Living in a private rental can be a lot of fun. You’re setting up your very own space, making friends with your housemates, and living independently – often for the very first time. But, if you decide to live in a private rental during your time in Australia, it pays to know your rights as a renter so you can protect yourself against potential issues and disputes. And just remember – as an international student, you have the exact same rights as a local resident.
Meet face to face
Most private rentals in Australia are advertised online, whether you’re looking for houses or apartments for rent or for an existing share house. For that reason, sometimes it can be tricky to know who’s behind the advertisement and whether they’re even real (believe us – fake advertisers do exist).
If you can, you should meet your potential housemates or whoever is renting out the property face to face. Not only will this help verify that they’re genuine, but it will also give you the opportunity to work out whether the rental is the right fit.
It’s worth getting to know the people you’ll be sharing with, so talk to your potential housemates about your habits, what you like to do in your spare time, and how you might handle differences or conflicts. Everyone’s ideas of home and what it means to enjoy a living space are different, so it’s best to know what you’re signing up for.
If you’re not able to meet face to face, try to set up a Skype or FaceTime session so you can get to know them better and find out how you might fit in.
Check out where you’ll be living
Looking at rooms and houses online or on paper is one thing, but you can’t really get a feel for a place until you walk through the front door. These days, photography can be easily manipulated. A space that looks light and airy online could easily be a dark, dingy basement in real life. Much like fake advertisers, phony rentals are surprisingly common.
Make a point of viewing the whole place before you commit, and if it’s not possible in person, ask if you can call them for a video chat via FaceTime or Skype.
Becoming a tenant
When you’re renting in Australia, you may have the option to sign a tenancy agreement. This is usually a standard part of the rental process if you go through a real estate agency.
If you’re sharing a private rental with others, you might be able to become a co-tenant, which involves signing the lease with at least one other tenant. This means every person who signs the lease accepts liability for reasonable upkeep of the house (such as cleaning) and, if specified in the rental agreement, maintaining the garden or any outdoor space.
Most rental advisory services recommend that all housemates go on the lease, as this gives everyone more protection should there be an issue. If one tenant moves out and another moves in, change the names on the lease to reflect this.
In some cases, there is only one person on the lease and the rest of the housemates are considered sub-tenants. This means that only the person listed on the lease is liable for rental payments and other matters like repairs. If you live in a share house where this is the case, you still have rights as a renter. Get in touch with your relevant state body for more information (contact details below).
Create a paper trail
If you take on a private rental yourself or join an existing share house, you should ensure that every important transaction or agreement is kept in writing. This means you’ll have concrete proof of everything. All formal documents – including your rental agreement, bond and any other important records – should be in writing. Make sure you keep these documents for the duration of your tenancy so you can reference them if you need to.
If there isn’t a formal agreement written up, you can create one yourself or just put everything in writing, like in an email. Email is a great way to keep track of everything in writing. In many cases, it still counts as written evidence even if it’s not a formal agreement.
If you speak to someone on the phone, send them an email as soon as you can afterwards and include details of what you’ve discussed.
If you join an existing share house and need to pay a bond, email the housemate in charge with all the details of the bond and have them confirm these details in their response. In most cases, the bond should be formally lodged with the relevant state body anyway. This ensures there’s a legal framework around the bond payment.
If you decide to leave your rental, make sure you give notice in writing. If something needs to be fixed or changed before you move in, make sure you email your landlord or property manager so it can be retrieved should a dispute come up. This protects you in the event of any conflict and backs up your understanding of the agreement.
Just double-check with your landlord or agent that email is an acceptable form of communication. Also, make sure you get a response from whoever you’ve emailed. This helps prove that they agreed to whatever was written in your email.
Record the condition of the space when you move in
If you take out a lease on a private rental, you’ll be handed a condition report with your tenancy agreement when you first move in. The condition report outlines any existing damage to the property so that the real estate agent or landlord effectively can’t blame you for it when you move out.
When you move in, make sure to check the condition report against the property. Take note of anything you don’t agree with and send it straight back to your landlord or property manager. It’s also worth taking photos of any damage, no matter how small, so that in the event of a dispute you have proof you’ve taken care of the space during your tenancy.
Make sure bills and rent are paid fairly and on time
You and your housemates will need to decide on the best way to pay rent and household bills such as gas, electricity, and internet. If bills aren’t included in your rent, one tenant usually takes responsibility. But, sometimes, cracks can appear when bills and rent aren’t properly kept track of.
Like everything else, make sure communication about rent and bills is kept in writing. If a bill comes in, set up an email chain that clearly outlines what every housemate owes. Using a bank transfer instead of a cash payment also creates a paper trail of rent and bill payments.
It’s important that both bills and rent are paid on time. If bills don’t get paid, your provider can eventually disconnect your services. If you don’t pay your rent, your landlord or real estate agent may ultimately evict you if enough time goes by. Ensure that everyone pays their share on time and that the housemate responsible for paying the rent and bills does so efficiently.
If you’re having trouble meeting rent or bill payments, chat to your bill provider or landlord or real estate agent as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Privacy and safety
As a tenant, you have the right to privacy and a safe environment.
Your landlord needs to give you ample notice if they want to visit the property. The amount of notice they need to give varies depending on the state you live in, but in all cases, they can’t just turn up unannounced. You’re within your rights to refuse entry and request a date that works for you.
Contact your property manager or landlord as soon as there’s an issue in your home, such as a broken stove or blocked water pipe. Take photos and use email to communicate with your property manager or landlord so that you have written proof of the issue. Urgent repairs should be fixed as soon as possible, so don’t wait weeks to hear back from agents or landlords.
Helpful places to look for advice
For more information on your rental rights, you can head to the following sites:
ACT – Tenants’ Advice Service