Renting can be a stressful and confusing experience if you’re unaware of your own rights and your obligations. Rental rights often differ between states so it’s important to make sure you know which rules apply to your state or territory. Your regional Fair Trading website is the best resource to help you figure this out.
The following is a general guide to renting in New South Wales, also known as a New Tenant’s Checklist. This gives you an idea of what to expect for every stage of the rental application process including providing references, preparing for rental inspections, resolving disputes between you and your landlord, and understanding the content of your lease.
What you need to apply for your first rental property
Whenever you apply for a rental property there are generally three key questions a property manager will ask:
- Can you pay the rent?
- Can you take care of the property?
- Will you keep to the rules of the lease?
Depending on your history, the information you supply to a rental agency will vary. But it is important to give references. These can be personal, such as from a parent, or professional, such as a property agent who helped you sell your home. If you’ve rented before, it is definitely recommended that you obtain a reference from your former landlord or property agent. A reference from a property agent or landlord will often state that you lived in one of their properties for a specified period and that you paid rent on time and consistently. This provides clear evidence to the property manager that you are reliable and trustworthy as a tenant.
In addition to these references, you may be required as part of the rental application to submit extra documentation which details your financial status, your employment, and your identity.
Other documentation you might need include:
- Employment information, such as confirmation of where you work.
- Any verification of how much you earn, such as a payslip.
- A reference from an employer.
- Photo ID such as your passport or drivers licence.
- Personal references.
It is important to have access to this type of information, just in case the property manager or your future landlord requests it during the application process.
What you need to obtain from the landlord
In New South Wales there is a variety of documentation that the landlord is required to give you before you move into your newly leased property. Here’s what you should get from the landlord or property agent before you move in:
- A copy of the New Tenant Checklist information. This is also available on the NSW Fair Trading website.
- A copy of your lease (also known as a tenancy agreement).
- 2 copies of the premises condition report. Also generally known as a “condition report”. This is a document which describes the condition and state of the property before you move in. By “condition” we mean if there is any existing damage to the property. You must fill out one and give it back to the landlord within 7 days. This will be used as evidence if there is a dispute about any damage you might have made to the property.
- A request to give bond money through the Rental Bonds Online platform. This allows you to directly pay your bond into NSW Fair Trading. If you don’t wish to use the Rental Bonds Online form, you can request from the landlord a paper form for you to sign and then submit to NSW Fair Trading. Once you have submitted your bond using RBO you should receive either an email or a SMS from NSW Fair Trading confirming that it has been received and providing you with your Rental Bond Number.
- The keys to your house.
If the property you’re hoping to rent is in a strata complex, there are extra resources the landlord must provide to you before you move in. Strata complexes are individual lots that are part of a larger shared property run by a body corporate. One of the most common types of strata property are apartment blocks. In strata, the landlord must also provide a copy of the strata by-laws that you must comply with. A lot of by-laws involve rules that restrict or govern your actions on the shared areas of the property. An example would be where you are banned from smoking on common property (such as the stairway or carpark) and must take steps to ensure secondhand smoke does not go into other people’s lots.
What do I have to pay at the start of the lease?
A landlord or agent can only ask you to pay:
- A holding fee. This is to “hold” the property for you, pending approval of your rental application. This can only be worth 1 week’s rent. Once they receive this fee, they cannot enter into another agreement with a different tenant for the same property for 7 days. Once you sign the lease, this holding fee will go toward your rent for the property.
- Rent in advance. This is often a practical confirmation that you’re capable of paying the rent on a longer term basis. The landlord cannot ask for more than 2 weeks rent in advance.
- A bond. This is security in case you do not comply with the terms of the lease, or you damage the property in any way. The bond cannot be worth more than 4 weeks rent, and the landlord cannot require you to pay the bond before you sign a lease.
Other tips to prevent future disputes between you and your landlord
Once you move in, it’s best to get photos of the property to record what it looked like in its original condition. These should be stamped with dates to document when the photos were taken. This prevents the landlord from blaming you for undocumented damage, such as chipped paint, which occurred before you moved in.
It is also important to keep copies of all documentation relating to your lease. This includes:
- A copy of your lease
- A copy of your condition report that you have filled out and returned to the landlord.
- Receipts for your rental payments to confirm that you have consistently been paying.
- Your Rental Bond Number that is provided by NSW Fair Trading after you lodge your bond online with them.
- Copies of any letters or emails you receive from your landlord or property manager. Any communication between you and your landlord could be relevant to resolving any disputes between you two.
If you have any problems with your landlord, for instance they are refusing to do repairs on the property, it is essential that you don’t stop paying rent. If you refuse to pay rent you could be evicted from the property.
What’s in your lease? What is in a residential tenancy agreement?
A lease aka a “residential tenancy agreement” is a legally binding written contract between you and the owner of the property or someone acting as his/her agent. It’s given to you before you pay any money. Be sure to read the lease, as it’ll have all the terms and conditions that you need to comply with to live in the property.
Most residential leases are carbon copies of the one provided by NSW Fair Trading under the Residential Tenancies Act. But it should contain:
- The name and address of the tenant and the owner of the property.
- The dates of when the agreement starts and ends.
- Information about how much rent is to be paid, and how you as the tenant should pay the rent.
- Information about what you as a tenant can and cannot do, as well as what the property owner can and cannot do.
- Any extra terms, also known as special terms. These must be agreed upon in advance before they’re binding. An example is where pets are allowed, but must be kept outside, or you must pay for carpet cleaning upon leaving.
- Information about the type of tenancy. If it is a fixed agreement, the tenant agrees to rent the property for a specified period (i.e. 6 months or 12 months). If it is a periodic agreement, the tenant lives there for an indefinite period but can terminate for no reason by giving 21 days notice. Residential leases in New South Wales can be fixed term that turns into a periodic tenancy when the original lease term expires.
Once you sign the lease, you are bound by the terms contained within that lease. If you’re unsure about whether you can do something in your property, like sublet a room or keep pets, the first place you should look to is the lease. They tend to be comprehensive and will often have the answer to your questions.
Preparation for an Inspection – the Rental Inspection Checklist
Generally either your landlord or your real estate agent may inspect the property to make sure:
- That you have not damaged the property,
- That the rental terms are being complied with, (i.e. no pets, or no extra people living in the house) and
- To determine if any routine repairs need to be made.
Inspections often take place every 6 months and your real estate agent or landlord will give notice to you that they plan on inspecting the property on a particular date. This gives you the opportunity to make sure the place looks presentable before they enter.
In preparing for an inspection it is important that you make sure the property:
- Is free of pets (unless pets have been allowed under the lease).
- Is clean and tidy, both indoors and outdoors.
- Is undamaged.
- Does not have more than the specified number of people on the lease living in the property.
- Has any maintenance issues identified and documented for the landlord to repair.
If I have a problem with my landlord, what do I do?
You can get advice from your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, which provides telephone advice and information regarding your rights and options as a tenant based upon your circumstances. Information about where to find them can be found at www.tenants.org.au.
The two main options for resolving disputes are with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (also known as NCAT) or NSW Fair Trading. You can either make an application to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a specific legally enforceable order or you lodge a complaint with NSW Fair Trading.
Examples of the types of orders you can apply for against your landlord in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal include:
- The landlord must prepare and enter into a tenancy agreement with you.
- A term of the tenancy agreement is declared invalid.
- The condition report is amended or changed.
- A holding fee should be refunded from you.
Examples of when you can complain to NSW Fair Trading include:
- The landlord has charged extra before you entered into an agreement, or has charged you for preparing a written agreement such as a lease.
- The landlord has withheld any relevant ‘material facts’ about the property from you. Some common examples are if the property is about to go on sale, or will be taken by a mortgagee, or the agent or landlord has made false or misleading statements about the property before you entered into the agreement.
- The landlord has included prohibited terms in the tenancy agreement.
- The landlord has asked for more than 4 weeks rent as bond.