Leaving home for the first time? Here’s 5 things you should know about renting

Everything you need to know before signing that lease

Moving out can be as exciting as it is stressful.

You’ve got your housemates and your furniture sorted, now it’s time to sign on the dotted line. But how much do you really know about your rights and responsibilities as a renter?  

Judi Teesdale is a solicitor from the Illawarra Legal Centre, which provides free, confidential legal advice to UOW students through Student Legal Services. She shared her top five things every renter should be aware of before they move in.  

1. Know your (and your landlord's) legal obligations

Both tenants and landlords have obligations to uphold under the Residential Tenancies Act NSW, which apply to private and real-estate managed properties, Judi says. 

“You have a right to a Lease, which is a contract between you and the landlord or their agent. It can be oral, part oral and part written, or completely written,” she explains.  

“When moving into premises after entering into a lease, you should be given an ingoing condition report.  You need to fill it in and make sure you write down any damage [that existed before you moved in] such as a broken window, marks on walls etc. Then you need to keep a copy to show at the end of your tenancy.” 

There are minimum standards that premises must meet when rented out, such as adequate lighting, drainage and cleanliness, all of which can be marked in your condition report. It is worth taking photos when making your report to help record your findings and can be referenced when you exit the lease.  

The tenant also has a right to peace, comfort and privacy, explains Judi, with rules in place around how frequently the landlord or agent can visit the property.  

2. What is a bond, and how does it work?

“The bond is money the tenant is required to pay at the start of the tenancy as security in case the tenant does not follow the lease agreement,” says Judi.  

“The bond is not compulsory, but most landlords or agents will ask for one. The most bond you can be required to pay is an amount equal to four weeks rent, and you cannot be required to pay a bond before you have signed the lease agreement.” 

While the bond is paid to the landlord or real estate agent, they must issue a receipt to show the bond has been lodged with the Rental Bond Board, administered by Fair Trading NSW. This is an independent third party who holds the bond on behalf of you and the landlord.  

“Remember: the bond is your money unless your landlord can prove otherwise. The most important document for bond disputes is the condition report. At the end of the tenancy either party can claim the bond by completing A Claim for Refund of Bond Money from NSW Fair Trading,” says Judi.  

A landlord or agent can only claim the bond for unpaid rent, damages beyond general wear and tear, unpaid water usage, necessary cleaning or to cover a break of lease. 

3. What if I need to leave, or am asked to leave, before my lease ends?

There are laws around breaking a lease for both the tenant and landlord. 

“A tenant can enter into a fixed term lease agreement which is for a specific time period.  Common periods are six months and 12 months, however it can be for longer or shorter periods if parties agree,” says Judi.  

“In a fixed lease, tenants cannot be evicted without a reason such as breaches of the lease (like unpaid rent or damage to the property) or end of the fixed term.  The landlord must give 30 days’ notice in writing before the end of the last day of the fixed term if the landlord wants to end the agreement.”  

In turn, the tenant must give 14 days’ notice in writing before the end of the last day of the fixed term if they wish to end the agreement. However, the end of the lease does not mean the tenant has to vacate, unless communicated by the landlord or tenant.  

“After the fixed term has expired or there is an initial fixed term specified and the tenant continues to lease the premises without signing another lease, this is called a periodic agreement. The terms and conditions remain the same as during the fixed term,” Judi explains.  

In this case, landlords must give 90 days’ written notice to terminate the lease, and tenants must give 21 days’ written notice.  

4. How do I organise utilities?

Utilities for tenants include water, electricity, gas and internet.  

“Unless specified otherwise in the lease agreement tenants are responsible for their own utilities,” says Judi.  

You should organise your utilities at least a day before you move in, so everything is connected for your first night in your new home. You can do this by contacting suppliers, finding the best service for your household, and creating an account at your new address.  

Your electricity, gas and internet bills will usually be sent out via email. If you live in a unit or apartment, the water meter may be shared by the building. In this case, your water usage may be paid for initially by the landlord but you will need to reimburse them for your portion.  

Check out this Fair Trading NSW check list to get your utilities sorted.  

5. Who do I go to if things aren't right in the house?

So, you’ve held up your end of the bargain, paid rent on time and kept the place in good condition. But maybe there is a leak that needs fixing or mold to be cleaned.  

You can alert your real estate agent of any issues, or your landlord directly if it is a private rental. There are also government and non-government services available to help you with any further issues.  

“If a UOW student is having issues with their tenancy, then they can contact the Student Legal Services Clinic,” explains Judi.  

“UOW has partnered with the Illawarra Legal Centre to provide free and confidential legal advice to current UOW students. All current students are welcome to utilise this resource, held every Monday, with advice being given by a qualified solicitor.”   

Non-UOW students can also contact the Illawarra Legal Centre directly, as well as the Tenants Union NSW, Fair Trading NSW and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

Student Legal Services is holding a legal education session for students at 1pm on Monday 26 July, outlining tenancy agreements, bond, termination, repairs and maintenance, access and share housing. This is a free session, however registrations are essential