Most people think renting a property is straightforward. Find a place, apply, sign the paperwork, move in and pay rent. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated.
Tenants – and the landlords they rent from – have a raft of rights and responsibilities.
Dimi Ioannou, principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, says tenants need to be aware of the rules and what to do if things go pear-shaped.
Ioannou, who heads up Maurice Blackburn’s public and product liability team in Melbourne, takes a look at seven key areas and how they differ in different states and territories.
A bond is an upfront payment used by the landlord if the tenant fails to meet their obligations under the tenancy agreement, Ioannou explains. Generally, the maximum bond amount is equivalent to four weeks’ rent.
“In Victoria, if the weekly rent is more than $350, the bond can be whatever the landlord wishes. The same applies in Queensland if the weekly rent is more than $700,” she says.
Tenants must get a condition report when they move in and they should check it carefully, adding any damage not already noted.
“Keep your copy somewhere safe, as it’s important if there’s ever a dispute about the bond. It’s also a good idea to take photos of any existing damage when you move in,” Ioannou says.
Tenants can’t be evicted without notice, but notice periods vary across Australia.
Except in extreme cases, such as an emergency or to stop the destruction of property, the landlord or their agent can’t enter a premises without the tenant’s consent or providing written notice, Ioannou says.
How much notice must be given depends on the reason, she says.
“If they need to undertake urgent repairs, the notice period is likely to be shorter than if they wish to do routine maintenance work, like gardening.”
In every state and territory, tenants are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” of the property they rent.
“This means the landlord or agent can only enter the premises for limited reasons, such as a permitted inspection, to carry out or inspect repairs or if they reasonably suspect you are in breach of your tenancy agreement,” Ioannou says. Generally, advance written notice must be given.
Most states and territories prohibit rent rises during a fixed-term lease. “The exception is if the rental agreement has a clause that says rental increases are permitted,” Ioannou says.
In all states and territories, rental increases must be put in writing and notice be given.
“How often a landlord can increase the rent and how much notice they must give differs depending on where you live. All states and territories allow you to dispute an increase if you believe it’s too high,” she says.
The timeframe for repairs differs across the country, but the landlord must provide a premises in a “reasonable condition.”
“Tenants should notify immediately if something needs repairing,” Ioannou says.
Urgent things, like repairs to toilets, water, heating and cooking equipment should be done by the landlord or agent as soon as possible.
“More general repairs should be carried out by the landlord or agent within a reasonable period of time,” she says. “If you or a visitor damages something, it’s your responsibility to repair it at your own expense.”
Then there’s the common question of mould.
“If you find mould in your rental property, it’s important to have it removed promptly to prevent health issues and further damage,” Ioannou says.
But who pays the bill?
“Work with your landlord to determine how they will organise the mould’s removal and who will cover the costs. The party responsible for the mould — whether this is the landlord, for failing to address the property’s structural issues or defects, or the tenant, for failing to keep the premises clean or properly ventilated — is usually responsible for the costs,” she says.
It’s normally up to the tenant to pay for the connection of utilities, like telephone, electricity, gas – and then to pay for usage, Ioannou says.
In most states and territories, tenants can’t be charged for water use unless there is an individual meter for the property.
In some states, such as NSW and Queensland, water-saving devices must be fitted before water can be charged for.
In the ACT, a landlord can charge tenants for any utility, even when there’s no meter.
“However, you have a right to request evidence that the amount you are being charged is the same as the landlord is being charged. If you are renting in metropolitan Melbourne, you may also have to pay for sewerage disposal.”
“It’s always a good idea to try to first resolve a dispute yourself by contacting the agent or landlord. If you can’t resolve the dispute yourself, contact your local tenancy union or association for advice. Local consumer affairs organisations such as Consumer Affairs Victoria and NSW Fair Trading can also offer advice,” Ioannou says.
If the dispute can’t be resolved, tenants can apply to either the Magistrate’s Court in Tasmania and Western Australia or the Civil and Administrative Tribunal in all other states and territories to have the matter heard.