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Renting a private house or flat

Renting a house or flat is usually done through real estate agents who act on behalf of landlords. You can also rent directly from a private landlord. Rental properties are advertised online and in newspapers in the ‘To let’ and ‘Accommodation vacant’ sections. You can also visit real estate agent offices and ask to see their list of vacant rental properties.

A ‘lease’ or a ‘residential tenancy agreement’ is a legal written contract between a tenant and a landlord. It will usually be for a fixed period of six or twelve months, although you are entitled to negotiate the time period before signing. You may be able to renew the lease at the end of the period. Having a written contract means the terms of the lease are agreed in advance, such as the cost of the rent, when it must be paid, who pays for utilities (such as electricity, water, gas, rubbish collection and other services), frequency of inspections, whether pets are allowed and how long you can stay in the property.

Do not commit yourself to a lease that lasts longer than you are able to stay, as there can be significant costs if you leave before the end of the agreed period (known as “breaking a lease”).

At the start of a tenancy you will usually pay one month’s rent in advance, and a rental bond. A bond is a deposit paid to the landlord. The amount varies in different states and territories. The landlord or real estate agent must lodge your bond with the authority responsible for residential tenancy bonds in your state or territory. When you leave the property, the bond will be returned to you if there is no rent owing when you leave and the property is clean and undamaged.

Before you move in, the physical condition of the property and any damage already there is recorded in a document called the ‘condition report’. This is completed by you and the landlord or their real estate agent and helps avoid disagreements when you move out. You should report any damage to the landlord, and get their permission before making any changes to the property. Landlords are usually responsible for making repairs.

Do not sign a lease unless you have inspected the property and fully understand the terms and conditions in the document, as it becomes legally binding after you sign it.

You are not allowed to sub-let the property (that is, rent it to another person not on the lease) nor have long-term visitors, as this may exceed the legal limit on the number of occupants. Short-term visitors are generally allowed.

If you intend to move out, you must give adequate notice to your landlord (generally a minimum of four weeks or as specified in your lease).

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