Like everything in life, tenancy comes with rights and responsibilities. According to the law, a tenant has the right to live in a safe and quiet environment. Tenants must take good care of the property, pay rent on time, and follow the terms of the tenancy agreement.
The landlord must maintain the property in a safe and good condition. There are laws about how urgent and non-urgent repairs are completed and how and when a landlord can enter the premises.
What happens if your rental property is sold?
Landlords have the right to sell their property while you are a tenant under the law of most states and territories, even if the tenant has signed a fixed-term tenancy agreement. However, you may not necessarily have to vacate the premises early. If the property sells to another investor, they will likely be happy to keep you as a tenant rather than have a vacancy.
Each state has different rules regarding the process of selling during a tenancy, including things like:
- The length of notice the tenant receives before they must vacate,
- How often can prospective buyers inspect the property,
- If tenants can terminate their tenancy early,
- If the landlord can take photos of the home (which may include the tenant’s personal possessions) for advertising, and
- If a For Sale sign can be placed on the property.
The appropriate Tenancy Act in your state or territory provides this information.
The selling process, including having prospective buyers inspect their homes, can be very inconvenient for tenants. Many negotiate reduced rent as compensation.
Which bills does the tenant pay & which bills does the landlord pay?
Landlords pay to install the property’s electricity, gas, and water services, but tenants can choose their provider. The tenant must pay utility bills to the provider while renting the property.
However, the landlord may be responsible for paying the bill if a property does not have separate meters to measure usage. In unit blocks or apartment buildings, there is usually only one meter measuring the water usage for the site. Individual tenants cannot be charged separately, so the landlord is responsible for the water bill. If there is more than one landlord in the building, the water bill will be paid within the strata fees the landlord pays.
If a landline telephone and internet line has been installed, the tenant can organise these services with a provider and will pay the ongoing costs of these services. However, if there is no current telephone line, the installation costs can be negotiated between the tenant and the landlord. As a tenant, you can request a television line outlet if there isn’t already one available, but the landlord may not agree.
If bottled gas is provided to service the property, the landlord pays for the supply or hire of the bottles, but the tenant is responsible for buying the gas.
All rates, taxes, and charges levied by a government (local, state, or federal) are payable by the landlord.
How to get your landlord to make improvements or repairs
The legislation surrounding the issues of how and when repairs are completed in rental properties is complicated and differs for each state and territory.
Repairs are classified as urgent (which need to be fixed in a quicker time frame) and non-urgent.
Urgent repairs are repairs required to fix a broken essential service. Generally, the landlord must fix urgent repairs within 24 to 48 hours (depending on the state), even on weekends.
You can find information on the relevant state government website regarding what is deemed as an urgent repair. The tenancy agreement should list urgent repairs, which usually include things like:
- Dangerous electrical faults,
- Blocked or broken toilet systems,
- Gas leaks,
- Burst water services,
- Serious roof leaks,
- Flooding or severe flood damage,
- Storm or fire damage,
- Failure or breakdown of the electric, gas, or water supply,
- Any fault or damage that makes the premises unsafe or insecure,
- Failure or corruption of any essential service or appliance for hot water, heating, water, cooking, or laundering,
- A device, fitting, or fixture that is not working correctly and is causing a substantial amount of water to be wasted, or
- A serious fault in a staircase or lift.
Although broken heating is an urgent repair, a broken air conditioner is not, even if it can be used as a heater.
If the rental property requires an urgent repair, you should immediately contact the landlord or the property manager, who should organise the repairs. However, if you cannot reach the landlord or property manager, look at the emergency contact list on the tenancy agreement. If you do not have an emergency contact list, you may be able to engage a tradesperson to fix the issue. There is a limit on the cost of repairs you can authorise.
Non-urgent repairs are those required to fix non-essential services that were working once. If a tenant reasonably assumed the appliance or service was working when moving into the property, it would be considered a non-urgent repair. Non-urgent repairs include:
- Broken dishwasher,
- Broken air conditioner,
- Broken oven or stovetop,
- Broken exhaust or bathroom fan, or a
- Collapsed fence.
Landlords are obliged to undertake repairs, but there is no requirement to update the premises with new carpets or paint. Unless the tenant negotiates these before moving in, the landlord does not have to provide renovations or updates just because a tenant desires it.
Use the official state form or provide notification on non-urgent repairs in writing to the landlord or property manager. There is a specific time frame for the landlord or property manager to complete the repairs. The time changes depending on the state or territory. The landlord or property manager can lodge a formal objection if the requested repairs fall under the category of an update.
You cannot legally withhold rent while waiting for repairs as a tenant. However, you may be able to terminate the lease if the landlord does not meet their obligations to provide repairs within a reasonable time.
How long should you expect to wait for repairs?
Each state and territory has different legislated time frames for urgent and non-urgent repairs. Some are more specific than others.
For every state, except the Northern Territory, property managers must respond immediately and fix the problem within 24 hours for urgent repairs. In the NT, the landlord has five business days after being notified to make repairs or to arrange for the repairs within 14 days.
If you, as the tenant, are personally responsible for damage to the property beyond reasonable wear and tear, you may have to pay for the repairs. This includes accidental damage, commonly things like a broken window or red wine spilled on a carpet. Tenants will need to pay for repairs required by malicious damage (where the tenant deliberately damages the property because they are upset at the landlord). If you have renter’s insurance that includes accidental damage, you may be able to claim from your insurance provider.
If the issue of damage cannot be resolved between landlord and tenant, the landlord can seek advice from the tenancy tribunal in the state.
At the end of the lease, you may not receive all your bond back if there is significant property damage.
Can you make repairs to your rental?
For urgent repairs only, tenants can independently hire a tradesperson to undertake repairs, but only if the landlord or agent is not contactable and no other emergency contact has been provided.
Victorian tenants are pre-approved to request urgent repairs up to the value of $1800. In the ACT, it is equivalent to 5 per cent of the annual rent, and in NSW, tenants can request urgent repairs costing a maximum of $1000. Check the state legislation for the pre-approved amount you can authorise as a tenant for urgent repairs.
Always check that the issue is officially classed as an urgent repair before you hire a tradesperson. Remember that a broken air conditioner is not an urgent repair. For non-urgent repairs, the landlord may not have to reimburse the tenant for the works. Ensure a licenced tradesperson carries out all jobs and collects the receipts to claim the money back.
What happens if the urgent repairs cost more than your state’s pre-approved amount? What happens if the tenant cannot afford to pay for the repairs in the first place, waiting for the reimbursement? The tenant can apply to the tenancy tribunal for an urgent hearing order to resolve these issues.
There is a process in each state or territory that tenants follow in order to get reimbursed for urgent repairs. Where possible, use the official forms when communicating with landlords and agents so that they must respond officially. You will usually be reimbursed for the urgent repairs within 14 days.
If you have personally damaged the property as a tenant and completed a do-it-yourself repair, you could worsen the issue, costing even more for proper maintenance. You should always contact the landlord or property manager about any damage and follow the official channels, even if you have to pay for the repairs yourself.
When are you entitled to a rent reduction?
As a tenant, you may be entitled to a reduction in rent if the property has unexpectedly or substantially decreased in quality. Broken appliances that are not repaired promptly, or a nearby construction that the tenant was unaware of before signing the lease, may be reasons for a rent reduction. If there is a drop in the market rate of similar tenancies in the area, tenants can also apply for a rent reduction.
Request a rent reduction in writing, giving the reasons you want it. The landlord can refuse the request. They can negotiate an alternative with the tenant. If you cannot agree with the landlord, you can escalate the appeal to the tribunal.
What parts of a property are you responsible for maintaining?
Your tenancy agreement will outline what part of the property you are responsible for maintaining. Tenants should not be in danger and require expertise in maintenance or specialist equipment to maintain the property.
Tenants are usually responsible for outside tasks like mowing lawns, weeding, and pruning. The tenant usually has responsibilities outside the home, including mowing lawns, weeding, and pruning. However, cleaning gutters is a job that could put the tenant in danger, so it is not included.
Inside the home, the tenant must maintain the property reasonably. Tenants must notify the agent or landlord of issues that arise. Tenants will be expected to undertake tasks such as changing standard light bulbs unless the light fittings require specialist expertise.
Tenants are generally responsible for connecting and paying the utilities, including gas, electricity, and water. There must be a separate meter for each residence for each service.
What happens if you miss the rent?
If you do not pay the rent by the due date, you will be in “rent arrears”. Legislation changes in each state or territory about what this means and the consequences of missing rent payments in that region.
In Victoria, if a tenant does not pay all or part of the rent agreed in the lease, and cannot be resolved through discussion, the landlord can apply to VCAT for compensation. If VCAT makes a compensation order and you do not comply with it, the landlord can evict you from the property within 14 days.
In NSW, a landlord can serve a written termination notice to a tenant with 14 days to vacate the property if the tenant falls more than 14 days behind with the rent.
Check the relevant legislation in your state for the rights of landlords and tenants regarding late or non-payment of rent.
Can the agent or landlord enter your home when you’re not there?
Landlords, real estate agents, and tradespeople may be required to enter a rental property to carry out inspections and repairs. Tenants are responsible for allowing this access, but there are rules regarding when and how landlords, agents, or tradespeople access a rental property. A landlord cannot just walk in at any time without providing proper notice.
The landlord can enter even if the tenant is not at home if an agreement has been made or adequate written notice is given to the tenant.
Each state and territory has different legislation about how much notice is required and how many inspections can be done.
Beyond the routine inspections these notice periods refer to, there can be other reasons landlords or tradespeople will need to enter the property, such as emergency, repairs, maintenance, checking smoke alarms, or for property valuations or to show the property to prospective tenants or buyers.
Can your landlord raise the rent?
Tenants have a time limit to negotiate the increase or escalate the concern to the tribunal for third-party assessment. It differs per state, so check the relevant legislation.