Professional Carpet Cleaning & Pest Control

There is often a debate about the requirements for completion of professional services by the tenant during and at the end of the tenancy.

According to RTA figures something like 240,000 tenancy bonds are refunded with more than 260,000 new ones lodged in Queensland every year and around 64 per cent of all QCAT disputes are over rental bond releases.

Here, we will break down the legislation and decisions made in the past by QCAT relating to the requirement of professional carpet cleaning and professional pest control required to be completed by tenants during the tenancy and at the end of tenancy.

Tenant’s Obligations

During the tenancy, tenants are required to maintain the property and keep it clean, similar to the standard it was in at commencement of tenancy.

If there are issues noted during the tenancy, such as pest infestation or soiling to carpets, it is reasonable for the tenants to be requested to remedy these issues.

Tenants may be asked to have carpets professionally cleaned in an attempt to return the carpets to a similar standard they were in at commencement of tenancy.

At the end of tenancy, tenants are required to clean the carpets to a similar condition as stated on the Entry Condition Report. It is important to state the condition on the Report, to help support the condition required at the end of tenancy.

If pets have been kept on the premises at any time during the tenancy, it is a requirement for the tenant to complete a flea & tick treatment to the internal and the external of the premises.

As long as the Lessor or Lessor’s Agent does not at any time require the tenant to buy goods or services from the lessor, lessor’s agent or a person nominated (nominated supplier) by the lessor or agent, it is considered reasonable to request for a professional service to be completed by the tenant, and is not a breach of the RTRA Act.

Legislation

Section 171 (2) – Supply of goods and services, (RTRA Act)
(2) The lessor or lessor’s agent must not require the tenant to buy goods or services from the lessor, the lessor’s agent or a person nominated by the lessor or agent (the nominated supplier).

Section 188 (2) and (4) – Tenant’s obligations generally (RTRA Act)
(2) The tenant must keep the premises and inclusions clean, having regard to their condition at the start of the tenancy.
(4) At the end of the tenancy, the tenant must leave the premises and inclusions, as far as possible, in the same condition they were in at the start of the tenancy, fair wear and tear excepted.
Note – see section 217 for the tenant’s obligations to notify the lessor about damage to premises and the need for repairs.

Special Term 5 (b) and (f) – End of Occupancy (Form 18a – General Tenancy Agreement)
The tenant will on vacating the premises:
(b) On the last day of the tenancy have all carpets cleaned to a standard similar to the standard as provided by the lessor/lessor’s agent at the start of the tenancy.
(f) Fumigate as reasonably required if pets have been on the premises.

Special Term 2 (n) – Care of Premises (Form 18a – General Tenancy Agreement)
The Tenant Agrees:
(n) To keep the premises free of rodents, cockroaches and other vermin and to notify the lessor promptly of any vermin or pest infestation which, should the presence of such vermin o infestation have arisen due to the act or neglect on the part of the tenant, shall be the tenant’s responsibility to remedy.

What decisions has QCAT made relating to this matter?

In Eising v Westgarth Realty Pty Ltd [2019] QCATA 120 (2 August 2019):-
source: http://www.austlii.edu.au

The context

[3] The applicant rented residential premises through the respondent agent. Carpets were professionally cleaned and the dwelling fumigated before entry. During the six (6) months term she kept four (4) inside dogs and a pet budgie.

[4] Section 188(4) RTRA Act as well as clause 37 of the general terms of agreement (GTA) obliged the applicant to leave the premises and inclusions (that is, anything left for the tenant’s use), as far as possible, in the same condition they were in at the start, fair wear and tear excepted.

[5] Also, under special conditions 1 and 3 she specifically “…acknowledges the carpets are to be professionally cleaned at the end of the tenancy or every 12 months” and “the premises to be fumigated by a professional fumigator”.

[6] Using specialist trade products from Bunnings the applicant chemically cleaned the carpets and treated the premises for pests before vacating but refused to comply with the special conditions based on legal advice that outgoing tenants in Queensland cannot be forced to pay for professional services or use a particular supplier.

[7] The respondent filed a minor civil dispute application on the lessor’s behalf for breach of end of tenancy terms claiming, among other things, reimbursement of the cost of the agreed services.

[8] The tribunal made no specific findings but enforced the special conditions as reasonable and in-line with trade practice. The Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) was ordered to pay the claimed amount from the security bond and refund the balance.

Supply of goods and services

[15] Section 171(1) RTRA Act forbids lessors and agents from compelling prospective tenants to buy goods and services from either them or someone else as a condition of accepting their tenancy application. The ban is plainly aimed at stopping lessors or agents from directing business to themselves or getting kickbacks from favoured suppliers and protecting vulnerable consumers against predatory trade practices.

[16] It potentially operates where agents give application forms containing standard non-negotiable goods and services terms to legally unsophisticated tenants unaware that they become bound immediately on acceptance of the completed application by the lessor.

[17] In Residential Tenancies Authority v Vespar Pty Ltd t/as Coral Sea Property Management, for example, a property management agency in Townsville was fined $6,000 for routinely inserting a special condition mandating dry-cleaning of carpets, curtains and blinds by a registered professional to the satisfaction of the lessor/agent upon vacating.

[18] However, on its preferred reading, s 171(1) RTRA Act is not intended to stifle fair bargains and does not prohibit any goods and services agreements between lessors and tenants. That intention would have been signalled by a full stop inserted after “someone else”. Nor is there any assertion in this case that acceptance of the appellant’s tenancy application was contingent on the special conditions being agreed to. For this reason, its possible application on different facts is not considered in any depth.

Nominated suppliers

[19] Lessors may designate a person to arrange or make emergency repairs of the premises or inclusions under s 216 RTRA Act and can require the tenant to buy goods and services, including professional carpet cleaning and pest control, without committing RTRA Act offences, if (except for utilities) they do not nominate themselves or another person as the supplier contrary to s 171(2) RTRA Act. For this purpose, a firm or company is a person. The maximum penalty is 20 penalty units.

[20] Although a breach of s 171(2) RTRA Act does not automatically or explicitly invalidate the special conditions that intention is readily inferred and, in any event, illegality can be a good response to enforcement action at common law where no cause of action is regarded as arising out of a wrong (ex turpi causa non oritur actio).

[21] Moreover, RTRA Act compensation is a discretionary remedy and tribunal orders must be fair and equitable under s 13 QCAT Act and will seldom assist a dominant contracting party who relies on breaking a consumer protection law to prove a claim for relief.

[22] The special conditions in issue obviously use the adverb “professionally” and adjective “professional” to distinguish carpet cleaning and fumigation services supplied by a paid professional under a commercial transaction, on the one hand, from DIY providers, on the other.

[23] Although more than one construction is reasonably open when the text is read purposively and in context it is plain that the rule in s 171(2) RTRA Act is intended to prevent collusive or non-competitive practices for the financial gain of a particular “… person nominated by the lessor” or agent. On this basis, agreed terms referring to an unidentified member of a general class of service supplier such as a professional person are not illegal.

[24] Accordingly, unless they are invalid for some reason the appellant is bound by the special conditions.

Void conditions

[25] Under s 53(1) RTRA Act a tenancy agreement or term is void to the extent it purports to exclude, change or restrict the application or operation of the RTRA Act about what condition tenants must leave the premises in at the end of the tenancy. A special term is also overridden by 54(1) and (2) RTRA Act to the extent it is incompatible with a standard term dealing with the same subject matter.

[26] As already noted, the mandatory end of term obligation imported into the GTA by the RTRA Act requires the tenant to leave the premises and inclusions, as far as possible, in the same condition they were in at the start, fair wear and tear excepted.

[27] The key word “condition” denotes a state rather than a standard. The expression “as far as possible” means closely proximate. Ironically, “near” could be substituted for “far” without changing the sense. The phrase “the same” is a point of comparison so that the benchmark for the state the premises and contents must be left in is their entry condition.

[28] Compliance may extend to fixing broken fittings, mending torn curtains or painting damaged walls where necessary as well as detailed cleaning and pest eradication but it does not involve improving the state of the premises or its contents at the tenant’s expense for the landlord’s gain.

[29] Thus, exit conditions requiring a departing tenant to pay for steam cleaning curtains that were dirty or worn out to begin with are unenforceable because they conflict with the effect of s 188(4) RTRA Act and clause 37 GTA but not if hiring contractors to shampoo the carpet is needed on exit to remove stubborn stains or eradicate fleas or other bugs that were not there at the beginning.

[30] As the premises here were in the state of having been fumigated and included carpets cleaned by professionals at handover the special conditions merely contemplate the original condition of the premises being reinstated as far as possible not bettered. They amplify but do not purport to modify the terms of the RTRA Act and GTA.

[31] There was no evidence at the hearing that paying for professional fumigation and carpet cleaning services was impossible in the circumstances or that the appellant met the description of a professional herself. Therefore, regardless of how professional her job was the obligation in s 188(4) RTRA Act was not fully met because the premises that she handed back at the end of the tenancy were not in the same condition as far as possible as they were at the start.

[32] The position may be different if the premises and inclusions had not been professionally cleaned or fumigated before she rented them and were left, as far as possible, in the same condition without the help of professionally supplied services because the prediction at the beginning of the tenancy about what the premises would in fact need at the end to meet the s 188(4) RTRA Act or GTA obligation to restore them to their initial condition i.e. professional carpet cleaning and fumigation would be invalid and the special conditions based on it unenforceable.

[33] In this case, however, the special conditions are enforceable and the appeal fails.

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