IF YOU ARE RENTING WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS?

Posted by Henry | BORROWING LENDING,RENTING | Saturday 20 December 2014 11:59 am

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By keeping up to date with your renters’ rights you will receive the services you are entitled to, avoid unnecessary costs and live securely in your happy home!

Rental repairs and maintenance

By law your rental property must be maintained in a decent living condition. This includes urgent and non-urgent repairs by your landlord. The level of maintenance will be determined by the age of the property and the amount of rent you are paying. It is your responsibility for general upkeep such as cleaning, dusting, replacing light bulbs and mowing the lawns.

Urgent repairs include: burst water pipes; gas leaks; blocked toilets; serious electrical faults; failure in essential services like water supply, hot water, cooking equipment and heating; fire or flooding damage; or any event that makes the premises unsafe or insecure.

In the event that an urgent repair is required contact your landlord or property manager through your agreed mode of communication. This may be in writing, electronically or by phone and will be outlined in your lease agreement. If the emergency repair has not been addressed or the landlord is out of reach, in most states and territories you can organise the repairs yourself up to a specified amount ($1,000 in NSW, $1,800 in Vic, two weeks rent in Qld, and five per cent of the property’s yearly rent in the ACT) and using the recommended repairer if there is one nominated on your lease agreement.

When it comes to urgent and non-urgent repairs or damage you have caused to the property, it is important to notify the landlord as soon as possible. Check the legislation in your state or territory. This will specify the time frame in which urgent and non-urgent repairs must be conducted, your options if they have not been addressed and your obligations if you have caused damage to the property.

Adhering to health and safety regulations (including supplying smoke alarms and having appropriate locks on doors and windows) is non-negotiable for all rental properties and is an essential renters’ right. Contact your local tenancy resource if a landlord or property manager is refusing to address pressing repairs or important health or safety issues. Do not stop paying your rent during a tenancy dispute as this could lead to eviction. It is generally best to seek rental compensation through the tenancy mediation process.

Your privacy rights and landlord access

The landlord or property manager cannot access your rental home without giving you prior notification. The amount of notification and how it is communicated will depend on the reason for the visit and the state or territory in which you reside, as outlined below:

  • Undertaking general repairs and maintenance requires 24 hours notice in Vic, Tas, Qld and NT; 48 hours in NSW; 72 hours in WA; and seven days in SA. In the ACT a lessor must make a “suitable time with the tenant”.
  • Conducting a routine inspection requires 24 hours in Vic and Tas; and seven days in ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, SA and WA. All regions place a limit on how many general inspections can be conducted within a year.
  • Showing prospective new tenants the property if you are moving out requires ‘reasonable notice’ in NSW and WA; 24 hours in ACT, NT, Vic and Qld); 48 hours in TAS; and seven days in SA. Generally, these are limited to the final weeks of the lease.
  • No notice is required for an emergency.

Check your local tenancy legislation for the restrictions outlining access to your property and keep in mind it is normally restricted to within regular business hours.

What changes can I make to a rental property?

Any changes, alterations or renovations you would like to make to the rental property must be agreed to by your landlord and it is best to make the request and get approval in writing. This may include installing pay television or air conditioning, painting walls or adding permanent fixtures. Your landlord is not obligated to contribute to the costs but may offer compensation if you negotiate. Using qualified tradespeople is likely to assist in the approval process. You may be required to return the rental property to its original condition at the end of your lease depending on the agreement stated. Before you invest time and money in your rental home consider decorating ideas that don’t require permanent or structural changes and check your lease agreement for permissible alterations or updates.

Your rights when rent is increased or a decrease is warranted

There is legislation that regulates rental price increases, and while the states and territories may differ in the details, there are a number of universal rules. Firstly, your rent cannot be increased within a fixed-term lease period unless it is specified in the lease agreement you signed. If an increase is specified at a future date, it must outline the exact dollar amount or percentage increase.

If the fixed-term period has come to an end and you have moved on to a periodic lease, or an increase has been specified in the lease terms, you must be given written notice of the rental increase outlining the amount and proposed date payable.

Most states specify a minimum 60 days notice on any rental increase, though in some parts of Australia (e.g. Northern Territory) it is less. A number of states, including Victoria and Queensland, only permit one rental increase within a six-month period. In the ACT it is restricted to once a year and is not permissible in the first year. Check your local legislation. If you believe a rental increase is too high and negotiations with your landlord are unsuccessful, or your landlord is trying to up the price in return for maintenance and repairs – which is illegal – contact your local fair trading or consumer affairs department.

There are circumstances when a rental reduction is warranted, such as a decrease in the quality of living conditions in your home or disruption to utility services. Discuss the issue with your landlord and if an agreement cannot be negotiated it is wise to contact your local tenancy service.

Behind in rent: what can I do?

Life can take unexpected turns which may result in you not being able to pay the rent. Though this is a scary proposition, there are options out there to help you, from talking honestly with your landlord or property manager about your circumstances and organising a repayment plan, to obtaining rental assistance from Centrelink. Your local tenant advocacy service may also be able to help you.

It may be necessary to break the lease if your financial issues are likely to continue. If your rent is in arrears (overdue) after a specified number of days the landlord can issue you with a vacation notice, which also specifies the period in which you must vacate the premises (this varies between the states and territories).

Renters’ rights if the property is sold

If you are in a fixed-term lease you cannot be asked to vacate the rental property in the event it is sold. The new owner will become your new landlord. If you are in a periodic lease and the property has been sold, the existing owner can issue you with a vacation notice. The length of the vacation notice will depend on your location in NSW and Qld it is 30 days, in Tas it is 42 days, ACT is it 8 weeks, while in Vic, SA and WA it is 60 days.

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Henry Sapiecha

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