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Renting disputes and how to deal with them

By George Hadgelias

As a tenant, it is important you understand your rights and responsibilities to avoid or resolve accommodation problems with no fuss.

If an issue arises with your housemates or landlord, the first step is always to speak with them to see if the problem can be resolved quickly.

However, some rental disputes cannot be fixed with a conversation and require action and in these cases tenants may need outside help from the tenant union or another independent rental dispute body.

When it comes to rental properties every situation is unique, but there are a few common areas where issues are most likely to arise, including rent, repairs, maintenance, privacy, and sub-letting.

1. Keep proof of your rental payments

Every tenant is entitled to a receipt upon payment of rent, so make sure you always request one to keep as proof.

Don’t throw them out as they are your record of payment and could be needed should a dispute arise regarding overdue rent.

Disputes also can occur when rent increases.

In most states of Australia, landlords and agents must notify their tenants of pending rent rises. However, the length of the warning period, regularity of rental hikes, and the jump in cost will differ depending on the state rules.

If you believe your rent is too high, talk to your property manager first.

If you are still not satisfied, contact a representative from your state department of consumer affairs or housing and seek their advice.

As a tenant, you do not have the right to stop paying rent if the landlord won’t do repairs on your residence.

However, if the premises is unfit for living in, it may be possible for you to end your tenancy early without penalty.

2. Ensure the house remains in good condition

When it comes to maintaining a rental property, there are specific responsibilities for both the tenant and the landlord (or the property manager who works on their behalf).

The tenant is obliged to:

  • Keep the premises reasonably clean.
  • Be careful not to cause damage to the premises.
  • Inform the landlord/agent as soon as possible if any damage is done. It is a good idea for the tenant to write to the landlord/agent with this news, while keeping a copy of the letter.
  • Get the landlord/agent’s permission to install fixtures or make additions, alterations or renovations to the premises. It is best to obtain this permission in writing.
  • Avoid causing a nuisance, and ensure visitors also don’t cause a nuisance.
  • Ensure that the premises are not used for any illegal purpose.

The landlord has to:

  • Keep the premises in good repair.
  • Ensure all the doors to the outside have locks and that all windows can be secured.
  • Give the tenant a key immediately after changing any lock.
  • Avoid disturbing the tenant unnecessarily.

Landlords are generally responsible for repairs, unless the tenant is the one who has caused the damage.

If the tenant has broken something on the premises, they will be required to foot the bill.

If you believe repairs are needed, contact your landlord or agent and arrange a time for the work to be conducted.

You should never pay for or do non-urgent repairs yourself.

If the requested repairs are not completed within a reasonable period of time, contact a representative from your state department of consumer affairs or housing and seek their advice.

A refusal by the landlord to maintain the premises constitutes a breach of contract in most states.

If your landlord does break the agreement in this way, you may have the right to end your lease and move out.

If urgent repairs are required to your rental premises, you should try to arrange for the landlord to fix the problem.

However, in some cases the landlord cannot be contacted in time and you may need to go ahead and organise the repairs yourself.

Each state has their own laws regarding specific conditions that qualify as requiring ‘urgent’ repairs, however common examples include:

  • A blocked or broken toilet system.
  • A Serious roof leak.
  • Burst water service.
  • Gas leak.
  • Dangerous electrical or structural faults.
  • Serious storm, fire or flood damage.
  • Any fault or damage that renders the premises unsafe or insecure.

Tenants are usually entitled to be reimbursed for repair costs as long as the initial problem was considered necessary to fix and the repairs are below the cost threshold. It’s therefore important that you check to ensure the cost of any urgent repairs you arrange will not exceed this value.

Once the repairs are complete, the bill can either be sent directly to your property manager or paid by yourself.

If you pay, make sure to obtain a receipt as proof, so you can be reimbursed later with little fuss.

3. Understand your right to privacy

As a tenant, you are entitled to live in privacy.

This means during your stay at the rental property you should not experience interruption or interference by the landlord or anyone acting on their behalf.

To ensure this occurs, the law in most states requires property managers to obtain agreement from the tenants prior to visiting the property.

However, specifications outlining when, how often, and with what notice a tenant may be given before the property manager enters the premises will again change on a state-by-state basis

Legitimate reasons for the landlord or agent to enter the premises include:

  • General inspections. There is a limit to how frequently property inspections can be performed so check with your state department of consumer affairs or housing.
  • Performance of duties defined in the lease (for example, maintenance).
  • Valuation of the property.
  • To show prospective buyers or lenders through the property.
  • To show prospective tenants through the property if the current tenant has been given written notice to move out.

4. Learn what it means to sub-let

Sub-letting occurs when the premises houses a ‘head-tenant’, whose name is on the lease, and one or more “sub-tenants”, who are not on the lease.

The head-tenant holds all responsibility for the premises, while sub-tenants are not entitled by law to the rights and protections that may be provided under the lease agreement.

A tenant planning to sub-let must get permission before bringing in other people.

If the landlord agrees, the tenants named on the lease will be responsible for the behaviour of the sub-tenants.

If a sub-letter damages the residence and will not pay for repairs, the head tenants are likely to be left with the costs.

If you have any concerns about sub-letting, request that all tenants sign their name on the lease.

Click here for more information.

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