In some states, such as NSW and Victoria, a standard form must be used by law, and in others there are usually minimum conditions which cannot be reduced by landlords. The tenancy agreement states the responsibilities of both parties and provides a fair balance between the landlord and tenant, although you should read it carefully before signing it. Apart from self-catering holiday accommodation, renting a house or apartment usually requires a commitment of 6 or 12 months with an option to renew.
The owner is responsible for property taxes (council rates) and unit service charges (in the case of a strata title unit), and the tenant for utility costs, unless otherwise agreed. If you rent a house with a garden and swimming pool, maintenance costs may be included in the rent. Tenants must take good care of the property, although the landlord is required to maintain it in a habitable condition and ensure that basic services such as water and sewerage are in order. If the landlord refuses to carry out urgent and necessary repairs within a reasonable period, you can arrange to have them done and send him the bill, although you mustn’t deduct the cost from the rent.
If you wish to vacate a property before your lease expires, you’re liable to pay the rent up to the end of your lease period, although you may be able to find someone to take over the lease and repay your bond (check whether this is possible with your agent or landlord). If you give the landlord adequate notice of termination (usually 21 days), he should attempt to minimise his loss by advertising and re-letting the property. If you have a verbal contract (termed a periodic tenancy) on a weekly or monthly basis, a week’s or a month’s notice is sufficient. If you’re a tenant with a verbal or written agreement, you cannot be evicted or be forced to leave unless your landlord obtains an eviction order. In order to be evicted you must be in breach of your lease, e.g. by damaging the property, failing to pay the rent, refusing the landlord entry, renovating without permission or sub-letting,. A landlord cannot evict you by removing your belongings and changing the locks, or forcing you to leave by cutting off services.
At the end of a fixed-term residential tenancy agreement, the landlord can terminate the agreement by giving 60 days’ notice before the end of the agreement. The landlord may repossess a property for his own use or to sell it with vacant possession; he isn’t required to state his reason for terminating a contract. Most states have a Residential Tenancy Tribunal to investigate complaints by landlords and tenants, and disputes over bonds, evictions, excessive rents and repairs, and there may be grounds for a tenant to appeal against termination, e.g. age, lack of alternative accommodation or poor health.
A renting guide is available from estate agents explaining the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. Some people (e.g. Africans, Asians and students) may encounter discrimination, although it’s illegal under the Federal Discrimination Act. You can also obtain advice at a citizens’ advice bureau, community legal centre, consumer affairs office, legal aid commission or tenants’ advice centre. Most large cities also have a tenants’ union hotline. The local Office of Fair Trading in many states publishes a Renting Guide or Tenants’ Rights Manual (in NSW see www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au).
One of the most important tasks on moving into a rented house or apartment is to complete (or check) an inventory of the contents and make an inspection report on its condition. This includes the condition of fixtures and fittings, the state of furniture and carpets (if furnished), the cleanliness and state of the decoration, and anything missing or in need of repair. A rental property should be spotless when you move in, as this is what your landlord expects when you move out. An inventory is normally provided by your landlord or a letting agent and may include every single item in a furnished property (down to the number of teaspoons).
The inventory and inspection report must usually be completed within seven days of taking possession and you receive a copy signed by you and the agent or landlord. A copy is also lodged with the Rental Bond Board. The property is re-inspected when you leave and, if necessary, deductions are made from the bond for cleaning and repairs, although there’s no deduction for ordinary wear and tear.
Note the reading on your meters (electricity, gas, water) and check that you aren’t overcharged on your first bill. Meters should be read by the relevant authorities before you move in, which you may need to organise yourself.