Top 5 Tips For Tenants

Statistics floating around in the media lately say that more people are renting because of house affordability issues. With that in mind, this week’s blog aims to give you a few quick tips to keep in mind if you’re currently a tenant or potentially going to be one in the near future.

Tip 1: If you’re on the lease, you’re responsible

We come across a lot of people that rent with other people. Friends, family, people they just met. That’s fine, but make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. We recently came across a case where one of the three tenants wanted to move out because she was frustrated with how the other tenants were treating the place. She (let’s call her Audrey) found someone who was willing to move into her room so she could move out and also pay her share of the bond. All sorted, right? Wrong. We had to advise Audrey that, unless the landlord agrees to vary the existing lease to remove her as a tenant and replace her with the new tenant, she would remain responsible and liable for any damage to the property or default in any other obligations under the lease. Our advice to Audrey – talk to the landlord and see if you can negotiate a variation of the lease.

Tip 2: If you’re not on the lease, you haven’t got many rights

If a person’s name is not on the lease, their rights are very limited. Consider the example where a boarder (let’s call him Rupert) pays their rent to the tenant named on the lease (let’s call him Duncan). In that instance, Duncan is, in effect, the landlord for Rupert. If Duncan is not paying rent and the owner of the property (let’s call her Muriel) wants to take action to have Duncan – and anyone else living there, including Rupert – evicted from the property, there is little that Rupert can do. Rupert has no right to apply to the Consumer, Trader & Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) for an order that protects their right to live in the property.

Rupert does have the comfort of knowing that Muriel has no right of action against him for rent owing. Duncan is responsible for that. If Duncan is not paying rent, Rupert should start to make moves, by giving reasonable notice (say, 7 days) to Duncan that he intends to move out. This way, Duncan has more control over when he has to vacate the property.

Tip 3: Do all parties need to view the property before signing the lease?

At law, no. In practice, however, most managing agents insist on it which can make the process very difficult, especially where a tenant is moving interstate or long distances. If a managing agent insists on all signatories to a lease viewing the property there is little recourse available to a potential tenant. The potential tenant will usually need to accede to the requests of the managing agent simply to secure the property in an increasingly competitive rental market.

Tip 4: If you cause the damage, you fix it. If not, the landlord fixes it

We discussed responsibility for damage to a property in an earlier blog. So feel free to have a look at that if you want more information. Ultimately, these issues are governed by the terms of the lease but there are some general clauses that you’ll find in most leases  as well as specific provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) that govern your rights and responsibilities.

Any damage caused by the tenant is the tenant’s responsibility to repair.

If urgent repairs are required and the damage wasn’t caused by the tenant, there is usually a fixed process that the tenant must undertake to notify the landlord and, if the landlord fails to act, have the repairs completed themselves. Make sure you can prove you’re not at fault. Make sure you keep quotes and receipts. While there is no specific timeframe restriction for making an application to the CTTT, it is usually best to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

Tip 5: Make sure you’re thorough when completing your initial condition report

At the end of the lease, the landlord and the tenant will need to fill in a form to refund the bond. The form will specify who is to receive the bond money. Generally, the tenant is entitled to the refund of the bond money. Exceptions to this include where the property has deteriorated from the condition of the property as noted in the condition report (fair wear and tear excepted) and where there is rent owing. That first exception is why it is so important for tenants to make sure they are thorough when completing the condition report at the start of the lease. Check everything – walls, floorings, ceilings, light fittings, bathrooms (especially shower screens), taps, locks, windows. If there’s damage, note it down. If you don’t, the landlord might be able to whack you with the cost of repairing that damage at the end of the lease if you didn’t identify it initially as it will be really difficult to establish that it was already there when you moved in. And the bond is sitting there ready for the landlord to make such a claim.

The above is not intended as legal advice. You should obtain legal advice in relation to your own specific circumstances.

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