YouthLaw is a free national legal service for under 25s. Contact us for free on 0800 UTHLAW (884 529) or firstname.lastname@example.org for help with almost any legal problem. Each fortnight we answer your questions on a particular area of law. This issue: FLATTING.
I’m moving in with some mates. Do we all need to sign the lease?
No, but if not, not everyone will be a tenant. Only tenants who have signed a tenancy agreement are in a tenancy with a landlord, and only tenants have shared responsiblity for paying the bond, rent and bills, any damage, and complying with the tenancy agreement. They can also be individually liable for the entire tenancy. If there are both tenants and flatmates living in the same place it’s a good idea to have a separate flat sharing agreement in case someone does a runner.
So if my flatmate moves out or causes damage I have to pay for them?
If you’re a tenant, most probably. If there are other tenants, you all may have to. If everyone moves out leaving you as the sole tenant you could be liable for the total rent and/or damage. Hence the importance of a flat sharing agreement!
But my flatmate is/has become an irresponsible, reckless, carefree, inconsiderate slob. What can I do?
If you have a flat sharing agreement, and your flatmate has signed, you’ll all have to follow the terms of your agreement unless you all agree to end it. If your flatmate has broken the agreement you could take them to the Disputes Tribunal if you’re out of pocket. If there’s no flat sharing agreement, the tenant can decide if the flatmate stays or goes. If the slob is a tenant, and you’re the flatmate, your options are put up with it or move out.
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If there’s a freak tornado/earthquake/volcanic eruption/terrorist event/alien invasion, my landlord will deal with that, right?
Yes, if you’re talking about damage to the building and the liveability of the accommodation. The landlord’s insurance may cover this. Their insurance most probably will not cover your personal possessions though—your own contents insurance is a good idea. Your landlord is not liable for replacing your stuff if you get robbed.
I’m moving into a place, but the letting agent wants a letting fee, 4 weeks bond, and 2 weeks rent in advance. This costs more than my car did. Are they allowed to charge all this?
Yes, but four weeks’ bond and two weeks’ rent in advance is the maximum. The letting agent can charge their own fee. The advance rent must be used before you need to pay rent again. Bonds are paid to the landlord, but the landlord must lodge this money with the Department of Building and Housing within 23 working days. The DBH will send you and the landlord a receipt and will hold the bond until the end of the tenancy.
I moved in without really looking properly at the apartment. Now I notice that the place is falling apart. I’m worried I’m going to get pinged for the damage.
You should inspect the property inside and outside before you sign a tenancy agreement. Go through the place with the landlord and write down the condition of things like the carpet, the stove or the walls. There’s a property inspection report available from the Department of Building and Housing. Both landlord and tenant should sign, date and keep a copy of this form. Having the form when the tenancy ends means that the tenant cannot be blamed for any pre-existing damage. If you discover something that you weren’t aware of when you moved in, let the landlord know as soon as you find out. Preferably do this in writing, like in an email.
My landlord won’t fix the mould problem/dripping tap/dodgy dishwasher.
A landlord has certain obligations. If it’s a big enough deal, you think the landlord has breached their obligations, and you (the tenant) can’t resolve the matter with the landlord, you could take it to the Tenancy Tribunal. Get some legal advice. If the problem is likely to hurt people or damage anything, and you’ve tried but can’t reach the landlord, you (if you’re a tenant) can get the problem fixed yourself and ask for the landlord to reimburse you.
Can the landlord kick us out just for complaining?
If you’re tenants, no. This could be something called retaliatory notice, which is illegal. The tenant can apply to the Tenancy Tribunal in this situation and ask them to decide on the legality of the notice.
Landlord/tenant/flatmate won’t pay up/do what they’re supposed to do. How much is the Tenancy Tribunal? Do I have to pay for a lawyer?
The Tenancy Tribunal is for landlord/tenant disputes. If your dispute is with a flatmate you’re looking at the Disputes Tribunal. Lawyers are not usually present in either Tribunal. There is a fee of $20.44 for the Tenancy Tribunal and $36.30 (for disputes of under $1000) for the Disputes Tribunal (correct in July 2011). It’s a good idea to get legal advice first. *
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