The appointment of justices of peace to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) to deal with tenancy disputes has made the system “fundamentally flawed” and “tenant-friendly”, says an agency director.
Justices of peace were recently introduced to help clear a backlog of civil disputes and reduce costs in Queensland’s legal system.
The Queensland Law Society said it is concerned JPs will no longer have to have years' worth of experience to sit and determine a minor civil dispute.
"In our view this undermines the public's confidence that the matter will be heard by persons with adequate experience and understanding of the law and tribunal processes," a spokesman said.
Speaking to Residential Property Manager, Rental Express director Chris Rolls said the QCAT is “very, very tenant-friendly” and the decision-making process is random.
“It is a very ineffective way of upholding the [Residential Tenancy] Act,” he said.
“That is because the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal is fundamentally flawed in the way they operate – which they weren’t when we use to have to go to a court.
“We use to have to go to a court and we would have a judge preside over these cases, and we had good, consistent decision-making when that was the case.
“The whole court process, from a landlord’s perspective, is almost completely ineffective in Queensland,” he added.
Mr Rolls said he is not sure if this is the case in other states, but overwhelmingly this is what most people think in the industry in Qld.
“We had one case where we had foreign students in the property and it was ruled that it was reasonable because the tenants couldn’t understand – English wasn’t their first language – that there needed to be some leniency around the Act and therefore they didn’t need to abide by two parts of the Act because they didn’t understand it,” he said.
“It was just ludicrous, and that is because they are not judges, they are justices of peace.”
Real Plus business manager Hermione Gardiner said whilst she does not know the intricacies of the QCAT in particular, they have found the tribunal to be very one-sided in their experience.
"My advice would always be to do everything you can in avoiding going to tribunal in the first place, because as soon as we do the outcome is always out of our own hands," she told Residential Property Manager.
"We always encourage our clients to try to conciliate beforehand to try to resolve the situation to a degree that 'both parties can live with' rather than one being severely disappointed."
Ms Gardiner said often once they receive notice of a hearing – or if they have decided to apply against someone – they then wait for the date to arrive.
"However we encourage everyone to continually try to resolve the matter beforehand," she said.
"Strong systems and communication throughout your property management process are also essential.
"More often than not, we find issues could have been resolved with better communication from the first signs of escalation – tribunal is generally never a surprise," she added.
Have you had trouble with tenancy disputes in any of the Civil and Administrative Tribunals? RPM would love to hear your thoughts below.