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 $130.60 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 metred.
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 Bond Lodgement Form which the agent or landlord should provide. When your bond is lodged you will be given an official bond lodgement receipt.
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.
Lawns and gardens
Storm or fire damage
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 www.splitwise.com or www.simplebills.com to track expenses amongst housemates.
TIP: 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.
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.
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.
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!
Here is a very helpful table from TENANTS NSW about why and how often your landlord can inspect the property:
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:
(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:
- In an emergency, or
- To do urgent repairs or
- If the landlord believes that the property has been abandoned, or
- If there is an order from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or
- 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:
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.
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.
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).
You want to leave when the fixed term runs out
Your fixed term has run out, you stayed in the premises (but didn't sign another lease) and want to leave
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:
- https://studystays.unsw.edu.au (must be a UNSW student to sign in)
*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.