare thoroughly. As a landlord the Tribunal will consider you to be a business owner and the adjudicator will not look favourably on you if you are not prepared. While a tenant may be forgiven if they don’t have everything in order, a landlord is likely to lose the dispute if they come unprepared.
You need to bring any evidence that supports your claim or any documents that support your side of the tenancy dispute. Examples of appropriate evidence are photos of the premises, rent records and tax invoices from tradesmen for any repairs undertaken.
If you are the applicant you should have already submitted copies of the relevant documents when you made your application. Take your original documents plus two copies of all evidence with you to share with the adjudicator and the other person. It you want to bring any witnesses, call Tenancy Services in advance. You can also have a friend or family member with you for support, but they won’t be able to talk.
As landlords are generally the applicants they are required to put their case forward first. Once you and your witnesses have spoken the other party will be asked to respond and present their own evidence. The adjudicator will then make a judgement based on what they have heard. They will base their decision on the balance of probabilities as to which party appears most credible and how the RTA applies to the situation.
Following the Tribunal Hearing
The adjudicator’s judgement will be written up as a Tenancy Tribunal Order to settle the dispute. In most cases you will receive the order on the day of the hearing.
If you disagree with the decision you can apply for a rehearing or appeal to the District Court. You can only apply if the decision was substantially wrong or you feel a miscarriage of justice has taken place. You can’t apply just because you are unhappy with the decision.
If you want to ensure the best outcome remember the golden rule: be prepared!
Need more information on the Tenancy Tribunal and breaches of the RTA? Get in contact with one of our property experts!