Alterations to a rental property are perhaps a tenant’s greatest frustration.
Not being able to carry out even small alterations to a rental property to make it feel more like a home can make many tenants unhappy.
But as more people rent – and for longer – the State Government is removing some of these limitations.
We look at what’s allowed and further changes that may be in store.
The changing rental market
Renting was once a short-term option utilised mainly by young people before they bought a home.
But the property market is changing. More people are renting, including families and older Australians, and they’re renting for longer.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes the rate of home ownership has fallen from 70% to 66% over the past 20 years.
Renters now account for almost one-third of Australian households – or just under three million households.
In Western Australia, 28% of households pay rent and there has been a significant increase in people renting from a private landlord over the past 20 years as public housing rates have fallen.
This has prompted a rethink of tenants’ rights and obligations by the State Government.
What changes can you make to a rental property?
The changes tenants can currently make to a rental property in Western Australia depend on the tenancy agreement struck with the landlord.
As the State Government’s tenant’s guide points out, the tenancy agreement can prohibit tenants from making alterations or attaching fixtures like picture hooks, or permit such changes only with the landlord’s consent.
Technically, tenants should not even add a vegetable garden without the landlord’s consent.
Recent changes to the WA Residential Tenancies Act strengthen tenant protections in certain situations.
Tenants who have been victims of family and domestic violence can change the locks or make prescribed security upgrades without the landlord’s prior permission.
Tenants can also affix furniture to the wall – such as bulky bookcases and cupboards, flat-screen TVs and mobility aids – if it helps to protect the safety of children or a person with a disability.
This follows revelations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that 50 Australians require hospital treatment each week for injuries caused by toppling furniture and televisions.
Further changes may be coming
The WA Government acknowledges there are still limited options for tenants to make alterations to their rental property and is considering further changes.
Recent changes in Victoria and the ACT give tenants greater freedom to make minor modifications.
In Victoria, tenants can change the curtains, nail hooks to the wall and add furniture hooks and child safety locks without seeking the landlord’s permission, while disability-related alterations cannot be reasonably refused.
A State Government discussion paper raises three options regarding minor modifications – maintain the status quo, allow minor modifications without consent, or require landlords to obtain an independent order when refusing consent.
The paper also recognises the importance of landlords to Western Australia’s economy and the need to ensure any new measures do not drive them from the market.
“Private lessors… are effectively a small business delivering a core service to the Western Australian community; the service of primary accommodation,” it says.
“We need private landlords to continue to invest in the rental market.”
Rentwest Solutions’s opinion
Rentwest Solutions has put in a submission to the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS), in response to the proposed changes. In it we argued that it is imperative that any modifications to a rented residential premises still require a lessor’s consent and are mutually agreed by lessors and tenants.
While there are allowances in European countries to allow a tenant to make modifications, they also allow for a much larger bond to be paid than we permit in Australia.
Asking tenants to obtain the landlord’s consent for any modification will allow discussions to take place, and may highlight instances where it would be dangerous or unsuitable to make modifications.
We also believe all modifications should be carried out in a professional manner and by a licenced contractor where required. This will not only ensure the structural integrity and value of the property is maintained, but also protects the safety of the tenant.
Building a strong landlord-tenant relationship
As the rental market continues to evolve, it is important for landlords and tenants to maintain a productive relationship.
As a specialist property manager, Rentwest Solutions works with landlords and tenants to ensure positive outcomes for both sides of the rental equation.
Our team would be happy to advise you on issues that may affect your investment property portfolio or rental property.