Signing a lease

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A lease, also known as a Residential Tenancy Agreement, states what you agree to do while you're a tenant and what the landlord to agrees to do as the owner of the property. Agreements can be verbal or written, however a written document is the best way to make sure everyone understands their rights and obligations.

Our Tenants rights page has more information about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.

Topics on this page include:

> Fixed term vs periodic agreements
> What am I signing?
> Bond and advance payments
> Condition report
> Breaking a lease

Fixed term vs periodic agreements

Leases usually cover a fixed period of time, for example 12 months, and have a definite start and finish date. They can be periodic, which only covers your tenancy on a month-by-month basis. If you stay beyond the end of a fixed term lease, the tenancy automatically becomes periodic, until the parties sign a new fixed term lease.

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What am I signing?

A lease should always include the:

  • Address or location of the rental property
  • Total amount of rent and how often it is paid
  • Start date and agreed length of time for the tenancy
  • Name and address of the landlord

The document may also contain some specific expectations, for example:

  • Gardens and lawns must be well-maintained
  • No repairs or alterations can be made without written permission (including picture hooks, nails or adhesive tape)
  • Carpets must be professionally cleaned when the tenant vacates
  • Pets and animals may not be kept without written permission

Read all sections of the document carefully, and if anything's unclear, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria (new window) for advice. 

You can ask to remove, add or change particular conditions in your lease, but make sure this is put in writing and that the agreement keeps within the requirements of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

Ask for a copy of the lease before the date of signing so you have time to read through every part of the document. Once signed, the real estate agent or landlord must provide you with a copy of the lease within fourteen days. Keep a file with all your rental documents and notes on conversations and store it somewhere safe.

For more information about what to consider before signing, visit CAV's Before signing the lease page (new window).

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Bond and advance payments

You'll probably be asked to pay a bond when you sign the lease. This is a refundable amount paid at the start of your tenancy, usually equal to one month's rent. The landlord or real estate agent is then legally required to deposit your bond with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA) and provide you with a copy of the Bond Lodgement form.

Tenants usually pay a proportion of the rent in advance. The maximum amount that a landlord can legally request is one month's rent if you pay monthly, or two weeks rent if you pay weekly. Contact Consumer Affairs Victoria if you think you are being asked for too much rent in advance or bond. Ask for a receipt from the real estate agent if you pay your bond or rent in cash.

Consumer Affairs Victoria also provide information about bonds and rental payments (new window).

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Condition report

When you're given the keys, you should also receive a written room-by-room description of the condition of the property. This document is a 'condition report' and includes floors, walls, windows, doors, furniture and any other features.

You need to send the document back within a fixed period of time, so check your rental property thoroughly and write down any extra observations of damages, carpet stains, torn fly-wire screens, extra picture hooks etc. that aren't covered in the report.

When you apply to get your bond back, the condition report will be used to measure how well you've looked after the property. Take photographs as extra evidence, and keep a copy of the report for your file.

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Breaking a lease

Once the lease is signed, it's a legal document for a fixed period of time. It's expensive to change or 'break' a lease. But sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and a lease may have to be broken.

If you should ever need it, the Tenants Union of Victoria (new window) provides some excellent information about breaking a lease.

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Links

Tenants Union of Victoria
For residential tenants living in Victoria who require information on their legal rights.

RentRight App
This free app has heaps of advice for renters, including email templates for requests like repairs to the property that can help smooth communication between renters and landlords/property managers.

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