A guide to tenants' rights for landlords

author-avatar By on December 12, 2019
A guide to tenants' rights for landlords

Photo by Bruno Cervera on Unsplash

Owning an investment property can be a solid way to grow your wealth over time, but you’ll need to have a tenant in that property if you’re to make any regular income from it.

Landlord and tenant

The relationship between tenant and landlord can be a tricky one, with the potential to sour and even end up in court for a number of reasons.

As easy as this might be, as a landlord you can’t do whatever you want: you might own the property but the tenants live there, and they have rights just as you do as the property owner. That’s why there are tenants' rights legislated by each state government clearly listing what the rights and responsibilities of each party are.

According to Global Property Guide, Australia’s laws for landlords and tenants are judged to be neutral, meaning both parties are well protected by each state’s Residential Tenancy Act (RTA). The laws are clear and numerous, but learning them all requires reading through pages upon pages of boring documents, and who has time for that?

This article could be a much less boring way to learn the essentials of tenants' rights if you’re a landlord, and being aware of these laws is a good way to ensure you stay on good terms with your tenants and can enjoy a sustainable, symbiotic relationship.

Thinking of investing in some property? Check out the table below, which displays fixed interest-only home loans currently available for investors, featuring picks from each of the following categories: The Big Four Banks, The Top 10 Customer Owned Banks, and the Larger Non-Banks.

Provider
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Comp rate*
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Monthly
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Base criteria of: a $400,000 loan amount, fixed, interest-only (IO) home loans with an LVR (loan-to-value) ratio of at least 80%. If products listed have an LVR <80%, they will be clearly identified in the product name along with the specific LVR. The product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider’s web site. Introductory rate products were not considered for selection. Monthly repayments were calculated based on the selected products’ advertised rates, applied to a $400,000 loan with a 30-year loan term. Rates correct as at 01 July 2020. View disclaimer.

Tenants' rights: landlord inspections

Landlords are not allowed to just show up at the property unannounced, as this would be a violation of the tenant’s privacy. While you are allowed to enter the property even if they’re not there, in all but extreme circumstances you’ll need to provide a minimum notice period to the tenants in writing.

The minimum notice periods, as well as the frequency of these visits, are different in each state:

State

Notice required

Frequency

NSW

At least seven days’ written notice

No more than four routine inspections a year, entry must be between 8 am and 8 pm (excluding Sundays and public holidays)

VIC

At least 24 hours’ written notice.

Entry must be between 8 am and 6 pm excluding public holidays (no frequency limits)

QLD

At least seven days’ written notice unless otherwise agreed upon, and not within three months of a previous entry

Entry must be between 8 am and 6 pm except for Sundays and public holidays (quarterly visits are allowed as stated before).

WA

Between seven and 14 days' written notice

No more than four routine inspections per year

SA

Between seven and 14 days' written notice

Maximum of two-hour visits between 8 am and 6 pm, all days except Sundays and public holidays

ACT

At least seven days' written notice

No more than two routine inspections per year, additional inspections allowed in the first month of a new lease.

Entry must be between 8 am and 6 pm, all days except Sundays and public holidays.

TAS

At least 24 hours' written notice

Entry must be between 8 am and 6 pm, no more than two routine inspections per year

NT

At least seven days' written notice required

Entry must be between 7 am and 9 pm, cannot do routine inspections within three months of the last one

These regulations also apply to the property agent if you choose to use one of those. Entries can often be allowed outside of the stated times if written consent is given by the tenants.

In the event of an emergency, like a gas leak, only one state (Victoria) requires more than 24 hours' notice if you need to enter the property.

You are allowed to take photos of the property when you arrive, although the tenants are within their rights to request that no photos are taken which identify them.

Landlords are allowed to enter the property more in the event that something within the property requires immediate maintenance, as they often have a responsibility to see to this.

Tenants' rights: repairs and maintenance

As a landlord you have a responsibility to ensure the property is maintained and stays in a liveable condition, with requests for repairs responded to promptly by either yourself or the property manager.

Repairs

There’s generally a distinction between urgent repairs and non-urgent ones. Urgent repairs are things that can cause danger or significant inconvenience to a person’s health (like electrical faults or a roof collapsing) or hygiene (like a broken toilet). Other examples include:

  • Gas leaks
  • Broken utilities
  • Flooding
  • Storm and fire damage
  • Broken staircases

These urgent repairs usually require a landlord to legally respond and attempt to fix within 24-48 hours, although these time frames differ from state to state. Landlords may have to compensate tenants for up to $1,000 if they pay for urgent repairs.

Actually completing urgent repairs doesn’t have to be done straight away but there are time frames depending on your state:

State

Urgent repair timeframe

NSW “Within a reasonable time”
VIC 14 days
QLD

“Within a reasonable time”

WA “Within a reasonable time”
SA Depends on the urgency
ACT Four weeks
TAS 28 days
NT Depends on the urgency

Non-urgent repairs, on the other hand, are things tenants expect to be in a “reasonable working order” when they move in but aren’t crucial to their short-term wellbeing. These non-urgent repairs could be things like:

  • A broken dishwasher
  • A busted air conditioner
  • Faulty kitchen appliances etc.

Tenants can inform their landlords of these requests for repairs but they cannot withhold rent. They can, however, terminate the lease without a penalty based on each state’s legislation.

Maintenance

The parts of the property the tenants are responsible for maintaining will be listed in the tenancy agreement, otherwise the responsibility will fall to the landlord. For example, it’s common to see gardening listed in a rental agreement as a tenant’s responsibility.

Tenants are also usually responsible for:

  • Connecting and paying for utilities (gas and electricity)
  • Maintaining the lawns, weeding and pruning
  • Fixing internal fixtures (such as lightbulbs) if safe or arranging for them to be fixed

Tenants are not responsible for any maintenance that might put them in danger, such as cleaning gutters or fixing faulty wiring.

Tenants' rights: rent increases and decreases

As a landlord, you have the right to set the weekly rent on your property, and the market will determine if anyone is willing to pay that price. If you decide the current rent your tenants are paying is too low - say, for example, the median weekly rent in that area has increased or the property has increased in value - then you are able to increase the rent. You just won’t be able to do it straight away, and there are rules and regulations you need to abide by.

For one thing, there are limits as to how often a landlord can increase a property's rent, and every state except New South Wales stipulates a minimum waiting period before raising the price. All states bar the Northern Territory also require you give the tenants at least 60 days notice, to give them time to either review the rent increase or find another property to live in.

State

Rental increase limit

Notice required

NSW

No limit

60 days

VIC

Once every six months

60 days/two months

QLD

Once every six months

60 days/two months

WA

Once every six months

60 days/months

SA

Once every 12 months

60 days/eight weeks

ACT

Once every 12 months

60 days/eight weeks

TAS

Once every 12 months

60 days/eight weeks

NT

Once every six months

30 days

Often you’ll find that rents can’t be increased unless this has been added to the tenancy agreement prior to the tenants signing. There are links to each state’s tenancy laws at the bottom of this page so you can have a look.

If you do decide to raise your rent, you should send your tenants a written notice that:

  • identifies the new rental amount in clear, unambiguous terms, and
  • clearly identify the date from which the new rent comes into effect

How much can you increase your rent by?

Strictly speaking, there’s no limit to how much you can increase your rent by. You can spike it by $1,000, but that doesn’t mean anyone will be willing to pay that much.

If a tenant deems a rental increase to be “excessive” they might choose to dispute it through their state’s tribunal service - these are also linked at the bottom of the page. These tribunals will assess the proposed rent increase against the consumer price index (CPI) as well as similar rent prices in the area.

There’s often no clear ruling on what an excessive rent increase is, although the ACT does specify 20% above the average rental increase in that area as excessive.

In other states, excessive rental increases might be considered as such if:

  • The condition of the property has deteriorated or not improved
  • The rent had only recently been increased
  • The market value of the property has not improved
  • Things that are detrimental to the property (like a high-rise construction going up right in front of it) have appeared
  • If no other nearby properties have had rent increases

Can tenants request rent decreases?

Tenants are also able to request a rent decrease in writing if the quality of the property has substantially decreased. As we said above, a high-rise apartment commencing construction next door when it wasn’t there when they moved in might be such a reason. A significant drop in the market rate, broken appliances and property damage can also be grounds for a rent reduction.

Landlords don’t have to approve these rental decreases, but bear in mind that the tenants might have a good reason for requesting a decrease. If they’ve provided enough evidence (photos, notes etc.) that the property is not worth the rent they’re paying, they may look elsewhere once their lease expires if you don’t agree.

Meeting them halfway can be an ideal solution, but do your own research and contact your property agent (if you have one) to make sure you’re not getting taken for a ride.

Tenants' rights: ending a tenancy

An ideal tenant is someone who wants to stick around long-term and pays their rent on time, but this doesn’t always happen. The tenants themselves might have found a more suitable place to stay, or you might want them gone as they’ve proven to be a nightmare to deal with.

You generally can’t evict a tenant during a fixed-term lease unless they’ve breached the tenancy agreement, and in most cases, landlords are required to provide two-weeks for the tenant to fix the breach before moving to terminate the lease. Notice periods are almost always required in order to give tenants the time to find a new place to live.

Tenants' rights regarding terminating a tenancy vary from state to state:

State

Notice required

NSW

  • 30 days' notice in advance of the end of the lease

  • 14 days' notice if they breach the agreement

VIC

  • 60 days' notice required if the fixed-lease is expiring

  • 120 days if no reason is given (such as selling the property, family moving in etc.)

QLD

  • Two months' notice for periodic leases

  • Two months' notice for a fixed-term agreement: landlords can’t evict unless they’ve breached the agreement or both parties agree mutually

WA

  • 30 days' notice if the property is being sold

  • 60 days if no reason is provided

SA

  • 28 days at the end of a fixed-term lease

  • 60 days if the landlord plans to sell or occupy the house

  • 90 days if no reason is provided

ACT

  • Four weeks' notice with cause

  • 26 weeks' notice (aka six months) without cause

TAS

  • 42 days' notice at the end of the fixed-lease if the property is being sold/moved into by the landlord

  • 42 days' notice if the landlord doesn’t want to renew the lease

  • 14 days' if the tenant has breached the agreement

NT

  • 14 days' notice at the end of the fixed-lease

  • 42 days' notice if the lease is ongoing

Tenants can terminate a lease early provided they have legal grounds to do so. Such grounds might include:

  • Significant financial hardship
  • The tenant moving away for work
  • The premises not being fit for living
  • False and misleading statements made by the landlord/agent prior to your moving in
  • The landlord refusing to make urgent repairs
  • The death of another tenant

Tenants might have to pay a break fee under certain circumstances - check your state's relevant tenancy act to see if any apply.

Tenancy agreements can be terminated at any time as long as there is a mutual agreement. If tenants feel they are being unfairly or unlawfully evicted they can take their landlord to their state’s tenancy tribunal, which is why it’s important for both parties to keep written and photographic records.

Tenants' right: pets

Australia is one of the world’s most pet-loving nations. Research from Animal Medicines Australia found 62% of households contain at least one pet. This means most Australian renters are looking for pet-friendly accommodation, yet only 10% of rental homes are pet-friendly.

Suncorp’s 2019 Home Index Report found 59% of those aged 18-34 place importance on a potential new home’s pet-friendliness, and this was more important to them than its proximity to family (46%) and friends (39%).

Pets in rental properties are one of the most sensitive topics among landlords. Research has shown pet-owners are likely to stick around longer and even pay more, but this sometimes doesn’t counterbalance the damage and disruption pets can cause.

If you’re deciding whether to allow pets in your rental property, know that tenants have certain rights when it comes to their furry friends. And depending on the state you live in you might not even have a say in the matter.

Tenants have pets without permission: what to do?

Based on the table below, you can see landlords have more power when it comes to restricting pets in some states than others. Landlords might consider the likes of Western Australia to be better for restricting against pets, while the likes of Victoria and soon Queensland make it harder.

State

Pet regulations

NSW

Landlords can insert their own pet clauses into leases, and tenants should seek approval before bringing a pet into the house. Having one without permission could violate the lease.

VIC

The Victorian Government passed reforms to its Residential Tenancies Act in September 2018, and as of July 2020, landlords can no longer include pet-preventing clauses in leases.

QLD

As of November 2019, new legislation means all renters have the right to own a pet in Queensland, and landlords must demonstrate “reasonable grounds” to refuse them.

See our article on the changes here.

WA

Pets must be included in the lease via written landlord permission- otherwise, they’re not allowed. WA is also the only state where landlords can charge a “pet bond” of up to $260 to cover damages they might cause.

SA

Pets only permitted with a landlord’s written consent.

ACT

All renters have the right to own a pet in the ACT, and landlords must demonstrate “reasonable grounds” to refuse them.

TAS

Pets only permitted with a landlord’s written consent.

NT

No specific legislation regarding having pets, although pet bonds are illegal. Renters can seek approval from the landlord if they want a pet.

Some states also have “breach of tenancy” clauses included where tenants can be evicted if a pet has been consistently causing damage or disturbing the peace and comfort of neighbours. In Victoria, for example, landlords can give an immediate “notice to vacate” if the pet has been found to endanger the safety of neighbours.

In most cases, landlords cannot refuse assistance animals if the tenant has a proven disability (i.e a guide dog for a blind tenant).

Research from the University of Western Sydney indicates 11% of pet-owning tenants ignored pet-free clauses anyway, so if you don’t allow pets you might want to check for signs of a dog or two living there during your next inspection.

Landlord tenant dispute: how to avoid conflicts

Barring perfect tenant/landlord relationships, disputes of some kind can be inevitable, whether they’re polite disputes or something a bit feistier.

Finding the right balance is important - you don’t have to keep unruly tenants around if they treat your property like a squatter’s den, but there’s also no need to make unreasonable demands or even violate tenancy laws. Remember: a happy tenant is much more likely to stick around for longer and thus help you avoid the costs associated with finding new tenants and not receiving any rent in the short term.

Documentation is important: both you and the tenants should complete an entry report prior to them moving in, which should help identify who is at fault in any given situation. Make sure you stick to the agreement you made with the tenant, and remember to communicate clearly and politely.

And above all, try putting yourself in the tenant’s shoes before jumping to the worst-case scenario: there’s a good chance they’re reasonable people who simply made a mistake, and there might be a good reason for whatever problem is occurring. For example, they might be under severe financial or mental stress.

If you do have a tenant who is deliberately making life difficult, or just doesn’t seem to care very much, you have rights too. The links provided below contain the majority of them.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

Not knowing the rights of your tenants - as well as your own rights as a landlord - can get you into some strife. The ideal tenants are reliable ones that are upfront, open and honest in their communication with you or your agent, and the better you treat your tenants the more likely they are to stick around. No one wants to live under someone else’s boot.

So make sure you familiarise yourself with tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities. As promised, you can find the relevant links below.

Each state’s Residential Tenancies Act

Each state’s residential tenancies tribunal


Disclaimers

The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:

  • The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
  • The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2019. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
  • The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2019) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.

Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site.

In the interests of full disclosure, Savings.com.au and loans.com.au are part of the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings.com.au manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please click through onto the web site links.

*The Comparison rate is based on a $150,000 loan over 25 years. Warning: this comparison rate is true only for this example and may not include all fees and charges. Different terms, fees or other loan amounts might result in a different comparison rate.

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author-avatar
William Jolly joined Savings.com.au as a Financial Journalist in 2018, after spending two years at financial research firm Canstar. In William's articles, you're likely to find complex financial topics and products broken down into everyday language. He is deeply passionate about improving the financial literacy of Australians and providing them with resources on how to save money in their everyday lives.

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