Australian Civil Liberties Union
Your Rights 2005
TENANTS' RIGHTS AND RIGHTS OF LICENSEES
Types of Tenancy. Rent. Notice to Quit. Court Proceedings. Tenants’ Rights. Bonds. Licensees. This chapter does not apply to S.A. and applies only in general terms to other states.
Types of Tenancy. A person may become a tenant of premises by verbally agreeing to pay a landlord a rent on some type of periodic basis, for instance each week or each month, or by signing a lease (read it and insist on having a copy) under which the tenant agrees to pay the landlord a weekly or other periodical rental for a set period of time.
Often a lease will provide that the tenant has an option to renew the lease at the end of the period. Whether you are a tenant pursuant to a verbal or a written agreement you cannot be evicted or forced to leave the premises unless the landlord obtains an eviction order. If you have a lease for instance for a year the landlord would find it difficult to evict you before the year expires unless you are in breach of your lease by failing to pay rent, wilfully damaging the premises of breaching the lease in some other way.
Leaving Premises. If you leave the premises before the lease has expired you can become liable for the rent for the balance of the lease. However, if you give the landlord adequate notice of your intention to terminate the lease, he should try to minimize his loss and should advertise the dwelling at once to be re-let. You may then not be liable for further rental under the lease. If you have a verbal tenancy for a week or a month then a week or month’s notice commencing from the next rental due date of your intention to vacate would suffice.
Rent. The landlord should give you a receipt, and if you pay by cheque, you will have your own record. You must be given notice in writing (usually 60 days notice) of any proposed rent increase. The tribunal can review excessive rent increases and can review the initial rent if services are reduced.Where there is a fixed term tenancy, rent cannot be increased unless provision for an increase is included in the lease. Apart from rent, a tenant is only liable to pay bond money, a fee for the lease, and a deposit for gas and electricity connections.
Inspection and repairs. The landlord should provide the tenant with an inspection report at the beginning of the tenancy indicating the contents of the premises and their condition, and the tenant can make a similar inspection and keep a written record in case any dispute arises about the return of bond money. The landlord is required to keep the premises in good and habitable condition and ensure that basic services such as water and sewerage are functioning. The tenant must take reasonable care of the premises. If the landlord refuses to carry out urgent and necessary repairs, you can arrange to have the repairs done and send him the bill.You should not deduct the cost of repairs from your rent since this would leave you open to being evicted. The Tribunal can adjudicate on whether the landlord should pay for the repairs.
Tenants’ bonds. Landlords usually require tenants to pay an amount in advance to cover the possibility that the tenant will fall behind in his rent or cause damage to the premises. Excessive amounts cannot be demanded, and the landlord must give you a receipt for the amount of the bond, and lodge the money with the appropriate authorities. When the tenancy ends, the tenant should be able to get the bond money back, if he is not owing rent and if the premises have not been damaged. The tenant is not liable for ordinary wear and tear. Disputes about bond money are dealt with by the appropriate Tribunal.
Rights of entry. Landlords cannot arbitrarily interfere with the tenants right to quiet enjoyment of his use of the premises, and his right to privacy. If the landlord wishes to enter the premises to show the premises to potential tenants or purchasers, to effect relevant repairs, or merely to inspect the premises, he must give reasonable advance notice of his intention to enter, and state the time and day of the proposed entry. The time of entry should be reasonable, and where possible, convenient to the tenant. The tenant may be able to claim compensation if his privacy is invaded without notice.
Notice to quit and eviction. The landlord cannot evict you unless a notice to quit is given in writing and an order for eviction given by the Tribunal. When the time stipulated in the notice to quit has expired, the landlord serves the tenant with a summons and the dispute is referred to the Tribunal. The most common reasons for seeking the eviction of a tenant are failure to pay rent, malicious or negligent damage to the premises, renovating without consent, subletting without permission and, refusing entry to the landlord.
The landlord may also require the premises for his own habitation, or to sell with vacant possession. If the Tribunal makes an order that you be evicted and you need time to find alternative accommodation you can ask for a stay on the eviction. It is illegal for the landlord to summarily evict you by putting your furniture in the street and changing the locks. It is also illegal for him to pressure you to leave, by for example, arranging for the gas and electricity to be cut off.
Remember you cannot be summarily evicted. You must be given a notice to quit followed by court proceedings.You can ask the Tribunal for extra time. You can complain about the condition of the premises to the appropriate authorities. You can in some cases have your rent reduced or prevent it being increased. If in doubt ring a free legal advisory service. Note that some pensioners are entitled to rental allowances.
Rights of Licensees.
Most people who pay money to the owner of premises are tenants, but if you are a boarder, guest, or lodger, you would be a “licensee”, and you would have fewer rights than a tenant.The distinction between a licensee and a tenant is often difficult to make.
You would be a licensee rather than a tenant if the place in which you stay is a hotel, hostel or motel; if you are living in a boarding house where you have meals as well as accommodation; if the accommodation is part of a school or university; or if you are a lodger in a lodging house sharing facilities (e.g. bathroom and kitchen) and the owner of the lodging house can enter your bedroom at any time to clean it.
If you are in doubt whether you are a licensee or a tenant you should seek advice (see Chapter 1.) If you are a licensee rather than a tenant, the owner cannot increase the cost of your accommodation without your consent. He can ask you to leave at any time, but must give you enough time to pack your belongings and leave. If you do not leave within a reasonable time, you would be a trespasser and the owner could use reasonable force to evict you. If the owner tells you to leave but won’t let you collect your belongings, you can take court proceedings to obtain the return of the goods or compensation for their value.
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Australian Civil Liberties Union