Dear Lifehacker, I'm planning to move out of home for the first time with some mates into a rental property. Do you have any tips for someone living out of home for the first time? And can I customise my house without breaking the lease? Thanks, Rental Virgin
By choosing to move out with friends, you've successfully eliminated one of the unknowable pitfalls of shared accommodation: namely, horrible housemates. Presumably you get on well with your buddies, are already aware of their annoying habits and believe they can all be trusted — none of these factors are guaranteed when moving out with strangers. So that's one big hurdle that you've already managed to cross. (Again, we're assuming that you know your friends well, which is obviously essential.)
Moving into a new apartment still involves a bit of a gamble though. There are some things a property inspection wont reveal — such as overly bossy landlords or neighbours who are frequently noisy.
Thankfully, there are review sites and apps available that may be able to give you a bit of a heads-up before you sign the lease. For example, Dontwakeme is an anonymous crowdsourcing website that collects noise complaint data from the general public. Simply type in the area code for the property you're interest in and the site will give you a noise rating, complete with individual reviews.
Once you and your friends have decided on a property, it will be time to sign the lease: this is a legally binding contract, so it’s important to get everything clearly spelled out. If you're dealing directly with a landlord (rather than through a real estate agent) make sure you’ve had extensive talks with them and come prepared with plenty of questions: the more you know about their expectations in a tenant, the less likely that strife will occur in the future.
It also pays to document the accommodation from top to bottom by writing notes and taking photos. This will stop the landlord from blaming you for existing damage when it's time to move out.
Another possible bone of contention is how exactly the various bills should be split between you and your mates. For example, if one person has a spacious bedroom complete with an en suite bathroom and someone else is crammed in a cupboard-sized box, they should not be paying equal shares of the rent. Likewise, some people hog lots of electricity each week while others stick to basic usage. This is where the Splitwise website attempts to help: it allows renters to divvy up rent, power and other bills so that everything is fair.
Other things to be mindful of are long term leases (it's best to avoid these to begin with just in case everything doesn't work out), mobile reception (how reliable is it the the area?) and working out an internet and phone line connection (avoid sharing if possible!)
It's also a good idea to work out everyone's cooking/cleaning responsibilities as soon as possible: otherwise some people will end up doing more than their fair share of the work and resentment is bound to fester.
As to the second part of your question, you usually need to get permission from the landlord before you make any alterations to a property, whether major or minor. Unless permitted under the tenancy agreement, the renter agrees not to add or remove any fixtures or do any renovations, alterations or additions to the premises without the landlord’s written consent.
You can read an overview of the relevant regulations in each state below:
- Victoria (PDF)
- Western Australia (PDF)
- South Australia
- Northern Territory (PDF)
That said, if there are any major problems with the household, such as broken doors or leaky taps, the landlord will be required to repair them. An email or phone call to your real estate agent will usually get the issue seen to, although sometimes you'll need to bug a few times (especially if the faulty issue isn't life-threatening yet costs a lot to fix).
If you were thinking more about apartment aesthetics, there are various DIY tricks you can employ that will spruce the place up without creating any permanent alterations to the property. You can read a bunch of suggestions in our rental property customisation guide which covers everything from standing shelves to vinyl wall stickers.
If any shared accommodation renters are reading this, feel free to share your own advice and/or tips in the comments section below.
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