Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 (the Act) have been coming into practice over the past few years and will continue to change until August 2018. The variations in time frames are to allow landlords the opportunity to ensure their rental properties meet the required standards without placing too much of a financial burden on a landlord in one hit.
From the 31 August 2015 minimum standards for rental properties have been introduced. Again, this is a gradual introduction. One issue that has surfaced on a number of occassions through our telephone advice line is that of the premises being clean at the beginning of a tenancy (section 36J of the Act) This requirement came into effect within 30 days for all new leases. It means, the property has to be clean, when the lease agreement is signed and the keys are handed over. So tenants need not be put off, if the property is not clean yet during the inspection. We suggest tenants to sign a lease anyway and, if necessary, take actions as described below later. The failure to provide a property for rent in a clean condition is a breach of the Act. Two issues arise here, what is deemed clean and what rights does a tenant have if it is not clean when they take possession of the premises.
- Clean: The Act does not define what clean is to mean. It is quite a subjective term as people have varying ideas to what they deem as clean. Based on dictionary meanings, it simply means free from dirt, marks and unwanted matter. In this instance we would argue unwanted matter to be things such as mould, rodents and smells. At the beginning of the tenancy, a tenant should thouroughly inspect the property to complete the condition report and to ensure that the property is clean. Check in cupbards, behind stoves and fridges and through each room.
- Rights of a Tenant: Providing a property at the beginning of a lease that is not clean is a breach of section 36J of the Act, a tenant has a right to terminate an agreement. If the tenant believes the property is not clean then ending the agreement is an option.
However, generally speaking when a tenant has just begun a lease the last thing on their minds is leaving the property and finding somewhere else, so this is often not an option. Another opportunity would be having the landlord rectify the problem. Call the landlord and inform them, take pictures to provide evidence and request it is done within a specific time period. If this is not successful then a tenant should complain to the Residential Tenanct Commissioner as soon as possible and provide their evidence. (1300 654 499)
For general information please have a look at the factsheets on our website or if you need some advice give us a call on 1300 652 641.