Found the perfect place? Wanting to sign a lease and seal the deal? 

Before you rent, make sure you take note of these things!

What can we do for you?

We can give you advice on any tenancy or housing situation. If you are experiencing problems we can communicate with your landlord or real estate agent, explain the law to them and if necessary contact the Office of Fair Trading or take action in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).


Am I a tenant?

You'll be a tenant if you rent residential premises (a house or apartment) either exclusively or together with others (called 'co-tenants'). In shared accommodation, you are a tenant if you rent a space (a room) and you have exclusive control over it. This includes situations where you are renting directly from an owner-occupier, or from a person (called a 'head-tenant') who is renting the whole premises and subletting a room to you (making you a 'sub-tenant'). 

When you are a tenant, nobody can enter the area you rent without your permission. You can also access all the other common areas of the property (kitchen/laundry etc). Your rights are found in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW).

If you do not have exclusive control and possession of the space you are renting then you might be considered a boarder or a lodger and the following information isn't applicable. Students living in UNSW Colleges and other UNSW-owned accommodation are generally not considered tenants.

For more information to decide, have a look at this fact sheet.

This information does not apply to students living in homestay accommodation either.

Having trouble paying your rent? Singles with no children can receive up to $137.20 in Rent Assistance through Centrelink.


Ten basic rules of renting

1. Make sure that you are listed as a tenant in a written lease agreement

This is a standard document that states the terms of your rental, including the term length, the rent and other pieces of information that protect your rights. Print out a copy of the Standard Form tenancy agreement here

Note: A landlord can't include special terms which are inconsistent with the law.

Without this basic protection, it may be hard to enforce your rights especially if you live in a share house. If your landlord refuses to put your agreement in writing, you can apply to the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal for an order. Some things can only be charged to you if mutually agreed upon like water. With water you also can't be charged unless water saving devices are installed and the property is separately metered.

2. Record your Condition Report

This is a document that is signed by you and your landlord which states the condition of the place when you arrived and details any flaws or damage in the property, protecting you from losing your bond for damage that is not your fault. Fill this form in at the START of your tenancy.

3. Know about rental bond

Bond is money held as security for damage to property, unpaid rent and other costs. Your landlord is only allowed to request 4 weeks' rent as bond (regardless of whether the property is furnished or not), and that money must be lodged with the NSW Rental Bond Board, within the Office of Fair Trading. Landlords cannot keep rental bond during a tenancy. Agents and landlords need to register with Rental Bonds Online, a service which allows tenants to pay bond directly to Fair Trading, and you must be offered this service as the first option for lodgement of bond. Fair Trading provides this fact sheet with information about this service. 

You also have the option signing and submitting a paper Bond Lodgement Form which your agent or landlord should provide. When your bond is lodged you will be given an official bond lodgement receipt from Fair Trading (check your postbox and email). 

It's extremely important your bond is lodged. It means when you end the tenancy, the landlord can't simply hold onto your bond money if they believe they have a claim on it, or use your money to go off on a shopping spree. Landlords can be fined up to $2200 for failing to lodge rental bond. Check out this fact sheet for more info about rental bonds. 

4. If it's broke, who should fix it?

A landlord has to provide and maintain a property 'in a reasonable state of repair', having regard for the age, rent paid and prospective life of the property. If repairs are necessary, you should expect them to be done with reasonable promptness and paid for by the landlord (unless of course, you caused the damage). If there is damage that makes the property unsafe or insecure (like a serious roof leak or broken window), this will be considered an urgent repair and should be fixed straight away.

Who's responsible?

TenantLandlord

Phone Line

Plumbing

Internet

Electricity

Lights

Locks

Lawns and gardens

Storm or fire damage

General maintenance

Urgent repairs

5. When visitors come knocking

Your landlord can't do anything to interfere with your peace, comfort and privacy. Unless you have given permission, they can't come over whenever they want even to collect the rent (except in emergencies or to carry out urgent repairs). You should get 7 days written notice for inspections (only allowed 4 times per year) and at least 2 days' notice for non-urgent repairs as needed. Landlords also can't visit before 8am or after 8pm or on a Sunday or public holiday.

6. Record receipts

As a tenant it is your right, by law, to be given receipts of rent payments you make. Keep them, as they are the only thing between you and your landlord trying to assert that you're four weeks behind on the rent and hit you up for $800 in arrears. Your receipt should contain details like, what the money was for, how much, what date it was paid, who to, who by and the address of the property.

7. Set those records 'n' rules straight

In a share house, set some rules and keep records. Most share housing disputes are related to unpaid bills, damage to the property or conflict between housemates. If you keep good records of when bills are due and when they get paid and if everyone agrees to some basic house rules, you can avoid a lot of problems. Use a website such as Splitwise or Simple Bills to track expenses among housemates.  

Remember that the Civil & Administrative Tribunal will not mediate disputes between co-tenants.

8. Put every piece of communication with your landlord or agent in writing

If you phone to ask for repairs or report something, always confirm any request via a dated letter or email and follow it up if necessary, as if you ever need to go to the Tribunal your case will be much stronger if you have records. 

9. Two wrongs …

Never go on a rent strike to get back at your landlord - you do not have the right to simply stop paying rent if you believe the landlord isn't providing what they should. If you do stop paying rent, your landlord can terminate your agreement after 14 days and start eviction proceedings. There are other (legal) ways you can deal with a difficult landlord, including having a rent reduction ordered by the Tribunal, or having all your rent paid to the Tribunal until problems are fixed.

10. Overcrowding

Be careful if you are asked to share a bedroom, if there are beds in common areas, or fake walls dividing living areas. The general rule is that single people over the age of 18 should each have their own separate bedroom, so five people in a two bedroom apartment is three people too many. Lack of space is not the only problem; there are health and fire safety concerns, and the added bonus of being evicted on short notice due to Council enforcing building and safety codes.


Getting Started

The residential tenancy agreement

This is basically the 'contract' between you and your landlord. Your landlord is obligated to give you a written tenancy agreement so you should insist on it. However if they haven't given you a written copy you still have rights! Your oral agreement can still be enforced.

The agreement means you have both decided on

  • The date from which the agreement has been reached and will commence ("We entered into agreement today the 8th May 2013, for the agreement to take effect when I move into the property on 10th May 2013")
  • Who is involved in the agreement ("This is an agreement between the John Doe ("the landlord") and Mary Jane ("the tenant")" ) [See 'Who is on the lease' below]
  • The address of the property concerned ("This agreement is in relation to the landlord's property 72 Bihuabara Street, Randwick")
  • The duration of the tenancy. It can either a fixed term tenancy (eg. 6 months etc) or a periodic tenancy (no fixed term is specified)
  • The cost ("Mary Jane ('the tenant') will pay John Doe ('the landlord') $210 a week.")

The easiest and safest way to makes sure you have covered all your bases is to use the Standard Form tenancy agreement that is provided by the government. You can download and print a copy from here.

Additional terms- what other terms can the lease have?

A landlord can add additional terms into a lease as long as they are not inconsistent with the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW). This means that the following terms are all illegal:

  • Tenants must steam clean or professionally clean carpets (exception: this can be a term if you are allowed to keep a pet)
  • Tenants can be evicted at short notice
  • Tenants are responsible for water charges (unless the property is separately metered)

If you go through a rental agency, most leases will be quite standard. Although any special terms must be brought to your attention by the agent/landlord, you should still be proactive in reading the lease.

Seek advice if you notice a term which seems unusual or unfair!

Who is on the lease?

If you are moving into a place with some friends and all your names are on the lease, then you are 'co-tenants'. This means you share rights and obligations with your friends ('co-tenants').

If you decided to take out the lease in your name only and then later find other people to move into the spare rooms then you are the 'head- tenant' and anyone who moves in is your 'sub-tenant'. You need to make a separate agreement with your sub-tenant(s) because you are essentially a landlord to them and you have rights and obligations towards one another. The best agreement to use is the Share Housing Agreement prepared by the NSW Tenants Union. 

What do I have to pay at the start?

A landlord or an agent can only ask you to pay:

  • A holding fee (maximum 1 week rent can be requested if your tenancy application has been approved. Paying it means the landlord/agent can't give the property to another tenant for 7 days or potentially more. Once you sign the agreement, the fee goes into your rent. If you decide not to take the property, the landlord/agent can keep the fee)
  • Rent in advance (The landlord/agent can't request more than 2 weeks rent but you can pay more if you wish)
  • A bond (this is what you pay to the landlord/agent as security in case you break the terms of the tenancy agreement. It can't be more than 4 weeks rent. The landlord/agent is legally obligated to deposit the bond with NSW Fair Trading and you should receive a deposit notice and rental bond number once this is done). 

Make sure you get a detailed receipt for any payments you make, especially if you aren't paying by bank transfer!

For more information on the payment of bond, have a look here.

Condition report:

A condition report describes the condition of the premises and needs to be filled out by both you and your landlord/agent at the start of the tenancy. Your landlord/agent must give you 2 copies of the condition report when you move in- one to keep and one to return to them.

It is really important to have a condition report completed at the beginning of the tenancy because otherwise when you wish to leave, the landlord/agent might claim you are liable for damage to the property that was already there.

If the landlord/agent does not give you a condition report, request one or write a detailed report on the condition of the premises yourself and get a witness to sign and date it.

Your landlord is legally obligated to ensure there are working smoke alarms so if these are not present, make sure you inform them and insist they are installed. Don't occupy premises until smoke alarms are installed. 

Take date-stamped photos of the property when you first move in just to be sure! You can also find standard condition reports to print out and fill in here.

For more information take a look here!


Repairs and Maintenance

Something broken? If it's urgent (like a burst water service, a blocked or broken toilet, a serious roof leak or a dangerous electrical fault etc) you need to let your landlord/agent know (preferably also in writing) about it ASAP.

If the landlord/agent cannot be contacted or is unwilling to do the urgent repairs, you can arrange for them to be done by either a repair person named in your tenancy agreement (if possible) or by a licensed tradesperson. Then you must give your landlord/agent notice about what was done, the cost (with receipts) and they have 14 days to pay you any reasonable costs back (up to $1000). If they still don't pay, you have 3 months to apply to NCAT for an order to be reimbursed from your landlord/agent.

If you don't have the cash for urgent repairs, apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an urgent hearing to get the repairs done.

For other less urgent things, notify your landlord/agent and set a deadline. Don't do repairs yourself unless your agent/landlord gives you permission in advance.

For more information about repairs, come in to see us or have a look at this website.

Although you should never stop paying rent to 'get back' at your landlord, you can apply for a rent reduction until the repairs are done!

Inspections

Here is a very helpful table from Tenants NSW about why and how often your landlord can inspect the property:

PurposeMaximum FrequencyMinimum Notice

To inspect the premises

4 times in any 12-month period

7 days written notice each time

To carry out or assess the need for:

  • Necessary repairs/maintenance (non-urgent)
  • Work to meet legal health/safety obligations

(none - as required)

2 days each time

To value the premises

1 time in any 12-month period

7 days each time

To show the premises to prospective tenants

A 'reasonable' number of times in the 14 days before the tenancy agreement ends

'Reasonable' notice each time

To show the premises to prospective buyers

2 times in any period of a week

- Before first showing: 14 days written notice of intention to sell, then

- Before each showing: as agreed, otherwise 48 hours each time

Your landlord can also enter the property without notice under the following circumstances:

  1. In an emergency, 
  2. To do urgent repairs, 
  3. If the landlord believes that the property has been abandoned, 
  4. If there is an order from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, 
  5. If after first attempting to get your consent, they still have serious concerns about the health/safety of a person on the premises

For more information see this factsheet.


Increases in rent

Your landlord may be able to increase your rent but will need to give you at least 60 days notice in writing indicating how much the rent will be increased by and when the increased rent commences.

The nature of your rental agreement will determine if and how often rental increases can occur:

Agreement TypePermitted Frequency

Fixed-term of more than 2 years

Once in any 12-month period

Fixed-term of 2 years or less

Only if your agreement sets out the amount of the increase /method of calculating it.

Periodic

No limit

For more information see this factsheet.


Transferring the lease

If one of your housemates (a co-tenant) has decided to move out, they can transfer their tenancy to another person if they get the landlord's written approval.

Let's say you and two friends signed the rental agreement and your two friends wanted to move out but you wanted to stay, this would be possible. The landlord must not unreasonably withhold their consent if one of the original tenants wishes to stay.


Subletting

Summer's coming and you want to go backpacking through southeast Asia but don't want to pay your rent while you're gone? If you receive your landlord's written consent than you can sub-let. Make sure you have a written agreement!

Permission - DENIED!

If the landlord withholds consent, you can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order that allows the transfer or subletting. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal will decide if the landlord's withholding consent is unreasonable.

Note however that there are reasons that allow the landlord to withhold consent (for example, that allowing the subletting would constitute overcrowding etc.)


Ending the lease

If you want to end the lease then the procedure for ending your rental agreement will depend on your individual circumstances. For example, was your agreement fixed term or periodic and if it was fixed term how much time was left? Were there other extenuating circumstances that warrant breaking the agreement early?

The general procedure is that you would provide your landlord with written notice of your intent to terminate the rental agreement. This minimum notice period you can give (the time between when you give the notice and when you can move) depends on what type of agreement it was and the grounds for terminating. The notice must state the date that you will leave the property vacant (which can't be before the minimum notice period is satisfied). Then you would clean the property ready for the inspection, hand your landlord the keys back and then apply to the Bond board for your bond to be returned.

If you need to end the agreement earlier, you need to either have a legal reason (unusable premises, domestic violence etc), find someone to transfer the agreement to who will take your place for the remainder of the agreement, or be prepared to endure the costs of breaking the agreement early (loss of bond etc).

SituationRequired Notice

You want to leave when the fixed term runs out

14 days

Your fixed term has run out, you stayed in the premises (but didn't sign another lease) and want to leave

21 days

Landlord tells you they're selling during your fixed term lease

14 days (and no penalty for terminating before fixed term was over)

Landlord gives you a termination notice (for reason other than end of fixed term)

Can leave at any time before notice expires

For more information on breaking a rental agreement early, click here.

If your landlord is trying to terminate the agreement, this factsheet might help.


Where can I find places to rent?

You can find places to rent directly from real estate agents like:

You can also find rooms to rent on the following websites:

*Please note we don't endorse any of the above websites; they're provided for convenience only. 

Always physically inspect the room and meet the landlord (and check their ID) before paying any money. And remember to BE SAFE! Try to bring a friend with you to inspections but if you have to inspect a property alone, tell someone where you are going. 


Things to consider when looking for places to rent

  • Moving into shared housing can be great because you make new friends, you don't have to take the responsibility of the whole property and it might be easier if you don't have sufficient documentation about your financial circumstances for the rental application. There are some downsides however- the head tenants (who took out the lease) might be subsidizing their own rent by increasing the price you pay for your room. Make sure you look around to be sure you are paying a fair price for what you are getting!
  • On some websites you might think you are dealing with the owner of the property but in fact it might actually be someone who has leased the property from the real owner and is trying to lease it to you at an increased price (to keep the excess rent as profit).
  • Some people load fake ads on to websites pretending to be the owner of the property. They are conveniently overseas but will ask you for a deposit via western union to secure the property and tell you they will send the key. 99.95% of the time they will just take your money and you will never hear from them again!
  • Make sure you know how long the agreement is for and really consider whether you can stay there place for the whole duration. You might be subject to penalties for breaking the lease early.

Need more information? 

If you are a UNSW student and Arc member we can give you free legal advice. Send us an email or contact Arc Reception to book an appointment with us.

Are you experiencing problems living in a Boarding house?

Bond not repaid? Unauthorsied deductions on your credit card? Paying fees you didn't agree to? 

Arc’s Legal Intern has been working on some draft complaint submissions which you may want to use to make a complaint about living in a boarding house. 

You can register your interest in writing a complaint letter to Members of Parliament regarding unfair circumstances surrounding your tenancy/accommodation agreements.

After you fill in this form, we will contact you for further comment on your accommodation situation OR schedule an appointment to meet up and write the letter together. You will be assisted by Arc's Legal & Advocacy Intern with writing the letter addressing your situation. Please fill out the interest form here if you are interested. 

Goal: We hope to provide send as many letters as possible, so that public government bodies are aware of the situation, and work to address it.  

If you have experienced problems while living in a boarding house, we encourage you to take some time to prepare an individual complaint to the Minister. This will be more effective than one complaint from several people saying the same thing.

Write complaint letters to MP's regarding tenancy

Rental scams affect both potential renters and potential landlords.

Fake Rental Properties

Scammers will use fake postings on real property websites (gumtree, domain, flatmate.com.au). The ads will look genuine (photos and descriptions are taken from other sites) but the address will either not exist, or is not available for rent.

The Overseas Property Owner

You find a property to rent. It is a nice house in a good neighbourhood with very cheap rent. The owner is currently overseas and wants to rent their home to a good person. After exchanging a few more emails, you feel you know the family well, and you are trustworthy enough to be chosen as the person to rent the property. The owner then asks you to transfer money (via Western Union) as security. In return they will mail the key and lease agreement. You are assured that you will love the house, but if not you can send the key back and get a refund. It sounds too good to be true. The money is transferred, but the keys are never sent, and the owner has mysteriously disappeared. 

Scammers try to earn your confidence; when you believe that they trust you, you forget to question whether you should trust them. 

The “Forgetful” Property Owner 

You find a property to rent and arrange to meet the owner for an inspection. You arrive at the property but find that the owner has forgotten the key. You arrange to meet another time. But they really want you to rent it, and ask for a security deposit to hold the property for you until you can see inside. The rent is low, you like the look of the building (you may even have seen some photos of the inside), and need somewhere to live, so you hand over the money. You wait for the next inspection, but the owner never shows up. You knock on the door of the property hoping that the current tenant will be able to contact the owner, but they tell you that the person who took your money was not the owner, and the property is not even for rent. 

Scammers will always make excuses as to why you cannot inspect the property but ask for an upfront payment of money. Never pay money for a property you have not inspected both inside and out (even if you have seen photographs). 

Fake Tenants

Overpayment Scams

You advertise a room for rent. You receive a response from someone who has to travel to Australia for work. They are so keen to rent the room that they will send you a cheque for the first month’s rent and security deposit without even seeing the property or signing the lease. So you agree. As an act of good faith they ask you to remove your advertisement form the website so that other people do not apply. You receive the cheque in the mail but it is for more than the agreed price, so you contact your new tenant. They explain that their company (who is paying the relocation costs) accidentally made out the cheque for the total amount of the relocation and not just the rent. They ask you to cash the cheque; deduct the agreed amount of rent and immediately refund the extra money through Western Union. This is the quickest way to transfer money and it is needed to purchase their airline ticket and travel insurance. You feel bad about the mistake and so wire the money before the cheque has cleared. You do not want to lose this tenant or delay their arrival. A few days later, you are contacted by the bank. The cheque has either bounced (there was not enough money in the account to cover the amount) or is a fake (counterfeit cheques may clear before the bank realises that it is not real). In either case, you are left out of pocket and without a tenant. 

Scammers are hoping that you refund the money before you realise the cheque is fake. Always send it back and ask for the correct payment.

Protect Yourself  

If you are suspicious, do an internet search of the person’s name, email and property address, or even some of the email text. Scammers commonly repeat facts and there are many websites dedicated to exposing scams by posting examples of scam emails. 

There are common themes in well-known rental scams: • The home owner or tenant is overseas; • Spelling/grammar mistakes in the text of the email; • Rent may be lower than other properties • Exchange of money involves a wire transfer through Western Union • You have to pay money upfront • The key has to be mailed to you • An overpayment of money (by cheque) which needs to be immediately refunded • Asking for uncommon personal details (date of birth, tax file number, passport) 

Remember

• Never send money to someone you don’t know • Always be suspicious of anyone asking you to wire money out of the country. • Never ever send personal, credit card or bank account details through an email to a stranger • With enough information, scammers can steal your identity theft • Never send copies of your passport to anyone over the internet • It is not needed to prepare a lease • Always do a drive by and make sure that the address is real and the property matches the description given by the owner • Never pay money upfront BEFORE you have seen inside the property • If you’ve only seen the property from the street, wait for a proper inspection. • Always wait for the cheque to clear • Even if you think it’s not a scam, never pay for a refund with your own money  

What to do if you have been scammed? 

Scammers are almost impossible to track down as many only exist on the internet through fake email addresses, and more often than not, the scam originates overseas. You cannot recover money from someone you cannot find. 

Reduce the damage

Contact your bank immediately - if you have given personal or bank details to anyone, arrange for your account to be suspended and passwords and pin numbers changed. 

Report the scam

Report to ScamWatch and post your experiences on internet forums, and on social networking websites.

Legal & Advocacy

Arc Reception

E:reception@arc.unsw.edu.au

A:Gate 5 on High St, UNSW