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News
House rules apply
06/07/2011
FotoSource: http://news.domain.com.au

When it comes to sharing a house, it's important to set some ground rules first.

 

There are some issues you need to think about - whether looking to take ina lodger or be one yourself - before taking the plunge.

Lyn Reid is the Sydney-based founder of the website housemates.com.au, where people can post notices either looking for lodgers or somewhere to board.

She says the reasons why people take in a lodger are diverse, from the need to make some extra cash to the desire for some company.

Students, particularly from overseas, are the most common type of lodgers, but others may include people facing financial hardships (such as someone recently divorced), or even seasonal workers.

While some landlords can provide a room and bathroom that is separate from the rest of the property, Reid, whose website boasts about 15,000 members, says that "nine times out of 10 it's just in a normal three or four-bedroom home".

 

It's important for potential landlords to do their research before inviting a lodger into their home, Reid says.

This includes asking how they intend to pay the rent (and whether they have proof of this), as well as whether they've had any experience in living with others in share accommodation and what course of action they'd take if somebody else in the house did something they didn't like.

It can also be a good idea to talk to potential lodgers about issues such as whether they'll have visitors to the property and chores such as cooking and cleaning, as well as the division of bills.

"A lot of the time, if people are looking for a room, they do ask for rent including bills, so they just have one amount to pay each week," Reid says. "Sort out that situation - how the rent is paid, how the bills are paid and when they're paid - prior to them moving in."

Guy Mitchell, development manager at house sharing website flatmatefinder.com.au, suggests it can also be wise to take a bond of between two and four weeks' rent from a boarder or lodger (terms, he suggests, which have these days largely been replaced by the more general flat mate).

"Often a householder won't accept a bond ... but what that, of course, means is a flatmate has nothing to lose by walking out one day - they don't have to give you notice, they're just gone the next day and the householder ends up losing out," he says.

"So we always say, ‘Make sure you absolutely always get a bond, because that basically ups the commitment by your flatmate'."

Mitchell, whose website has about 3500 listings, says one advantage of living with someone who owns a home rather than renting a property yourself is they tend to care for the property more than a landlord living away from it. "[Light] bulbs get replaced, dripping taps get fixed and all that sort of stuff."

If problems do arise, experts say it's wise to first see if they can be sorted out amicably. If that fails, disputes between lodgers and landlords may be dealt with by the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal.

Toby Archer, policy liaison officer at the Tenants Union of Victoria, estimates there are only a couple of thousand lodgers in Victoria (about half the number of people living in rooming houses). Thanks to a lack of legislative protection, he believes lodging can be a "really bad deal" for the lodger.

"If you are a boarder or a lodger you essentially have been granted a licence or a limited right to live at the premises, in contrast to a tenant who is somebody who has been given a lease over the premises or part of the premises," he says.

"So if you're just residing there as a licensee, you're essentially there at the grace of the property owner and that licence can be terminated or revoked by the landlord, essentially at any time."

Michael Redfern, an accredited property law specialist and consultant with Russell Kennedy lawyers, says the residential tenancy provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 - which protects the rights of tenants - do not usually apply to lodgers, except where a lodger has been given exclusive possession of a room or rooms and if the rooming house provisions of the act apply (these kick in when there are four or more people taking rooms in a house or if a premises is declared to be a rooming house by the Minister for Consumer Affairs).

"It is not usual that this is done, as the owner will usually want to have access to the room to ensure that it is clean and tidy, that it is not being damaged [and] that the lodger is well behaved," he says.

If the residential tenancy and rooming house provisions of the act do not apply, having a written agreement in place that stipulates what happens in the case of termination of the arrangement and outlines an agreed dispute resolution procedure - such as referring the matter to an agreed professional, mutual friend or mediation service - is "most desirable".

Archer says people who are looking to enter into a lodging arrangement should do their research first. "You need to be aware of what rights you potentially have and potentially don't. You need to think about whether it's a good deal for you."

It's also important to have a "full and frank exchange" about the parameters of the arrangement before moving in, he says. "And you should never assume anything about it," Archer says, adding that people who are unsure about their status should seek some advice.

"If you think you're a boarder and you're not sure, then you should be getting some advice sooner rather than later from us or from Consumer Affairs," he says.

Lodgers for fun and income

For Michael Bulzomi, the benefits of having boarders lodge in his Footscray home include both the income and company they provide.

The 44-year-old first took in a boarder after he returned to Australia midway through last year following a 6-year stint working in London. His parents offered him the option of living in what was his grandmother’s four-bedroom house on the condition he found a couple of boarders to bring in some rental income.

He has one boarder - a male who works in the IT industry - and is looking for another after a female student from Germany, who occupied a second room, returned to Europe.

Mr Bulzomi, who works in the finance industry, asks his boarders to pay a bond and sign a tenancy agreement, initially for a six-month term.

For him, the ideal boarder is someone who fits in with his lifestyle and who is also happy to spend some time socialising. "Not someone who just sits in their room and does their own thing [but] someone who likes to socialise in the evenings, you know," he says.

Mr Bulzomi says having respect for each other - and being willing to share the chores - are the keys to arriving at a successful arrangement between a landlord and lodger.

"I did it in London for seven years, so I know how it works," he says. "You do your bit, but most of all I respect their privacy and their beliefs."

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