Words || Elizabeth Laughton
I’ve lived out of home for a good year now. It’s bloody expensive but equally liberating and exciting. If it’s your first time or you’ve been a free bird for a while now, you’ll know there is a lot of confusing jargon. While I’m no substitute for legal advice, I’ve tried to summarise some keywords you’ll need to get familiar with.
The lease is the big boy document that outlines the cost of rent, how long you’ve agreed to stay there, and other clauses about your rights and your landlord’s rights while you stay in the property.
You want the document you sign to have the little New South Wales Department of Fair Trading logo on it. This isn’t absolutely essential, but it means you’re using the standard lease document that should include all necessary clauses. You should keep a copy of this document so you can refer to your rights as a tenant. I’ve referred to my lease to remind my agent and my landlord that they can only visit my property after giving reasonable notice. Other rights include how much notice you should get before your rent is increased or you have to leave the property.
When you sign the lease, you agree to the rental cost and how you will pay rent. You may negotiate paying rent weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. If you’re getting into a share house, you’ll have less negotiating power because you’ll have to consider your roommates’ pay days. As well as agreeing to when you’ll pay rent, you’ll agree upon the how. The most common payment method is via bank transfer. You might also consider paying by cheque, credit card, BPAY, or PayPal. The most important thing is choosing a payment method that you can track. That is, you can see when you paid, who you paid, and how much you transferred. For this reason, avoid Western Union.
There is no real minimum or maximum length of a lease – although less than three months or a ‘holiday’ stay has a different form. My first two leases were six months. I chose this length of time because I knew I could pay rent for that long even if I lost my job halfway through. It was also a reasonable amount of time for me to try living in each property, giving me the chance to move on if I wasn’t happy.
Bonds and Condition Reports
Your bond is a set amount of money (usually around four weeks rent) that you pay the agent or landlord. Once your lease ends, if you have not damaged the property during your stay there, you will be refunded the full amount of the bond.
How do landlords and agents decide if you have damaged the property? How can you make sure they don’t unfairly keep some of your bond, especially because of damage that was pre-existing?
At the start of your lease, you will have to sign a Condition Report. This report usually contains photos of the property and written descriptions of its state before you start living there. You can make your own notes and amendments to the Condition Report if you think it’s wrong. One of my condition reports neglected to mention a huge crack in the study room and the family of mice in the kitchen. I simply attached a page to the Report, detailing these in plain English. Once you sign and date it, you have a document that shows what you and your landlord think the property was like before you started living there. If they think you’ve caused any damage, they can refer to the Condition Report to see if the damage was there before. If you have a dispute about whether you damaged the property, the Department of Fair Trading will use the Condition Report to decide if the landlord can rightfully keep some of your bond.
A rental ledger is a document summarising all of your rental payments during a lease. It is generated by the landlord or agent managing your lease, but you usually only receive it by requesting it in writing. This document is useful if you are applying for another rental property and need to demonstrate that you can and have paid rent on time before. Short of receiving an official rental ledger, you can prove your rental history by collating bank transactions that show when you paid your rent.
When you inspect a property, there is some etiquette it helps to follow. First, if you rock up to the place before the agent or landlord, do not enter! You have to stay outside the property unless you are accompanied by the respective agent or landlord. Once you enter, it’s polite to ask if you should take your shoes off. Some agents will lead you through the house while others will open the door and let you roam free. If it’s a bit awkward and you’re not sure if you’re free to roam, just ask, “Is it okay if I take a look around?” If someone is still living in the property, you might find yourself in the middle of their fully furnished place. Ask before opening cupboards – which you should otherwise do to check the property’s storage options.
While on site, you might like to ask a few questions. Where would you park as a tenant? Is water/gas/electricity/internet included in the rent? How far away is the nearest train station? Does the property come furnished or unfurnished? Are pets allowed or considered upon application?
One question I always ask is: does the owner of the property or the landlord live nearby? It’s easy enough to ask casually. I once visited a studio attached to the owner’s house. I don’t want the guy who owns my space to be listening to me live my life through the wall! I’d rather live next to strangers who I don’t owe money to every week. For me, living away from the person who has that financial power over me is a must if I want to live comfortably.
During Miss Rona’s stay in town, real estate agencies are limiting how many people can visit a property by making inspection by appointment only. If your appointment request is approved, enquire beforehand about who can come. How many people can come? Do they have to be from my household? Can my partner come with me if they are not from my household? It’s also polite to wear a face mask, if available, and to avoid shaking the agent’s hand even if it feels rude! You can break the ice by letting them know you would shake their hand if it wasn’t so problematic right now.
When you fill out an application to rent a property, it will sometimes ask if you have inspected the property yet. If you tick yes, it will ask if you were satisfied with the condition of the property. This is your chance to list any major concerns about the functionality or dangers of the place. On one of my applications, I listed that I wasn’t satisfied with the window lock devices and would require new secure locks on all windows before starting my tenancy. The agent agreed to this request as part of my application. It helps to see the property before you start living there so you can check it isn’t in too shit a state!
I have a feral fat cat called Miss Chunky Monkey (Chunky for short). Sometimes the real estate website listing will say ‘No Pets Allowed,’ but other times, it’s left unsaid. A fair few places are ‘Pets Considered Upon Application,’ meaning the owner wants the chance to know what kind and how many pets you have before they give you the green light.
If the owner says yes to pets, that isn’t the end of the story. There is a Pet Clause in the Department of Fair Trading lease document. This Clause refers to your responsibilities to maintain the property as a pet owner. At my first place, I was allowed to have my cat because I agreed to shampoo the carpet when I left. It’s not cheap to hire someone to do this for you, but you can hire a carpet shampooing device and give it a crack yourself if your landlord doesn’t mind. Other agents or landlords will require you to fumigate the property before you leave if you keep pets.
So, there you have it! Some stuff you might find useful some day when you still can’t own property. You can find more helpful info (and verify the above) on the Department of Fair Trading and the State Library’s website. Good luck!