Private rental advice
Last published 18 Jan 2018
Advice to help you understand the private rental market and how to secure and maintain tenancy
Your housing needs
Where do you want to live?
Decide if you need to live near:
- transport (check transport routes by going to Transport NSW)
- services (eg shops, doctors and hospitals, schools, childcare etc)
- friends and family (can they get to you easily and you to them).
It is important to find out which areas have properties for rent at a price you can afford. You may need to consider a range of locations.
If you need to move to a completely new area, the local council or neighbourhood centre can tell you about services in that area.
You can find out where a property is and how to get there by looking up the address on Google Maps.
What sort of home do you need?
- How many bedrooms do you need?
- Do you prefer a house, a flat, or a townhouse?
- Do you need to live on the ground floor or could you live in an apartment with a lift?
- Do you need a property where pets are allowed?
- What other things are you looking for (a fenced garden, parking, a garage)?
How much rent can you afford?
An affordable rent is where you still have enough money left to pay your other household expenses, such as food, bills, credit cards, transport, etc after you have paid your rent. To do this you need to plan a budget.
If your expected expenses are more than your income you may need help to revise your budget, see where you might save, or look for a property in a more affordable area.
Steps to renting
1. Complete an application
If you've inspected a property and you'd like to rent it, you need to complete an application.
Make sure you have the documents you need:
- photographic ID
- income and bank details
- your rental history over the past few years
- employment details and history
- names of people who will give you rental or personal references and their contact numbers
- copies of accounts in your name.
You have to sign a declaration giving the agent permission to contact any of the people you list for references. Before you submit applications, call the people you have listed as your references and tell them that agents may contact them.
Follow up with the agent in a few days and ask if they need any other information.
If you are unsuccessful, ask the agent why as this might help with your next application.
If you need help to fill out an application, DCJ Housing staff can assist you.
2. Pay a deposit
You may have to pay a deposit (1 week’s rent) to reserve the property while the agent looks at your application.
If your application is not successful, the agent must refund this fee.
If your application is successful, the money can become part of the rent in advance.
The agent will tell you how much you must pay when you sign the residential tenancy agreement.
3. Set a start date
You and the landlord must decide a date when the tenancy starts. This is the date when the residential tenancy agreement will start.
On this day you receive the key and can move in. You must pay rent from this date even if you move in later.
Think about the best day to start paying rent. The day you are paid is recommended so you have the money when your rent is due.
4. Sign the residential tenancy agreement
The residential tenancy agreement is a legal contract. You and the landlord or agent agrees to the conditions listed when you sign it.
The agreement states:
- who is renting the property
- the period of time it will be rented (this is called the fixed-term period)
- the amount of rent to be paid and how you will pay it.
Before signing the residential tenancy agreement, make sure you read and understand it. Ask someone you trust to go through it with you.
When you sign the residential tenancy agreement the landlord or agent must give you:
- a signed copy of the residential tenancy agreement
- the property condition report
- the Fair Trading's New tenant information statement.
These documents should be kept in a safe place.
5. Pay the bond and rent in advance
You must pay two weeks’ rent in advance at the start of the tenancy. Once you have done this you will never be behind if you pay the rent when it is due.
What is bond?
A security for the landlord if you stop paying rent or damage the property.
How much bond will you pay?
- unfurnished premises – 4 weeks rent
- fully furnished premises (less than $250 week) – 6 weeks rent
- fully furnished premises (more than $250 week) – unlimited.
What happens to the bond money?
You sign a bond lodgement form. The agent or landlord must lodge the money with the Rental Bond Board within seven days. You will be sent a receipt by the Rental Bond Board. You should keep this with your copy of the residential tenancy agreement.
If you have met your tenancy obligations you can claim the rental bond at the end of the tenancy and receive a refund.
6. Complete the condition report
The landlord or agent fills out and signs 3 copies of the condition report. The agent must give you 2 copies of the filled out condition report by the time the tenancy begins.
You must fill out the ‘tenant agrees’ column with a Y (for yes) or an N (for no). If you do not agree you should write a reason in the comments area of the report.
You must sign and return a copy to the landlord or agent within 7 days and keep the other copy safe with your copy of the residential tenancy agreement.
7. Pay the rent
You and the landlord should agree on the rent you will pay and the method of payment before you move in. Rent is usually paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
A direct debit through Centrepay (a free direct bill-paying service for customers receiving payments from Centrelink) or your employer is helpful to make sure your rent is always paid on time.
If you pay your rent by cash or cheque, the landlord or agent must always give you a receipt. You should keep the receipts with your copy of the residential tenancy agreement.
If you deposit the money into a bank account or pay by Centrepay or direct debit, you may ask for a regular statement.
The landlord or agent must give you at least 60 days’ written notice if they want to increase the rent.
8. Moving in
Once you have paid the bond and rent in advance, signed the residential tenancy agreement and received the keys you are ready to move in.
You will need to have the gas, electricity and telephone connected in your name and pay deposits if required. You are free to choose your gas and electricity suppliers.
You may be able to get help with furniture, a fridge or loans for deposits from local welfare agencies or a no or low interest loan. Ask staff at DCJ Housing for a list of local agencies that may be able to help.
9. Avoiding problems with your tenancy
To avoid problems with your tenancy:
- read Fair Trading's renting a home guide to understand your rights and responsibilities
- pay your rent on time
- take good care of the property
- don’t disturb the peace, comfort or privacy of neighbours
- ask permission if you want another person to move in
- if you agree to anything, confirm it in writing and send your landlord or agent a copy
- keep all documents about the tenancy (eg condition report, tenancy agreement, letters and receipts) in a safe place
- if you are sent a notice of a NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) hearing, you must attend.
10. At the end of the tenancy
By law, you must give the landlord notice in advance if you want to end the tenancy:
- 14 days before if you plan to leave when the fixed-term period finishes
- 21 days before if the fixed-term period has already ended.
Ending a residential tenancy agreement before the end of the fixed term period, can cost you money. The agent can claim for:
- rent until a new tenant moves in or the agreement runs out
- a re-letting fee
- advertising costs
When the fixed-term period ends you may have the option to continue to rent on an ongoing basis. It is important to tell the agent if you want to stay on before the fixed-term ends.
When you are ready to leave you must provide the landlord with a written note stating:
- the address of the property
- the date you will move out
- your name/signature and date of the letter.
Once you have moved out you must:
- meet the landlord at the property for a final inspection
- complete the original condition report
- return the keys.
You can then claim the bond.
See Fair Trading's ending a tenancy guide for more information
11. Claim the bond at the end of the tenancy
When the tenancy is finished you can claim back the bond.
- Fill in a Claim for refund of bond money form
- If your rent is up to date and there is no damage to the property, the agent signs the form
- You can send the form back by email, post or in person at any Service NSW centre
- If some of the bond is to be used for cleaning or repairs, you should sign the same form claiming a reduced amount
If you and the agent cannot agree, you should make a claim yourself by sending a claim form to Fair Trading without the signature of the agent.
A notice will be sent to the agent advising them of the claim and giving them 14 days to apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to dispute it.
If no reply is received within 14 days the bond will be paid to you. The agent may also make a claim without your signature.
12. Rights and responsibilities
As a tenant you have rights as well as responsibilities. There are laws to protect the rights of tenants and landlords.
For more information contact NSW Fair Trading. Fair Trading is responsible for the laws about renting.
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Documents you need
A real estate agent or landlord may want:
- written or verbal references from agents or landlords
- a history of your accommodation for the past few years
- rent receipts (if you have them)
- personal references from employers, or other people who know you well.
Evidence of income
You can show evidence of your regular income with:
- current payslips from your employer/s
- an income statement from Centrelink
If you need help to register online with Centrelink or to access your statement, ask staff at DCJ Housing.
Personal identification (ID)
You will need to show the agent your identification.
Check what documents the agent will accept for identification as this varies.
Examples of personal identification include:
- photographic identification – eg driver’s licence, passport or other forms of photo ID
- Medicare and/or health care card
- birth certificate or birth card (can be obtained from the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, or the Clerk of the Local Court in country towns).
The Department of Human Services has a list of identification documents you can use to confirm your identity.
Finding a property
There are several ways you can search for a private rental property including:
- internet searches
- real estate agents
- through friends and family and by word of mouth.
When you start looking it may help if you make a list of all properties in your price range, the agents and contact details. Use this list to keep track of the properties you have inquired about, inspected or applied for. Make sure you tick them off the list if you find they are not suitable or not available.
Some popular websites that allow you to search for properties are:
You can use these websites to search for:
- a particular area
- different property types – flats, houses,
- share accommodation
- number of rooms
- properties in your price range.
You can find properties to rent in most NSW newspapers in the “to let” or “share accommodation” sections. Make a list of all properties in your price range, the agent and contact details, and tick them off the list as you go.
Real estate agents
Look at the “to let” or “for rent” displays in real estate agents.
Speak to your local real estate agent directly. Leave your contact details with them so that if something suitable comes up, they can contact you.
Noticeboards and word of mouth
Look on the noticeboards at TAFE colleges, universities, shopping centres, supermarkets, local shops and cafes for share accommodation.
Ask friends and family to let you know if they hear of something that might suit you.
If you need help to search for a property, ask staff at your local DCJ Housing office.
Inspecting a property
Making a good impression
You may be competing with other people for a property. Real estate agents and landlords decide who will be given a tenancy.
You can create a good impression by:
- dressing neatly, as if you are going for a job interview
- being on time or early for appointments and open inspections
- going alone if you can so you can give the agent your complete attention
- introducing yourself briefly
- answering questions politely
- having a list of questions to ask about the property
- taking photocopies of all documents (ID, references) and a pen so you can complete an application straight away.
Tell the agent if you are listed on a tenant database and why this happened, as they will find out when they check.
Inspecting a property
It is important to look at a property carefully before you sign a residential tenancy agreement (lease).
Remember to find out:
- Does it have gas or electricity? (these can have different costs)
- Does it have smoke detectors and do they work?
- Are the blinds or curtains OK?
- Is the hot water system big enough for your needs?
- Are there locks on the doors and windows?
- Is there a telephone line?
- Is there a television antenna?
- Are the fences and gates in good condition?
- Do you have to look after the garden, mow lawns, etc?
- Does the property need repairs? Will the repairs be carried out before you move in?
- If you have a pet, are pets allowed?
Once a residential tenancy agreement is signed, it may be harder to ask the landlord to make repairs. The landlord should do any agreed repairs before you move in or provide a written agreement to do the work after you move in.
What is a tenant database?
A tenant database is a list where landlords/agents record personal information about tenants who have had problems with their tenancies.
With this information, agents decide if someone is likely to fall behind on rent or damage the property.
If you have left a property without paying the full rent or with damage or repairs that are more than your unclaimed bond, your name may have been placed on a tenant database.
How do I find out if I am listed on a tenant database?
In each of the tenant database websites, there is a ‘Tenants’ section that tells you how to find if you are listed.
Common tenant databases are:
- Tenancy Information Centre Australasia (TICA)
- National Tenancy Database (NTD)
- Trading Reference Australia (TRA)
Calls to the database telephone hotlines are charged by the minute. You can also request information about whether you are listed via mail.
How do I get my name removed from a tenant database?
If you were listed for not paying rent, start repaying the debt to the agent or landlord.
If you were listed for something else – contact the landlord or agent to try and sort it out.
Any listing that is older than 3 years must be removed from a database.
What to do if you don’t think your name should be on the database?
Write to the agent and tell them if the information is not correct, or out of date and request that the information be changed (and keep a copy in case of a dispute).
If the agent objects to your requested change/s, your objection must be noted on the database.
Any listing that is older than 3 years must be removed from a database.
Listings under 3 years must also be removed if they are 'out-of-date'.
Fair Trading have further information on tenancy databases.
Building rental skills
Rent It Keep It is a short course about the private rental market and you. If you're thinking about renting a place, you can learn:
- tips for finding and keeping a place
- your rights and responsibilities as a tenant
For more information, contact your nearest housing provider: