It's quite amazing how many tenants and landlords enter into their rental contract without thinking of it as a business agreement. It absolutely is about business but because so many landlords are individuals rather than entities or corporations and because renting is a very personal move, carried out by everyday people, it can be hard to think in terms of business.
Another factor that can influence both landlords, but practically tenants, is a feeling of rush. There is a sense of urgency about moving in and getting started and a sense of speed rather than analysis when it comes to sitting down at the real estate office and putting 150,000 initials over the pages.
It is worth slowing down though. It is worth reading every line of the contract and making sure you understand what it means because that is what you are signing for; to say that you have read and agree to every line. That agreement is a legal and binding one.
One thing to be aware of is if you are moving interstate or you own property outside your home state. This is because every state varies for what their rights are for tenants and landlords so feeling like you know what you are up against might mean that you don't see differences that are unique to the state.
One right that really varies between states is how much notice is needed and this applies to both tenants and landlords. How much notice you need to give before you leave can vary from a couple of days through to three months.
When it comes to renting, those who need to be especially aware of their rights are tenants who have landlord management rather than a third party. When a real estate office handles the property, the staff know the law and requirements and are familiar with renter's rights. Landlords who manage their properties may not be aware of renter's rights and unintentionally overstep the lines. It's important in these cases that renters have full confidence in their position and can make sure their rights are upheld. This includes suitable privacy, no drop-ins or unexpected visits from a landlord without a prior written warning, out of hours repairs when there are emergency maintenance issues like hot water service, plumbing, toilets and electrics and professional fixes rather than owner DIY, and caps on rent increases.
Main items to be aware of
While you must take the time to go over your contract line by line and ask for clarification from a professional if you are unsure, here are some of the items that vary from state to state you might want to keep an extra eye out for.
As well as the security bond, advance payment is typically required before you move into a rental. How much these amounts are will be determined by state law.
For Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Tasmania and Northern Territory the bond is four weeks rent.
In SA the bond is four weeks to six weeks rent.
In Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, the bond can be unlimited if the weekly rental amount reaches a certain point.
For example, in Victoria, the bond is set at four weeks' rent provided the weekly rental amount is under $350. If it is above this then the bond is unlimited. This is the same for QLD only the weekly rental amount is $500 before an unlimited bond is set.
For Western Australia, the bond can be unlimited with two weeks' rent in advance if the weekly rent is over $500 and the owner had been residing at the property for at least the previous three months.
Rent in advance
Advance rent is only two weeks in New South Wales and South Australia, one month for ACT and Tasmania.
Notice period for a landlord to end the tenancy:
TAS: 14 to 28 days
SA: 42 days
NSW & WA: 60 days
QLD: 2 months
VIC: 90 days
ACT: 14 days to 26 weeks
For all states except NSW and ACT rental increases cannot be applied within 6 months of the previous increase so that applies to NT, QLD, SA, Vic and WA.
For NSW, rent increases are permitted over two years for fixed terms and ACT have a ban on any rent increase for the first 12 months of the lease.
When you are bringing in a new tenant or when you move into a new rental property, make sure you take the paperwork seriously and know your rights. This is especially important if you have rented or tenanted a property previously in a different state and think you know the rights by heart. It always pays to stop and ask again.