Finding a new rental in a lockdown

Steps to take during pandemic restrictions

If you’re looking for a new rental, it’s hard to check it out during a lockdown. Current public-health restrictions, at 30 August 2021, ban inspections across the state. There are exceptions at this time – for final inspections for a prospective sale or rental of property that cannot be deferred, and end-of-lease or property-settlement activities.

Here are a few steps you can take if you can’t inspect the property in person. Also see our pages on Starting your tenancy.

Check restrictions

Check out the latest on the public-health restrictions to see what is permissible. For current real-state restrictions go to How we work: Victoria | Coronavirus Victoria.

Watch out for scams

There has been an increase in scams during the pandemic. Make sure you deal with a real person and a real property; it’s OK to ask for someone for identification or proof they’re the owner. Don’t pay cash.

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) has some tips that include doing an internet search with images from the advertising, to check they haven’t been copied from another site. Read CAV’s page on rental scams and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch website.

Ask for documentation

Ask the agent or rental provider (landlord) to send you a detailed video tour of the rented premises.

Also ask them for copies of the most recent condition reports, including any photos. They will have a copy of the most recent one at least.

Try to get a copy of the floor plan with measurements as this will help with a sense of space and what features are in the property. Sometimes the ad for the property includes the floor plan.

Research, research, research

Do as much research as you can about the property. Use Google Maps for a bird’s eye view of the property and its surrounds. The Street View function is useful to view the street around the rental, and for a candid photo of the street frontage of the property.

Signing the agreement

Make sure that anything the rental provider says they will do is written into the contract. You should be able to get a copy of the contract to review before you sign.

If you sign and return the contract to the agent or rental provider,  and they accept your rent payment without reservation or they have given you the keys, the rental provided has accepted the agreement – even if they do not send you back the agreement with their signature. This means that you are bound by the agreement even if you don’t have that signed copy.

And remember, for any payments do not pay cash and always make sure you get a receipt.

Rental provider must maintain the rental ‘in good repair’

Remember that if anything is broken, the rental provider is obliged under Victorian rental laws to fix it and put the house in good repair. The law says your rented home must be ‘maintained in good repair and in a reasonably fit and suitable condition’.

For more information see our page Repairs and maintenance.

Rental properties must also meet certain minimum standards under the law, including a cooktop in good working order with at least 2 burners and a fixed heater in good working order in the main living area.

If you have signed a rental agreement (lease) and the property does not comply with the minimum standards you have the right to end the agreement if you have not moved in – that is, you have not stayed at the property, even if you have already moved your belongings in. Alternatively, you have the right to request urgent repairs.

For more on this, see our page Minimum standards.

Disclosures and misleading conduct

Rental providers have an obligation under the law to disclose certain things about the property, such as whether it complies with the minimum standards, before signing a rental agreement. Here is the official mandatory disclosure checklist rental providers must follow. It’s an offence if they don’t disclose anything on the list.

It is also an offence for an estate agent or rental provider to engage in false and misleading conduct.

Save a copy of the original advertisement for the rental, as this can be important if it turns out that something claimed in the ad isn’t true. For example, the ad says there is secured car parking and it turns out that there isn’t any parking. Having the rental advertisement as evidence may help your case if you decide to go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

A renter who has been misled or deceived by the rental provider or agent into signing a rental agreement by their actions, or omissions, or a failure to disclose, can apply to VCAT for compensation if they’ve suffered a loss. In some cases VCAT may allow the renter to end the agreement without incurring any costs for breaking the lease.

You can also report offences to Consumer Affairs Victoria.

For more information, see our page Complaints about rental providers and agents.

 

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