by Grant J Everett
NOTE: This article is based on information researched from the CHOICE website. We have provided the link to this material at the end.
For most of us, renting a home is the only real option we have when it comes to accommodation, but a combination of high prices, a shortage of properties and the very real possibility of being regularly displaced every twelve months makes this a stressful and uncertain process. The stress doesn’t necessarily end once you sign the lease and move in, either. A lot of tenants are so scared of upsetting their landlords that they won’t exercise their most basic rights – such as asking for urgent repairs, or disputing unreasonable rent increases – for fear of ending up homeless and blacklisted. A survey by the Tenants’ Union of NSW back in 2014 found that a huge 77% of tenants have put up with maintenance problems because they were worried about the negative consequences if they asked to get them fixed.
It is NEVER an option to stop paying rent for any reason. Refusing to pay will always make you the bad guy, and only give landlords the ammunition they need to get you evicted and placed on a tenancy blacklist.
Many renters don’t know their fundamental rights. For instance, what sort of urgent repairs are you entitled to get done ASAP? What can get you placed on an undesirable tenant database? What can lead to your landlord keeping your bond? Where do you stand as a renter, and just how safe are you from summarily getting the boot?
First off, there are two types of leases: a fixed-term tenancy, which has a specific commencement date and expiry date, and a periodic tenancy agreement, which only has a commencement date. If you’re on a fixed-term agreement, your landlord can’t just kick you out for no reason. However, for renters on a periodic lease, this is a different story: provided they give you the legal notice period, a tenant on a periodic lease can be given a “no grounds“ eviction at any time. The Tenants’ Union of Queensland found that “no-grounds” evictions were the most common kind that they dealt with, and in many cases the ex-tenant felt as though the eviction was being used against them as a means of retaliation. NSW provides legal protection against retaliatory evictions, and there have certainly been cases where eviction notices have been overturned specifically for being retaliatory.
We need to stress that you cannot be evicted or blacklisted just because you exercise your rights as a tenant. And even if your landlord wants to kick you out and get you blacklisted for a valid reason, they are required by law to give you enough time to either fix the issue in question or to dispute it with a tribunal.
While there is no legal limit to how often your rent can be increased and by how much, you are always entitled to a notice period of 60 days before a new increase goes into effect. By law, however, landlords cannot increase your rent “excessively”. So how can you tell if an increase falls into this category? While there’s no specific mathematical formula we can quote to define what “excessively” is in this context, if you believe that a proposed rental jump is unfair then you can dispute it through a civil administrative tribunal. If the tribunal agrees with you, they can prevent this rise from being put into effect for a set time. While it isn’t an exact science, you might want to compare what you are paying to the rates of similar properties in your area. The preexisting condition of your home and the amount of repairs your landlord has paid for will make a difference, too.
The amount of maintenance your house is entitled to depends on many factors: the condition of the property when you moved in, its age, and how much rent you are paying. There’s a difference between emergency repairs and non-urgent repairs, though. Emergency repairs must pose a danger or cause serious inconvenience, such as electrical faults, a gas issue, a busted toilet, or your sink turning into a geyser. Non-urgent repairs are things like a dripping tap, a blown light bulb, peeling paint, or anything that’s purely cosmetic. If you’ve ever had the experience of trying to get non-urgent repairs done quickly, it’s likely that your landlord didn’t exactly leap out of their chair to come do them. Like with protesting rental increases, a civil administrative tribunal can force your landlord to get emergency repairs done if they refuse to do so.
Australian tenancy databases collect detailed lists of bad tenants, and real estate agents and landlords will access this information as standard whenever they conduct a history check on a renter-to-be. If you have been placed on such a list, real estate agents or landlords will certainly find out. However, if they find a negative listing during a background check, they must tell you. They are under no obligation to take you on as a tenant, though, so being flagged on a database can be the difference between getting your dream home and getting knocked back.
There are only two things you can do that will get you blacklisted: one is owing more rental arrears than the value of your bond at the end of your tenancy and refusing to pay it up to date, and the second is breaching your tenancy agreement in some major way. You won’t get blacklisted just because your landlord don’t like you! Negative listings are removed after three years, but that can be a very, very long time if you’re trying to keep a roof over your head.
“Rental rights you didn’t know you had,” Jemma Castle, 30 January 2017