Rights and obligations of landlords and tenants
Renting a house or apartment by yourself or with other students is a popular choice for lots of international students. However, the shortage of rental properties across Australia means that the cost of accommodation is rising, and competition for places is getting tougher.
If you plan on renting, do your research and make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Gather information on the types of properties available, the costs and good locations from your institution, other students, real estate agents, university noticeboards, student and local newspapers and websites such as www.domain.com.au and www.realestate.com.au
You should also check out the Residential Tenancies Authority’s website in your state for information about your rights and obligations.
Residential Tenancies Authorities by State
If you are successful in applying to rent a property, you will need to sign a tenancy agreement. The terms of this agreement will vary from state to state, but you can generally expect to find clauses regarding the payment of rent and your bond, the condition of the property, maintenance and access, inspections, changes to the cost of renting the property, and ending a tenancy.
Inspecting a property
Once you see a property advertised as available for rent, you will need to find out the date and time it will be open for inspection. You can generally find this information in the advertisement for the property or on the website for the real estate agent handling the tenancy. Generally, you will not be permitted to rent a property that you have not inspected.
Turn up to the inspection looking neat and tidy, and don’t be afraid to speak to the real estate agent showing the property. If you have references from the owners of properties you have previously rented (at home or in Australia), bring a translated copy along with you. This will help prove to the real estate agent that you will be a good tenant. Be aware that if you decide to apply for the property, you will also need to show evidence of your ability to pay for the rent.
When you inspect the property, you should ask yourself if this is the right place for you. Is there enough space for your needs? Is it close to public transport? Is the amount of rent being asked for within your budget, and appropriate for the condition of the property? You should also look out for things that might need fixing – cracks in the walls, broken tiles and water damage are common problems that the owner of the property is responsible for fixing. If you see many faults with the property, you might want to reconsider applying for the property.
In Australia it is compulsory for all rental properties to have smoke alarms. It is the legal responsibility of owners and landlords to install working smoke alarms before you move in. If you live in a rooming house or a hostel there must be a smoke alarm in your room, if you live in a house or flat there must be a smoke alarm outside your bedroom.
Check if there are smoke alarms, make sure they are working correctly by pressing the test button. The alarm should ‘BEEP’ when the button is depressed indicating a correct test. If you cannot reach the smoke alarm easily, use a broom handle to press the test button. If there are no smoke alarms or they are not working the owner or landlord must repair or install new smoke alarms before you move in.
Your tenancy agreement
If you are successful in applying to rent a property, you will need to sign a tenancy agreement. The terms of this agreement will vary from state to state, but you can generally expect to find clauses regarding the payment of rent and your bond (security deposit), the condition of the property, maintenance and access, inspections, changes to the cost of renting the property, and ending a tenancy.
Bond: The bond is the money that you pay as a kind of security deposit. It is usually equal to between four and six weeks’ rent, and you will have to pay it to the real estate agent in cleared funds (ie – not by credit card or cheque) when you sign the tenancy agreement. You should get this money back at the end of your tenancy provided that the property is in the same condition as when you moved in (general wear and tear excepted). You cannot use your bond to pay for the last few weeks of your rent.
Rent: The rent is the amount of money you must pay each week or month, depending on your tenancy agreement. Rent must always be paid in advance. If you fall behind in your payments, you may be evicted and your bond might be given to the owner of the property to cover the money you owe them. Before you sign your tenancy agreement, discuss with your real estate agent how you will be required to make these payments. For example, you may have to pay in cash at the office of the real estate agent, or you may be able to set up automatic payment from your bank account.
Period of tenancy: You might be asked to sign one of two types of tenancy agreements – fixed-term or periodic. A fixed-term tenancy is for a definite period, usually six or 12 months. During this time, the amount of rent you pay cannot increase. A periodic tenancy has no definite end date. This usually means that tenants are on a month-to-month agreement and, in theory, their rent could increase several times in one year. There are good and bad sides to both types of agreement. For example, while a fixed term tenancy may offer you piece of mind that you’ll have somewhere to live for a period of time, you will be stuck there if you don’t like the place. And while a periodic tenancy might only last a few months before you are asked to leave, you will also have the freedom to move to a more suitable property if you find one.
Rent increases: If you are on a fixed-term tenancy, your rent cannot increase for the period of your contract. However, if you move to a periodic tenancy at the end of your contract, your real estate agent may provide you with notice of their intention to increase your rent. Each state has different laws surrounding this issue, so contact your Residential Tenancies Authority for more information.
Condition report: When the real estate agent hands you your copy of the tenancy agreement and the keys to your property, they should also give you a condition report. This report is a document of the condition of the property at the time you move in. It should list, for example, every crack, every dirty spot on the carpet, every bit of mildew in the bathroom, and the condition of every light, heater, kitchen appliance and bathroom fixture in the property. The report is an extremely important part of your tenancy. If you notice anything about the property that is not listed in the report, you must add it in. This will protect you when you move out. For example, if you notice a scratch on some floorboards that is not listed in the condition report, and you do not add it to the report yourself, you may be liable to fix the scratch when you move out as there is no proof that you were not responsible for it. It is also a good idea to take photos of the items you are adding to the report and forward them to your real estate agent. You will generally have about three days to return a copy of the complete condition report to your real estate agent, and keep a copy of it for yourself.
Inspections: It will be a condition of your tenancy that you will allow your real estate agent to inspect your property throughout your stay. The purpose of these inspections is so that the real estate agent can check that you are taking good care of the property and report back to the owner. You will be given at least two weeks’ notice before an inspection. If the real estate agent is not satisfied that the property is being kept clean and in good condition, they will generally make an appointment for another inspection soon afterwards. If the property is still not clean at the second inspection, you could find yourself being asked to leave the premises.
Maintenance: Property owners are required to maintain their properties in a condition that is appropriate to live in, and in a state of good repair. Their responsibilities vary from state to state, but generally they are responsible for fixing things like burst water pipes, roof leaks, electrical faults, and the breakdown of essential services. Your real estate agent will provide you with detailed information on what the property owner is responsible for, and how you can get things fixed, in your tenancy agreement.
Utilities: In most cases, you will be responsible for connecting gas, water, electricity, telephone and internet to the property. You will also be liable for the cost of connecting these services, and your usage of them.
End of tenancy: A tenancy can end in two ways – either you can end the tenancy, or the owner can end it. If you are on a fixed-term tenancy, you can decide to leave the premises at the end of the contract period. In this case, you must provide written notice of your intention to vacate at least four weeks before you leave. If the owner decides to end the tenancy, either because you are being evicted for breaching your contract or because they might be selling the property or moving back in themselves, they will have to provide you with a written notice to vacate about six weeks before you must leave. The length of notice you are given varies from state to state, so check your tenancy agreement carefully.
Disputes: It is important to try to maintain a good relationship with your real estate agent so that if problems arise you can communicate openly with them. Even if you don’t have a good relationship with your real estate agent, you should first try to address the problem with them in a polite manner. If the problem is not fixed, or you would like another opinion on the information they have given you, you can contact the Residential Tenancies Authority in your state. They will be able to provide you with information on the laws protecting tenants and property owners, and provide resolution services if they are needed.
Ending tenancy agreement
Conditions on ending your tenancy agreement may vary depending on which state or territory you are living in. You can visit the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website at www.accc.gov.au for more information on regulations in each jurisdiction.
Some points to remember:
- Generally, breaking a rental lease before the original lease term has expired can be undertaken if both parties (tenants and landlord) agree to the arrangement in writing;
- Your landlord would have produced a property condition report before you moved in. If damage has occurred to the property the cost will be taken out of your bond;
- Ensure to leave the property in a clean and tidy condition. Landlords may provide you with a list of end of lease requirements that will need to be undertaken before you receive your bond back;
- Hand back all keys;
- Ensure you have arranged to have mail forwarded to your new address. Visit your local Australia Post office to make these arrangements; and
If you are leaving the premises and others are staying on, ensure you arrange to have your name removed from the lease and any utility bills (after you have paid your remaining share).
Read more about rental accommodation in your study location.