Renting guide: What rights do tenants and landlords have?

As a tenant, you have the right to live in a safe, secure and quiet environment managed by the law.

You also have a responsibility to take good care of the property, pay the rent on time, and adhere to the terms of your tenancy agreement.

It’s the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the property in a safe and livable condition, and there are rules for how urgent and non-urgent repairs are carried out.

What happens if your rental property is sold?

A landlord can sell their property during a tenancy in most states and territories, even if the tenant has entered a fixed-term tenancy agreement. This does not necessarily mean the tenant needs to vacate the property early.

Each area has their own rules regarding the process around issues such as:

  • How much notice is required for tenants to vacate the property
  • How often inspections can be conducted with prospective buyers
  • Whether the tenants are allowed to terminate their tenancy early
  • If photography of the home can be taken
  • If a ‘for sale sign can be erected on the premises

Refer to your state or territory’s legislation for the same laws that apply.

As selling can be inconvenient for tenants, it may be possible for them to negotiate reduced rent during this period.

Which bills does the tenant pay, and which bills does the landlord pay?

The landlord is responsible for installing electricity, gas, and water services to the premises. Tenants will need to set up their utilities when they move in. The tenant is then usually responsible for paying for the utility bills while renting the property.

The exception to this is when the property does not have a separate meter to monitor usage. This is common in apartment buildings; for example, the building will only have one meter measuring the entire building’s water usage instead of individual meters for each apartment. In these instances, the landlord is responsible for the bill as the meter records the use of other people who aren’t part of the tenancy agreement.

If a tenant wishes to have a landline telephone and internet-connected, the ongoing costs and fees will be at the tenant’s expense. If no line has been previously installed for these services, the price of this can be negotiated between the landlord and the tenant. In most areas, television is not considered an essential service for rental properties. Tenants may ask the landlord to install a television line outlet, but the landlord does not have to agree.

Where bottled gas is provided, the landlord usually pays for the supply or hire of bottles, and the tenant pays for the gas. The landlord is also typically responsible for all rates, taxes, or charges levied by the government.

How to get your landlord to make repairs or improvements

How and when repairs are to be completed in a rental property are complicated issues, and the laws differ depending on the state or territory.

Repairs can generally be classified as urgent and non-urgent.

Urgent repairs refer to a breakdown of essential services within a rental property. In most areas, the landlord is usually obliged to fix urgent repairs within 24-48 hours (the time frame differs between states and territories), even on weekends.

What constitutes an urgent repair is listed on the relevant state government website and is usually listed on a tenancy agreement. These typically include:

  • Burst water service
  • Blocked or broken toilet system
  • Serious roof leak
  • Gas leak
  • Dangerous electrical fault
  • Flooding or severe flood damage
  • A powerful storm or fire damage
  • Failure or breakdown of any essential service or appliance provided by a landlord or agent for hot water, water, cooking, heating, or laundering
  • Failure or breakdown of the gas, electricity or water supply
  • Any fault or damage in the premises that makes the premises unsafe or insecure
  • An appliance, fitting or fixture that is not working correctly and is causing a substantial amount of water to be wasted
  • A serious fault in a lift or staircase

It is worth noting that while broken heating is considered an urgent repair, a broken air conditioner is not.

If you are a tenant requiring an urgent repair, your first course of action is to contact your property manager or landlord to notify them of the issue. If they can’t be reached, the next step is to inform the relevant emergency contact listed on your tenancy agreement. If no emergency contact list has been provided, most tenants can independently engage a tradesperson for urgent repairs up to a certain pre-approved amount.

Non-urgent repairs refer to a breakdown of non-essential services that were once working or were reasonably assumed to work upon moving into a rental property. An example of these include:

  • Broken dishwasher
  • Broken air conditioner
  • Broken oven or stovetop
  • Broken exhaust or bathroom fan
  • Collapsed fence

It’s important to note that landlords are only obliged to undertake repairs, not updates. Non-urgent maintenance, therefore, do not include changes a tenant simply desires, such as requesting new carpet or fresh paint, unless the tenant negotiated this before moving in.

Inform the landlord or property manager of any non-urgent repairs in writing or using an official form if your state has one. The landlord or property manager then has a specific time frame depending on the relevant legislation to complete the repairs or formally respond with an objection.

Tenants cannot withhold rent while waiting for repairs. If a landlord does not meet his or her obligations, you may be able to terminate the lease without penalty, depending on your state.

How long should you expect to wait for repairs?

The time frame within which landlords must complete repairs depends on the state or territory and whether the repair is urgent or non-urgent. The legislation is more specific in some states than others.

For urgent repairs, most states require property managers to respond immediately and attend to the problem within 24 hours. However, in the Northern Territory, the landlord has five business days after being notified to either make repairs to the property or arrange for repairs to be made within 14 days. If emergency repairs are required and the agent is uncontactable, guidelines govern when tenants can set their repairs.

For urgent repairs, the time frame for completion varies between states:

  • NSW: Within a reasonable time
  • VIC: 14 days
  • QLD: Within a good time
  • WA: Within a suitable time
  • SA: Dependent on urgency
  • TAS: 28 days
  • ACT: Four weeks
  • NT: Dependent on urgency

If a tenant is personally responsible for any damage to a property beyond reasonable wear and tear, they may be required to undertake repairs at their own expense. This includes accidental damage, such as a broken window or red wine spilled on the carpet and malicious damage.

Alternatively, if the tenant has renter’s insurance covering accidental damage, they can claim their provider.

If any damage is not resolved between the landlord and tenant, the landlord may escalate this to a tribunal.

At the end of a tenancy, a landlord may try to claim some or all of a tenant’s bond as compensation for any significant damage to the property.

Can you make your repairs to a rental?

In the case of urgent repairs only, most states and territories allow tenants to independently hire a tradesperson to undertake repairs if the tenant has not been able to make contact with the agent landlord and no emergency contact has been provided.

In Victoria, for example, renters are pre-approved to request urgent repairs worth up to $1800. In NSW, the maximum is $1000, and in the ACT, it’s equivalent to 5 per cent of the annual rent. Check your relevant legislation for the pre-approved urgent repair amount.

Before hiring a tradesperson, be sure to double-check that the issue is officially classified as an urgent repair. For example, a broken air conditioner is not an urgent repair. If the repair is not critical, the landlord is under no obligation to reimburse the tenant for works undertaken. Make sure all works are carried out by a licensed tradesperson and collect receipts.

Suppose the urgent repairs are likely to cost more than the pre-approved urgent repair amount, or the tenant cannot afford to pay for them. In that case, they can usually apply to their relevant state or territory’s tribunal for an urgent hearing order.

Each state and territory has a process tenants should follow when it comes to being reimbursed for urgent repairs, which usually occurs within 14 days. It’s important to use official forms to communicate with landlords and agents where possible as they are obliged to respond.

If a tenant personally damages a rental property and carries out repairs themselves, they risk potentially making the issue worse. It is advisable tenants contact their property manager or landlord and follow the official channels to rectify any damage caused to the property.

When are you entitled to a rent reduction?

Tenants are likely entitled to a rent reduction if the leasing property has unexpectedly or substantially decreased in quality. Reasons for this might include the commencement of nearby construction that the tenant was not aware of before moving in, broken appliances not repaired promptly, or a significant drop in the market rate.

Tenants can issue a request for a rent reduction in writing. The landlord can refuse this request or negotiate an alternative with the tenant. If an agreement cannot be reached, this may escalate to a tribunal level.

What parts of a property are you responsible for maintaining?

The part of the property a tenant is responsible for is usually outlined in their tenancy agreement. These responsibilities shouldn’t put the tenant in danger, require expertise in maintenance, or require specialist equipment.

Responsibilities the tenant usually has outside the home typically include mowing lawns, weeding and pruning. Cleaning gutters is a task that could put the tenant in danger and is therefore usually not included.

Inside the home, the tenant is responsible for maintaining the property to a reasonable standard, notifying the agent or landlord of issues, and undertaking tasks such as changing standard light bulbs, unless these are specialist fittings requiring expertise.

The tenant is usually responsible for connecting and paying for all utilities such as gas, electricity and water, provided there is a separate meter for each service.

What happens if you miss the rent?

A tenant who does not pay rent by the due date is considered in “rent arrears”. The consequences for this in Australia are dependent on the state or territory.

In Victoria, for example, if a tenant is not paying all or part of the rent as agreed in the lease, and this cannot be resolved through informal discussion, the landlord can apply to VCAT for an amount of compensation, including any unpaid rent. If VCAT makes a compensation order and the tenant does not comply with it, the landlord can ask them to leave the property within 14 days.

In NSW, if the tenant falls more than 14 days behind with the rent, a landlord can serve them with a written termination notice giving them 14 days to vacate the property.

Refer to your state’s legislation for the rights of tenants and landlords with regards to non-payment or late payment of rent.

Can the agent or landlord enter your home when you’re not there?

Tenants must allow landlords, real estate agents and tradespeople to enter a rental property and carry out certain inspections and repairs. Still, there are rules regarding when and how this can occur.

In most cases, the landlord can enter even if the resident is not at home, provided that an agreement has been reached or adequate written notice has been given.

The minimum notice periods and a maximum frequency of routine inspections differ in each state and territory:

  • NSW: At least seven days written notice. No more than four routine inspections a year. In most circumstances, entry to be between 8 am and 8 pm on any day except Sundays and public holidays.
  • VIC: At least 24 hours’ written notice. Entry to be between 8 am and 6 pm on any day except public holidays.
  • QLD: At least seven days’ notice unless otherwise agreed upon and not within three months of the previous entry. Entry to be between 8 am and 6 pm on any day except Sundays and public holidays.
  • A: At least seven days’ notice and a maximum of 14 days’ notice. No more than four routine inspections a year.
  • SA: At least seven days’ notice and a maximum of 14 days’ notice. Must occur within a specified two-hour timeframe between 8 am and 6 pm on any day except Sundays and public holidays.
  • TAS: At least 24 hours’ notice. No more than one routine inspection every three months. Entry to be between 8 am and 6 pm.
  • ACT: At least seven days’ notice. There are no more than two routine inspections a year, with an additional initial assessment within the first month of the beginning of a tenancy and a final examination in the last month of a residence before tenants vacate. Entry to be between 8 am and 6 pm on any day except Sundays and public holidays.
  • NT: At least seven days’ notice and at least three months after the last entry. Entry to be between 7 am and 9 pm.

These notice periods do not include other reasons for entry such as an emergency, repairs, maintenance, to show the property to prospective tenants or purchasers, collecting the rent if applicable, smoke alarm checks and property valuations.

Can your landlord raise the rent?

The frequency at which landlords can raise a tenant’s rent and the notice required depends on the state or territory.

Tenants are typically given a set amount of time to negotiate a rent increase or escalate this to a tribunal level for third-party assessment.

The following rules apply in each state and territory regarding how often a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent:

  • NSW: During a fixed-term agreement of fewer than two years, the rent cannot be increased unless a term has been added to the agreement. During a fixed-term agreement of two years or more, the rent can be increased at any time with 60 days’ notice but cannot be increased more than once in any 12 months. The rent can be raised at the end of a fixed-term agreement, but at least 60 days written notice is required.
  • VIC: The rent cannot be increased more than once in any six-month period and not before the end date of a fixed-term agreement unless the lease terms allow for this. New rules coming into effect in July 2020 will enable landlords to raise the rent only once in 12 months.
  • QLD: Rent cannot be increased during a fixed-term tenancy unless stated in the tenancy agreement. Outside of this, at least two months’ notice in writing is required, and it cannot be within six months since the tenancy started or since the last increase. The rent can be increased after a fixed-term agreement with no additional notice by entering into a new deal. However, it must be at least six months since the last rent increase.
  • SA: Rent cannot be increased during a fixed-term tenancy unless stated in the tenancy agreement. Outside of this, the rent can be increased 12 months from the date of the last rent increase or 12 months from the date the contract started, and 60 days’ written notice is required.
  • A: The rent cannot be increased during a fixed-term tenancy unless the tenancy agreement sets out either the amount of the increase or the method by which the increase will be calculated. Outside of this, at least 60 days written notice of a rent increase is required, and this cannot be within the first six months of a tenancy agreement or six months of the last rent increase.
    TAS: Rent can only be increased if a written lease allows for rent increases or if the lease is not in writing. If the lease is longer than 12 months, rent can be increased 12 months after starting the lease. If the lease is less than 12 months, rent can only be increased at least 12 months after the tenancy began, even after the lease is extended or renewed. Sixty days’ notice is required.
  • ACT: The rent may be increased 12 months from the beginning of the agreement for the first rent increase, or after that, from the date of the last expansion. Eight weeks written notice is required.
  • NT: A rent increase must not be earlier than six months after the day on which the tenancy agreement commenced or the last rent increase. Thirty days notice is required.

 

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