Renting guide: What you need to know about living in a share house

Living in a share house can significantly reduce the amount of rent you pay each week compared to living on your own.

It also allows housemates to split bills and share resources such as furniture and appliances, further cutting the cost of living.

Lower rent and living expenses can allow you to live in an area you could not afford otherwise. It also keeps more money in your pocket so you can grow your savings.

Living in a share house can help you meet new people, especially when moving to a new city or suburb.

One of the downsides of living in a share house is less privacy and the potential for conflict with other housemates.

How to find a housemate

There are several online platforms on which users can advertise share house accommodation and seek housemates. Many large cities will also have numerous Facebook groups set up for this purpose.

Always interview potential housemates and inspect the property before moving in. If you are a new housemate moving into an existing home, ask about the other housemates’ lifestyles, how rent and bills are split, whether you’ll be included on the tenancy agreement and whether a bond is required.

If you are an existing tenant accepting a new housemate into your rental property, ensure they have fulfilled their obligations regarding rent and bond before moving in.

How to apply for a share house

Applying for an advertised, vacant property as a group is generally the same as it is for individuals.

If you are a new housemate entering an existing share house, you may not be subject to the same application process. This depends on whether the current tenants, the agent or the landlord require the new tenant to be listed on the tenancy agreement.

It’s common for people looking to move into an existing house to introduce themselves online before being interviewed by the current tenants. See these tips for writing a successful online housemate ad and introduction.

When meeting in person, applicants can also discuss whether they will be listed on a rental property’s tenancy agreement and what documentation is required from the real estate agent or landlord.

How to deal with conflict in a share house

It’s common for some conflict to arise when living with multiple people, but that doesn’t mean this can’t be a fulfilling and enjoyable experience overall.

Establishing expectations and around bills, collecting rent, cleaning, noise and guests can go a long way towards living drama-free.

Some households establish a cleaning schedule, so housemates know their responsibilities when it comes to chores, and split who pays which bills so the burden doesn’t always fall on the same person.

If conflict with a housemate escalates or becomes unbearable, It’s important to know your legal rights for removing a housemate.

How to split bills in a share house

Part of being a respectful housemate includes fairly splitting bills.

Suppose one housemate is responsible for rent because it’s debited from their account. In that case, the remaining housemates might set a reminder or automatic transfer to pay their share of the money by the due date. This simple act could save tension and potential conflicts down the track.

When it comes to bills, some share houses set up each of the utilities under a different housemate, so the responsibility of collecting money for bills is shared.

Several apps have also recently entered the market to enable splitting bills between housemates easier and faster.

How to find the perfect sharehouse

Interviewing people and being interviewed can be a wholly painful experience, but these tips take you that tiny bit closer to getting a good match.

The rocketing cost of rent means that one-bedroom apartments simply aren’t an option for a large chunk of the population. Economics forces us to co-mingle with strangers, succumbing to that well-documented dream-slash-nightmare that is the multi-person sharehouse. Sitcoms such as New Girl, Friends and Frasier present the best-case scenario – flatmates turned besties – but how realistic is that? Indeed throwing together many eclectic individuals is more likely to end up in a He Died with a Felafel in His Hand-like situation? Interviewing people and being interviewed can be a wholly painful experience, but these tips take you that tiny bit closer to getting a good match.

Get online

There are some great tools out there to find the perfect living sitch. For one, the Domain Real Estate & Property app has a wealth of rentals at the touch of your fingertips –natch. Gumtree ads can feel a bit err, unsavoury at times, so we prefer Flatmate Finders and Flatmates. They let you narrow down your search based on neighbourhoods, price and amenities, and then you get regular updates and matches, somewhat like a dating website. We also recommend checking out sharehouse Facebook groups specific to the area you’re looking at. They tend to lead you to like-minded people, and cyber-stalking is made all the easier because of the format. 

Know your budget and your preferred postcode

Room inspections can be a big, time-consuming stress ball. You’re wading through ads, responding to and answering emails, scheduling more accessible. Inspections and doing the hard sell on your personality to a bunch of unfamiliar faces. At times, you may want to throw in the towel and haul that sorry arse of yours back to your parents. Stick with it, kid! Deciding on the area you want to live in makes things easier for you as you can organise the viewings around a few postcodes – instead of schlepping around by bus or car. And don’t bother with places you know you can’t afford. Having a peek will just make it hurt more. By concentrating your search, you’ll learn what to expect from an area – and recognise a bargain when you see one.

Treat it like a job hunt

Finding a great place to visit is only half of the battle — writing a good room-to-rent response is when the real work starts. There’s nothing more off-putting to your potential new flatmates than a generic cover letter. Approach the sharehouse quest as you would the job hunt and tailor your response to each ad. Trust us, these guys will be able to smell a copy-paste from a mile away. Avoid ​cliche descriptors that instantly make you invisible such as “fun-loving”, “considerate”, and “down-to-earth”, or simply follow these eight handy tips.

Appearances do matter

Sure, ”Tidy professional with an incredible streak” can be a hard look to nail, but at least iron your shirt and maybe leave the mustard-stained tracksuit pants and guitar-pick necklaces at home, as they’ll make you look like the sort of person who has a stack of pizza boxes as their bedside table. My new housemate scored five of the seven houseshares that he went for – an impressive track record – before he decided to accept ours. The two he missed out on? He forgot to wear his glasses. (He happens to wear a pair of architect specs that make him look a bit like Clark Kent. Presumably, keeping those clear frames clean requires the sort of anal retentiveness that’d go down well in a flatshare of four.) Case in point? Appearances do matter.

Be discerning

Explore the area and familiarise yourself with the neighbourhood before you meet up with your new would-be roomies. Do the community and its amenities match up with what you’re looking for? Be equally discerning with the people you’re potentially going to live with. Don’t go for them because they’re exceedingly attractive or seem like cool party people (though, that can help). Assess the fundamentals: Does their definition of clean match up with yours? Do your sleeping schedules overlap? Things like their feelings towards climate control and whether they’re prone to buying that cheap one-ply toilet paper is accurate tests of houseshare compatibility. And don’t forget to listen to your gut.

Don’t get too dejected.

Sharehouse hunting can be incredibly harsh – it’s like a job interview meets the first date, except grounds for rejection are based purely on your personality. Ouch. If that one wasn’t The One, don’t give up. Eventually, you’ll knock on the door and find a house filled with kind, funny, like-minded people – and potential friends – you’ll want to cook for, drink with, and maybe even share your Netflix account with. 

A psychologist’s guide to choosing a great flatmate

If you have ever had a lousy flatmate experience, put up your hand. Mine is raised high in the air – just that old chestnut, you know, of being stalked in my own home. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t funny.

To help you avoid this fate and protect yourself legally, we spoke to a principal psychologist at the Counselling and Wellbeing Centre QLD, Christine Bagley-Jones, and Policy and Liaison Officer with the Tenants Union Victoria, James Bennett.

“We live together with family, and that’s hard enough — we expect to live with strangers without problems. You’ve got to assume there’s going to be glitches that need ironing out,” says Bagley-Jones, who has more than 20 years of counselling and conflict resolution experience. 

Know what are you looking for and spell it out

Bagley-Jones suggests the flatmate culling process start with a well-written advertisement.

“Stipulate what you are looking for but not in the specific words people no longer listen to or hear all the time. You need to talk about the ethics, value systems or norms the household takes for granted – and be explicit,” says Bagley-Jones.

“Like, ‘we are a household that’s very much about the environment and recycling’, or a household that is very committed to respecting one another’s privacy’ – perhaps it is a very social household or a student house where people respect making noise.”

Someone who loves long showers will most likely bypass the environmentally inclined home or a quiet person in the social household; if there is honesty and clarity in the ad, you are more likely to attract like-minded flatmates.

Renting guide: What you can and can’t change in a rental property

As a general rule, tenants should leave a rental property as they found it, except for general wear and tear.

Tenants, therefore, must get permission from their landlord or real estate agent before making any changes to a rental property, even if they think they would add value to the home.

This includes painting surfaces, installing cable television connections, installing air conditioning and fixing hooks to the walls.

Any agreed-upon changes are generally made at the expense of the tenant unless the landlord offers to pay. For example, a landlord may offer to cover the cost of some materials or reduce the rent if they deem the update will add value to the home.

The only exception to this rule is part of the recently passed reforms that will affect Victoria in July 2020. These new laws will allow renters to make certain modifications without first obtaining the residential rental provider’s consent, such as installing picture hooks and furniture anchors. Renters, however, will still be responsible for restoring any changes made upon a lease end, and the law doesn’t allow them to permanently damage or change the structure of the property, its fixtures or its surfaces.

How to decorate a rental property

There are numerous ways to decorate a rental property that doesn’t require a landlord’s permission. They include styling with indoor plants, lamps, rugs, bedding, soft furnishings, storage baskets, photographs, artwork, ceramics, books and candles.

Vintage bazaars, online furniture marketplaces, op-shops, eBay, and Gumtree, are great places to find quality secondhand furniture pieces at affordable prices.

Can you hang pictures on the wall in a rental property?

Renters must get permission from their landlord or real estate agent before installing any hooks to hang pictures. Most landlords will consider picture hooks a “minor alteration”, and approval is usually granted.

Many tenancy agreements state that tenants cannot hang pictures via alternative methods such as Blu Tack, washi tape and adhesive hooks. However, it is unlikely action will be taken against a renter who has hung hooks in a rental property without permission if no damage has been made to the property as a result. The renter returns the property to its original state upon moving out.

Recently passed reforms in Victoria will allow renters to make certain modifications without first obtaining the residential rental provider’s consent, including installing picture hooks.

How to have a garden in a rental property

If a rental property has a garden when the tenants move in, they are generally responsible for maintaining the same standard. This usually includes tasks such as mowing and edging lawns, weeding and pruning.

If a tenant wishes to start a garden from scratch, they must first get permission from their landlord or real estate agent. This certainly applies to renters looking to install garden beds or landscaping materials that permanently alter a lawn or outdoor area.

If a landlord refuses a tenant’s request to start a garden, growing produce or plants in pots or planter boxes are viable alternatives. Tenants also have the benefit of being able to take these with them after the lease.

Even if a garden planted by a tenant is considered to add value to a home, landlords are within their rights to ask the park be returned to its original state when a lease ends.

Can you have pets on a rental property?

Whether or not a renter can have a pet is at the landlord’s discretion and whether their tenancy agreement allows it. Some rental properties will be explicitly advertised as pet-friendly or vice versa.

If a rental property is governed by an owner’s corporation, such as an apartment in an apartment building, tenants may also be subject to strata bylaws. These may sometimes include blanket “no pets” rules for the entire building; however, the law is not enforceable. Theserecyclingave has been declared invalid by tribunals in Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

In Victoria, it will soon become harder for landlords to refuse tenants with pets. Under recently passed laws, landlords will be able to say no to pets only by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) order. The tribunal may consider the type of pet the renter has, the nature of the rented premises, and other prescribed matters, such as whether the landlord has allergies.

What happens if you get locked out of your rental property?

The legislation around changing the locks on a rental property differs from state to state.

Generally speaking, if a tenant does lock themselves out of their rental property, they should first contact their property manager to see if they have a spare key.

If the agency does not hold a spare key, or the tenant has locked themselves out after business hours, the tenant will need to contact a locksmith to gain entry at their own expense.

If a tenant changes the locks during a tenancy, they must supply their property manager or landlord with a new set of keys. They are also usually required to get the landlord’s consent to change locks, which cannot be unreasonably withheld. Some states also have rules requiring landlords to get permission from tenants before changing the locks on a rental property.

There are other provisions to allow victims of family violence to change the locks in a rental property.

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