Renting Guide: Tips for First Time Renters

24 April 2017
Co-author: James Hurwood, Byron Parish
Moving out of home for the first time? This is what you should know…

So you’ve finally managed to fly out of the family nest. Whether you were pushed or had to break free of some shackles, moving out during your student days or as a full-time worker, moving out on your own is always big deal.

It marks the beginning of a new chapter in your life where you’ll find yourself learning a lot more and experiencing some major personal changes.

But if you’re moving out into a rental, there are a number of things you should know to ensure your first flight doesn’t result in a disastrous crash.

10 things you should know about being a tenant

1. How leases work

When you’re renting a property, your lease is the most important thing to understand. It’s the legally-binding agreement between yourself and the landlord that defines how long you’ll be renting the property, how much you will pay each week, and what your responsibilities are.

Signing your lease means you agree to everything that’s set out in it, so be sure to read it thoroughly – because if you breach the conditions of your lease, the landlord can have the right to evict you.

2. What your rights are

When you’re  named on the lease, you are entitled to certain rights. For example, the landlord can’t force you to pay for things like general repairs and maintenance.

You also have the right to privacy, meaning the landlord can’t show up to the property unannounced to pester you.

Different states around the country may have different laws regarding your rights as a tenant, so find out what your tenancy rights are in your state:

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3. Leaving the property

Upon the expiration of the lease, you may be offered a lease renewal or you can move out. If you do intend on leaving the property, you’ll be required to provide a few weeks’ notice (usually 2-3 weeks) in writing prior to the end of the lease.

As we know, life is full of the unexpected, and unforeseen circumstances could require you to move out prior to the expiration of the lease. Unfortunately, this can require you to pay compensation to the landlord for the loss of income caused by you ending the tenancy agreement early. These costs can include re-letting fees, advertising costs, and rent until a new tenant is found.

It should go without saying that you should leave the property in a clean, well-maintained state. You’ll need to do this in order to get your bond back (see below). Make sure you go through your Entry Condition Report checklist with a fine-tooth comb to check that the “end condition” of the property matches how it was when you first moved in.

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4. Bond

A rental bond is the money you pay at the start of a tenancy to provide financial security for the landlord in case you breach the terms of the lease. Essentially, it’s designed so that if you damage the property at all during your lease, the landlord can keep the bond and use it for repairs and cleaning when you leave.

The bond money is held by a regulatory body (in NSW it is deposited with NSW Fair Trading) until you claim it back at the end of your tenancy. For most properties, the most a bond can cost is the equivalent of 4 weeks rent.

If by the end of the lease you have left the property unclean, damaged (besides ‘fair wear and tear’), or with rent owing, you may not be able to claim back your bond. This is because the landlord has a right to claim the reasonable costs of cleaning and repairs from your bond – hence the importance of leaving the property as you found it.

5. Paying rent

The method for paying rent should be stated in the lease. Approved methods may include electronic bank transfer, EFTPOS, credit card, cash, cheque, or deductions from your pay. If you pay with cash, you should be given a receipt.

The landlord/property manager will keep a record (ledger) of your rent payments and should retain this for up to 1 year after the tenancy has ended. You can request a copy of this record.

If your rent is late by a specified amount of time (usually 14 days) your landlord usually has the power to evict you. If you’re unable to pay overdue rent, repayment plans for the outstanding amount can be organised with your landlord or real estate agent.

6. Repairs and maintenance

While it is your duty as a tenant to keep the property clean and undamaged, it is the responsibility of the landlord or the landlord’s property manager for keeping the property in a good condition for the tenant to live in.

Your landlord needs to organise and pay for repairs when necessary, including emergency repairs. If notified problems aren’t fixed within a reasonable amount of time, you may have a right to end the tenancy or claim compensation from the landlord.

If one of your belongings is broken or damaged rather than part of the property itself, you can also check whether this is covered by your contents insurance, also known as renter’s insurance. A good quality contents insurance policy will cover you to repair or replace your belongings after loss or damage caused by fire, flood or storm, malicious damage by other people, theft or attempted theft, stray animals, and some accidental glass breakage. You can compare your options on our website:

7. What not to do without permission

In the lease it should generally state what you can and cannot do without explicit permission from the owners. You usually need permission from your landlord to do things like keeping pets or making changes to the property (e.g. painting walls and doing minor renovations).

8. The importance of neighbours

Establishing a relationship with neighbours can be extremely valuable when renting, particularly when renting in an apartment block or complex where the landlord manages multiple properties.

When you know your neighbours, they will be more likely raise issues (such as too much noise) directly with you instead of dobbing you in to the landlord or the police.

Neighbours can be helpful in other ways such as agreeing to collect your mail or take out your bins while you’re away. They’re also nice to have for a friendly chat now and then. As they say on Ramsay St, “everybody needs good neighbours”.

9. Housemate etiquette

You’ll also need to establish good relationships with those within your home so that you can all live in harmony. Most of us know someone who’s had a rough experience with a particularly bad housemate, which is why it is important for housemates to establish firm rules together.

These house rules should include informal agreements about how to deal with things like parties, letting friends stay over, food sharing, shopping, cooking, paying bills, cleanliness, and privacy.

10. How to manage housemate disputes

Even with rules and agreements, there is still a strong chance you’ll have a dispute with a housemate over something at some stage. Disagreements often arise regarding bills, rent, room allocation, chores, and property damage.

Knowing how to manage and resolve these disagreements peacefully has a lot to do with clear, relaxed and open discussion. If disagreements persist, you could seek out free dispute resolution services which are offered by most states.

As for housemates or guests who have damaged your stuff, you can check whether this is covered by your contents insurance. Every renter should have good quality contents insurance to repair or replace their belongings if lost or damaged by theft or attempted theft, or malicious damage or vandalism by other people:

Moving out of home checklist

Maybe you’re still considering moving out of home. Here are some things you need to think about before applying for a property and jumping into the world of renting:

Moving Out of Home Checklist
Location Where you choose to live is important for a number of reasons, namely price and transport.

If you’re a school or University leaver, you probably don’t have enough money to live in the nicest suburb in your city, so it might be a good idea to look at locations in slightly cheaper suburbs.

Keep in mind that while further out suburbs will be cheaper, they may pose transport problems. Make sure to map out transport options in any area you’re considering as a potential home.

Type of property What type of property do you want to live in? You could live in a little one-person apartment or a share house; it all depends on what you want and what you can afford.

Different property types come with different pros and cons. For example, an apartment will offer you less space but will probably be cheaper, whereas a house would offer you more living room but will probably cost more in rent and utilities (and take up more of your time to keep clean).

Housemates Just like choosing the type of property you want to live in, choosing whether or not to have housemates or flatmates comes with a distinct set of pros and cons.

While living with others will definitely reduce your financial obligations (rent, electricity bills, etc.), living with strangers can initially prove to be an uncomfortable or even unpleasant experience. Personality and value clashes can be serious issues, and make living away from home more stressful then it needs to be.

On the other hand, housemates can also become close friends, so they’re definitely worth considering.

Lease length You may be tempted to sign a longer lease because the rent is cheaper or some other reason, but keep in mind that if you want to move anywhere and your lease isn’t up, you’ll pay a hefty fee to break your lease.

You may also have to still pay rent for the rest of the term, even if you’re not living there, and on top of that the landlord may ask you to pay re-letting fees.

If you are sharing a home with housemates, also think carefully about whose names should be on the lease. Whoever’s name is on the lease is legally liable for that lease.

If you want to be sure that your housemates are going to pay their fair share of the rent, it’s a good idea to have their names on the lease.

But if you think that one of your housemates would look less than stellar on a rental application, it might be worth just having your own name on the lease.

Money It’s been raised a few times above, but money is really the most important consideration when moving out.

Do you have a steady cash flow, and is that enough to pay weekly/fortnightly rent, utilities, food, and transport?

Will you have enough money to buy essentials once you’ve moved in?

Before you move out it’s definitely a good idea map out your expenses, draw up a budget, and make sure you’ll be financially stable.

If you don’t want to be part of the “Boomerang Generation” (kids who move out then move back in to their parents’ home), put some careful planning into your initial attempt.

Moving costs Will you pay for professional movers or ask your friends and family to help you out?

Are you going to take furniture to your new home or buy new furniture after moving?

Consider initially only taking absolute essentials and bringing everything else over gradually; this will make your initial move much easier and less stressful.

Insurance While there are no mandatory insurance policies you’ll need, contents insurance is definitely a good idea. This can cover your belongings for loss or damage caused by fire, flood, theft or attempted theft, and more.

Also ask your parents whether or not you will still be covered under their health insurance once you’re not living under their roof. While you’re at it, don’t forget about car insurance for your vehicle.

Finally, consider whether you may need any life insurances.

Mail Will you set up a mail re-direct and send your mail to your new place of residence until you’ve registered your change of address everywhere, or will you let your mail keep going to your parent’s house and collect it off them?
Luxuries If your new home doesn’t have it, do you plan on paying for wi-fi? What about Netflix or Foxtel or another paid TV service?

While you may not miss having a paid TV service (there’s always YouTube), it’s entirely likely that you’ll have a hard time living without an internet connection in your home.


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