Are you a first-time renter or moving into a new rental property?
If you’re curious about the ins and outs of renting and your rights and responsibilities, we’ve put together some handy tips on how to protect yourself as a tenant.
When you’re renting, there are some legal documents you’ll need to be familiar with. Understanding these documents means you’ll be well informed of your rights as a tenant and the terms and conditions of living in your rental property.
Understanding your lease
Your lease is the most important document of your rental agreement. Also known as a residential tenancy agreement, it’s a legal contract between you (and anyone else who is a party to the lease such as your partner or housemates) and your landlord. It’s essential to familiarise yourself with the lease as it sets out the terms of your tenancy and can help protect you against any issues that come up.
Your lease sets out a few crucial aspects of your tenancy, such as:
- the length of your tenancy
- how much rent you need to pay, as well as how often you will have to pay it
- how much bond is required
- information on dealing with repairs and maintenance
- tenant’s rights including your right to privacy
- other important factors such as whether you can have pets or sublet your rental.
A condition report is a document that records the state of your rental property before you move in. It generally includes a checklist for each room and includes information on the condition of light fittings, carpets, windows and other features. It should mention whether there’s any pre-existing damage to take note of such as a crack in the wall or a dodgy floorboard.
It’s important to compare the condition report the landlord gives you against what you can see on the first day you move in. If there’s damage not included in the report that should be there, you may be held responsible for repairs or cleaning when you move out. Go through each room and check off each item on the list, noting down any bits you disagree with. You should also take photos of any damage, so you have evidence if you ever need to use it.
You’ll also have to lodge a rental bond before you move in, which is usually the same amount as four weeks’ rent. This is a security deposit that financially protects the owner if you breach your lease or damage the property.
For example, if you stain the carpet, the owner can use a portion (or all) of your bond to cover the cost of cleaning or replacing the carpet once you move out. Make sure to get a receipt of the bond lodgement from your landlord or property manager, so you have documented proof it was lodged.
Your bond will be returned to you after you move out, and your landlord or property manager is satisfied by the condition of the property. General wear and tear are expected during a tenancy, and in most cases, your landlord can’t withhold your bond to cover this.
Information on paying rent will be outlined in your lease. This includes how much to pay, how often to pay it, and which payment methods your landlord or real estate agent accepts.
Once you sign a lease, you’re obligated to stick to the rental payment rules you’ve agreed with. If you have trouble paying your rent, you should contact your landlord or property manager immediately. They may be able to figure out a payment plan and prevent you from being evicted.
As a renter, you have a number of legal rights in place, giving you certainty around issues such as privacy and rent increases. Tenant’s rights vary from state to state, but there are some general entitlements you should know about.
Privacy and inspections
You have a right to a degree of privacy as a tenant. The landlord or property manager can’t just turn up unannounced for an inspection. If the landlord or property manager wants to enter the property, they need to give you adequate notice in writing and only visit. In Victoria, landlords or property managers can only enter your home between the hours of 8am and 6 pm on any day except public holidays. Most of the time they can enter your home if you’re not there, but only with your permission.
The landlord must provide adequate security in the rental property, including supplying and maintaining locks. But if anything gets stolen from your home, they’re most likely not liable to replace anything.
To protect your belongings from theft, you might want to consider taking out contents insurance. Valuable items such as jewellery, mobile phones, artwork, TVs or laptops are generally covered by contents insurance. (Be aware your policy may have a maximum payout amount which may not cover the entire cost of replacing a stolen item.)
If you’re curious about how you can best protect your belongings, you can read our tips for getting more from your home insurance. You can also check out our home and contents insurance FAQs.
If you’ve signed a six or 12-month fixed-term lease, then your rent can’t be increased during this time unless it was specified in your rental agreement when you signed it. If you’re on a month-by-month lease, the rent can be increased, but the landlord or property manager will need to give you adequate notice in writing.
The rules around how much notice they need to give as well as how often they can increase the rent vary from state to state, so check with your relevant state body if you’re unsure.
Repairs and maintenance
If your home needs to be repaired in some way, you’ll need to let your landlord or property manager know in writing, so you both have a written record of your request.
The steps to take generally depend on whether a repair is urgent or non-urgent. In most cases, urgent repairs such as fixing a burst water pipe should be carried out within 24 to 48 hours of receiving the request. It should be the responsibility of your landlord or property manager to organise these repairs, however, you need to let them know if the incident (such as a burst water pipe) is damaging the property as well. This is to help ensure you don’t become liable for the damage caused by any unreasonable delay.
Non-urgent repairs include things such as a broken exhaust fan or a leaky tap and 14 days is usually the timeframe the landlord or property manager needs to organise repairs.
Make sure to check with the relevant state body, so you’re fully aware of your rights and what your landlord or property manager is expected to do.
Contents insurance for renters
When you’re renting there’s always a chance theft or damage to the property or your belongings from events such as fire or flood can occur. While your landlord may be protected by building insurance, and common areas of your residential complex may be covered by strata insurance, items inside your home usually aren’t covered by either type of insurance.
To protect yourself against damage or theft, consider taking out contents insurance to protect the belongings inside your home.
Contents insurance is a fantastic option as it covers your personal belongings, as well as furniture, rugs, curtains and other items inside your home in case of theft or damage. Taking out contents insurance can help ensure you’re financially protected, and recover the costs of replacing damaged or stolen items.
If you do take out contents insurance, just make sure to check out the terms of your provider’s insurance policy first to see what is and isn’t covered.
Protecting yourself checklist
- Ensure you’re fully prepared to live in your rental property by using the checklist below:
- Read and understand your lease. If you have questions, ask the property manager or landlord before signing it.
- Know how much rent to pay, how often and via which method.
- Review and agree to the condition report, or submit further evidence of damage to the property.
- Be aware of tenant rights in your state.
- Think about getting contents insurance to protect your belongings.
Seven Tips for Protecting Yourself While Renting in Australia
Most private rentals in Australia are advertised online, whether you’re looking for houses or specific property for rent or for an existing share house. For that reason, sometimes it can be tricky to know who’s behind the advertisement and whether they’re even real (believe us – fake advertisers do exist).
If you can, you should meet your potential housemates or whoever is renting out the property face to face. Not only will this help verify that they’re genuine, but it will also give you the opportunity to work out whether the rental is the right fit.
It’s worth getting to know the people you’ll be sharing with, so talk to your potential housemates about your habits, what you like to do in your spare time, and how you might handle differences or conflicts. Everyone’s ideas of home and what it means to enjoy a living space are different, so it’s best to know what you’re signing up for.
If you’re not able to meet face to face, try to set up a Skype or FaceTime session so you can get to know them better and find out how you might fit in.
Check out where you’ll be living.
Looking at rooms and houses online or on paper is one thing, but you can’t really get a feel for a place until you walk through the front door. These days, photography can be easily manipulated. A space that looks light and airy online could easily be a dark, dingy basement in real life. Much like fake advertisers, phony rentals are surprisingly common.
Make a point of viewing the whole place before you commit, and if it’s not possible in person, ask if you can call them for a video chat via FaceTime or Skype.
Becoming a tenant
When you’re renting in Australia, you may have the option to sign a tenancy agreement. This is usually a standard part of the rental process if you go through a real estate agency.
If you’re sharing a private rental with others, you might be able to become a co-tenant, which involves signing the lease with at least one other tenant. This means every person who signs the lease accepts liability for reasonable upkeep of the house (such as cleaning) and if specified in the rental agreement, maintaining the garden or any outdoor space.
Most rental advisory services recommend that all housemates go on the lease, which gives everyone more protection should there be an issue. If one tenant moves out and another moves in, change the lease’s names to reflect this.
In some cases, only one person on the lease, and the rest of the housemates are considered sub-tenants. This means that only the person listed on the lease is liable for rental payments and other matters like repairs. If you live in a share house where this is the case, you still have rights as a renter. Get in touch with your relevant state body for more information (contact details below).
Create a paper trail
If you take on a private rental yourself or join an existing share house, you should ensure that every important transaction or agreement is kept in writing. This means you’ll have concrete proof of everything. All formal documents – including your rental agreement, bond and any other important records – should be in writing. Make sure you keep these documents for the duration of your tenancy so you can reference them if you need to.
If there isn’t a formal agreement written up, you can create one yourself or just put everything in writing, like in an email. Email is a great way to keep track of everything in writing. In many cases, it still counts as written evidence even if it’s not a formal agreement.
If you speak to someone on the phone, send them an email as soon as possible afterwards and include details of what you’ve discussed.
If you join an existing share house and need to pay a bond, email the housemate in charge with all the details of the bond and have them confirm these details in their response. In most cases, the bond should be formally lodged with the relevant state body anyway. This ensures there’s a legal framework around the bond payment.
If you decide to leave your rental, make sure you give notice in writing. If something needs to be fixed or changed before you move in, make sure you email your landlord or property manager so it can be retrieved should a dispute come up. This protects you in the event of any conflict and backs up your understanding of the agreement.
Just double-check with your landlord or agent that an email is an acceptable form of communication. Also, make sure you get a response from whoever you’ve emailed. This helps prove that they agreed to whatever was written in your email.
Record the condition of the space when you move in
If you take out a lease on a private rental, you’ll be handed a condition report with your tenancy agreement when you first move in. The condition report outlines any existing damage to the property so that the real estate agent or landlord effectively can’t blame you for it when you move out.
When you move in, make sure to check the condition report against the property. Take note of anything you don’t agree with and send it straight back to your landlord or property manager. It’s also worth taking photos of any damage, no matter how small, so that in the event of a dispute you have proof you’ve taken care of the space during your tenancy.
Make sure bills and rent are paid fairly and on time.
You and your housemates will need to decide on the best way to pay rent and household bills such as gas, electricity, and internet. If bills aren’t included in your rent, one tenant usually takes responsibility. But, sometimes, cracks can appear when bills and rent aren’t properly kept track of.
Like everything else, make sure communication about rent and bills is kept in writing. If a bill comes in, set up an email chain that clearly outlines what every housemate owes. Using a bank transfer instead of a cash payment also creates a paper trail of rent and bill payments.
It’s important that both bills and rent are paid on time. If bills don’t get paid, your provider can eventually disconnect your services. If you don’t pay your rent, your landlord or real estate agent may ultimately evict you if enough time goes by. Ensure that everyone pays their share on time and that the housemate responsible for paying the rent and bills does so efficiently.
If you’re having trouble meeting rent or bill payments, chat to your bill provider or landlord or real estate agent as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Privacy and safety
As a tenant, you have the right to privacy and a safe environment.
Your landlord needs to give you ample notice if they want to visit the property. The amount of notice they need to give varies depending on the state you live in, but in all cases, they can’t just turn up unannounced. You’re within your rights to refuse entry and request a date that works for you.
Contact your property manager or landlord as soon as there’s an issue in your home, such as a broken stove or blocked water pipe. Take photos and use email to communicate with your property manager or landlord so that you have written proof of the issue. Urgent repairs should be fixed as soon as possible, so don’t wait weeks to hear back from agents or landlords.