Tips for your residential tenancy case
Parties should keep mind that QCAT is a tribunal, not a court, and while the decisions it makes are final and can be enforced, the experience and processes involved along the way are far less formal. The tribunal is committed to actively resolving disputes in a way that is fair, just, accessible and inexpensive.
While it won’t guarantee you’ll receive the decision you want, knowing what to expect and preparing for your visit may is the best way to ensure you get the best from your experience at QCAT. Following these few simple tips can help guide your preparations:
1. Organise your material
The tribunal is a busy place with adjudicators hearing an average of 10 matters a days. You will receive a faster, more focussed hearing if the adjudicator can find your supporting evidence quickly. Clients bringing supporting materials are advised to:
- check you have completed and signed the necessary forms, and if you are unsure, check with QCAT registry staff
- index and page number your evidence
- put your evidence into a logical order
- provide copies or relevant photos in colour and in something bigger than a thumbnail computer print out. Remember, the tribunal will not accept evidence in electronic form.
2. Give copies of your documents to the other side at the earliest possible time
A tribunal hearing isn’t run by the script of a TV crime show. Don’t hold onto your evidence until the last possible minute, so that the other side is surprised by it. A hearing may be adjourned, delaying the outcome for everyone, if a party has not had a chance to consider evidence delivered on the day of the hearing.
3. Bring your witnessess
If there is a controversial issue, and you have an independent witness who gave a statement about that, they should attend the hearing. The adjudicator may not want to question your witness, but the witness should be available, just in case. If the witness cannot attend personally, you can apply for the person to appear by telephone.
The tribunal does not require affidavits – a signed statement is usually enough. If a witness does give a statement, and appears at the hearing, he or she may be asked to give evidence on oath or by affirmation.
4. Use your waiting time productively
Your matter will not necessarily start at the time shown on notice you receive. Use the waiting time productively and talk to the other party. Can you resolve your dispute before going into mediation or conferencing, or reduce the number of issues the adjudicator has to consider? Attendance at the tribunal should mean the other party knows the matter is serious.
What to expect in a hearing
It can seem daunting to appear before the tribunal in a residential tenancy dispute. But being prepared and understanding what will happen during the hearing can help take the mystery out of the process.
Remember, a tribunal is not a court. It is less formal than a court, but still makes decisions that are final and can be enforced.
How will I know the hearing has been scheduled?
You will get a notice of hearing in the post which includes when and where the hearing will be held. If there is a good reason why you can’t attend on that day, you need to contact QCAT immediately to discuss your options. If you do not attend the hearing, you run the risk of a decision being made in your absence.
What happens on the day of the hearing?
Try to arrive at least 15 minutes before your hearing is due to start. Remember that multiple matters may be scheduled for the same time, and there is no guarantee that it will proceed at the exact allocated time. Leave enough time to allow for any delays. When you arrive, check for your name and/or case number on the screen or list displayed at the registry or Magistrates Court. A hearing support officer will call the names of the parties for the case when it is time for your hearing.
Who will be at the hearing?
It is likely that the other party will attend the hearing. The QCAT member or adjudicator (at a Magistrates Court this will be a local magistrate acting for QCAT) will be there to hear from both parties and to make a decision. A hearing support officer may be there to assist the member or adjudicator. QCAT proceedings are also open to the public – so there could be interested spectators in the hearing room observing.
What do I call the member or adjudicator?
Generally, you can call the QCAT member Sir or Madam, or by their title and last name e.g. Mr Jones or Ms Smith.
Can I attend by phone?
In some circumstances you may be allowed to attend the hearing by phone. You need to apply to do so at least seven days before your hearing using the Application for attendance at hearing, compulsory conference or mediation by remote conferencing form.
What should I bring to the hearing?
A copy of the application and any attachments; any evidence you wish to show the member or adjudicator; any witnesses; copies of key documents such as the lease, correspondence, invoices, photos etc. It may be in your best interest to ensure you have exchanged copies of your documents with the other party – particularly if one party is attending by phone. This helps to avoid adjournments due to parties not having access to the same information.
The tribunal does not have the facilities to accept electronic copies of evidence. Do not send in discs or USB sticks and do not bring laptops or phones to a hearing with the expectation that the tribunal will view that evidence on the day.
Any tips for preparing for the hearing?
Try out your presentation and summary of the case on a friend or colleague and get their feedback. Try to anticipate what questions the member may have about the matter and how you
might answer them.
QCAT proceedings are open to the public. You may wish to observe a residential tenancy hearing prior to your matter being heard.
Do I have to swear an oath to give evidence?
Before the hearing starts you may be asked to swear an oath or make an affirmation by reading a statement provided to you. You will be provided with the statement and asked to stand and read the statement aloud.
What happens during the hearing?
When all parties are present the member or adjudicator will introduce themselves and ask the parties to announce who they are. The member will briefly outline the order of speaking.
Usually, each party will get an opportunity to speak without interruption. The applicant usually speaks first.
The member will ask the parties questions or to summarise their matter and what they are asking the tribunal for.
Any tips for how to behave during the hearing?
It is important to remember that the member or adjudicator is there to manage the hearing – try to communicate through them rather than addressing the other party directly. It is in your best interests to behave in a courteous manner at all times to both the other party and to the member or adjudicator.
Will a decision be made straight away?
In most tenancy disputes a decision will be provided verbally on the day. If the case is complex or the member or adjudicator requires more information, your case may be adjourned to a later date for continuation of the hearing. In some cases, the member or adjudicator may reserve their decision – this means that the hearing has finished but the decision and reasons will be provided at a later date.
What happens if I or the other party doesn’t show up?
If you don’t show up to a hearing, regardless of who made the application, the member or adjudicator may make a decision anyway.
These case studies provide general information and examples only. If you are unsure about your legal rights you should get legal advice. Any actions taken to resolve your dispute should be determined by your individual circumstances.