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A guide to renting your first place

No matter what your circumstances, the process of renting a property and signing a lease for the first time can be both exciting and overwhelming. Here’s our list of things you need to know before moving, plus a few hints and tips in case issues arise.

Choosing the right rental

First, decide what sort of place you’d like to live in. Perhaps it’s a shared house where there’s an existing lease, a sub-tenancy where you’ll take over someone else’s room while they’re away, or a new rental of your own. If you’re a university student, you can also apply to live on campus in residences.

If you’re looking elsewhere, try websites like Domain or for private rentals, and Flatmate Finders if you want to move into an existing share house. If you’re moving to be close to university, familiarise yourself with the area and its access to public transport and the campus.

It’s likely that you’ll be signing a lease agreement. The agreement could be month-by-month, or fixed for six to 12 months. Month-by-month typically gives you more flexibility to move on quickly, but less stability because the landlord can terminate or change the lease with less notice, so consider what best suits you.

You’ll probably be expected to pay a bond, which is a security deposit you’ll get back at the end of your tenancy. You may also be required to pay some rent in advance. The costs will vary depending on the total weekly rent, but it’s important to ensure you have some savings ready to pay these extras, as well as your moving costs.

Applying for a lease

There will be a nominated inspection time to go and look at the rental. If you like what you see, apply for the lease using the form supplied on the real estate agent’s website. You will need to supply banking information, previous rental history, your employment status, and professional or personal references.

The rental market can be competitive, but the landlord and real estate agent cannot discriminate against you based on your race, gender or any other factor. If you think you’ve been discriminated against in the application process, you can make a complaint to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights commission.

Once you make an application that’s successful you’ll be expected to sign a lease that’s legally binding, so make sure you’ve read and understood everything in the agreement.

Consumer Affairs Victoria has a handy app called RentRight, which has a range of tools to help renters through their tenancy agreements.

Moving in

When you start your tenancy you should receive a condition report that documents the state of the property at the time you move in. If you notice anything broken or damaged that is not included in the document, be sure to bring it to the landlord or agent’s attention so that you’re not accountable later.

If you’ve agreed to a fixed-term lease, your rent cannot be increased more than once every six months. You should also receive 60 days notice if your landlord is putting the rent up.

Sometimes your landlord or property manager might need to come and see the property, but you have the right to receive notice for spot inspections or visits.

Getting repairs made

Tenants are entitled to certain living standards. If you need something repaired, contact your landlord or the property manager representing the landlord. Non-urgent repairs can take longer to resolve than those that are urgent. If a landlord fails to respond to the request in an adequate period of time, you can request a repairs inspection or rent assessment, according to Consumer Affairs Victoria, but you must continue to pay rent in the meantime.

This handy step-by-step guide from the Tenants Union of Victorian helps to explain how to request repairs at your rental property and what to do if your request isn’t actioned.

Breaking your lease

In some circumstances you might need to end your lease early. It can be hard to break a lease and you might need to cover the cost of rent until a suitable tenant is found. However, if you know a possible replacement tenant, you can potentially transfer your lease to someone else instead of paying associated fees to leave the property early. You must negotiate this transfer with your property manager or landlord.

Ending your tenancy (and getting your bond back)

If you’re not renewing your lease at the end of an agreed term, you are entitled to receive your full bond provided that you have not damaged the property in any way. You must sign the Bond Claim form and your landlord or property manager will send it to the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority. The bond will be paid back into your nominated account.

Before you have finalised the end of your tenancy you must also ensure the property has been cleaned to the standard that is set in your lease agreement, disconnect your utilities and redirect your mail, too.

Unsure about where to live while you’re at university? Check out Deakin University’s list of things to consider.

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