Welcome to the latest edition of The Letterbox, NSW Fair Trading’s enewsletter about tenancy issues.

This special edition of The Letterbox coincides with today's launch of Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service. This new specialist service assists landlords, agents and tenants to negotiate tenancy problems. See our feature article below for more information about this free service.

Free service launched for tenants, landlords and agents

Help provided over the phoneA simple, fast and free service has been launched today to help people with tenancy problems.

Tenants, landlords and property managers can now contact Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service and speak to experienced staff who will talk through the issues and contact the other party to help negotiate an agreement.

Fair Trading has been trialing the new specialist service since December 2013. At 30 June 2014, 1,522 tenancy complaints had been received, with 88% resolved without the need for higher cost resolution options.

The tenancy complaint service can assist with complaints about:

  • repairs and maintenance
  • non-urgent health and safety issues
  • alterations to premises
  • access to premises or inspections
  • non-compliance with tenancy agreement
  • water saving devices and smoke alarms
  • provision of correct notices
  • ending a tenancy or breaking a lease
  • condition reports
  • rental increases
  • rental arrears of less than 14 days.

This service may be provided over-the-phone or onsite in the customer’s home or office. It is voluntary, impartial, and can be a simple and fast alternative to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

The service can be accessed by lodging a complaint online or calling 13 32 20.

For more information, visit the residential tenancy complaints page or take a look at Fair Trading’s new video: Help with tenancy problems.

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Answers to your questions about new tenancies

Q: How do I proceed with a dispute about access to my rental property – do I have to use Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service or can I just go straight to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal? Which option is better?

A: Using Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service is not compulsory, so you can choose which option you prefer. However, if you contact Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service they will assist you to determine whether or not your matter would be better handled by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

The tenancy complaint service can help you to negotiate an agreement with the real estate agent or landlord and contact them on your behalf. The service aims to bring the parties to a mutually agreeable outcome. Using the service is free and voluntary.

The Tribunal can also assist to resolve disputes, and the orders made by the Tribunal are legally binding. Applications generally result in a hearing. There is a fee to make an application.

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Q: I’ve been asking the landlord for over 6 months to fix the roof, and finally out of desperation I told him I’m going to hold onto my rent until he fixes it. Now I’ve received an eviction notice. He’s the one in the wrong! What can I do?

A: You must always continue to pay your rent because if it falls more than 14 days in arrears, the landlord or landlord’s agent can issue you with a termination notice. To avoid eviction, the first thing you should do is pay your outstanding rent. If you have frequently paid your rent late, the landlord may have grounds to arrange a termination order, even if you have brought the rent up-to-date.

However, if necessary repairs are not being attended to, Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service can contact the real estate agent or landlord on your behalf and help to negotiate a repair as a separate issue.

After you get up-to-date with your rent, you also have the option of applying to the Tribunal for an order to get the repair carried out. If you believe the rent was excessive during the period that the roof was in disrepair, you may want to consider applying for a rent reduction.

If there is a serious leak, then it is an urgent repair. There are special rules for dealing with urgent repairs and you can find out more from our web page about getting repairs done.

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Q: I have an issue with unpaid rent, but I’m not keen on going to the Tribunal about it. Can I use the tenancy complaint service?

A: Yes, you can use Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service which can assist by contacting the other party to discuss the rent arrears with the aim of coming to a mutually agreeable outcome.

The outcome may include a rent repayment plan as part of the terms of settlement.

However, if the rent is more than 14 days in arrears you should apply directly to the Tribunal.

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Q: After going through Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service, my tenant agreed to provide compensation of $380 for a broken window. She didn’t pay by the agreed date and isn’t returning calls. What further action can I take?

A: You can contact the tenancy complaint service for further assistance and they will attempt to contact the tenant again on your behalf and discuss the agreed outcome.

If the tenant does not agree, or cannot be contacted, a claim can be lodged with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

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Q: My landlord promised to repair the back door when I first moved in. This hasn’t happened, but I’ve lost my copy of the condition report so I don’t have any evidence. Can I still use the tenancy complaint service or do I just have to put up with the broken door?

A: Yes, you can still use the tenancy complaint service.

The landlord is required to repair the door as this was a promised repair when the Residential Tenancy Agreement was entered into. If you are not able to get the landlord to repair the door, then Fair Trading’s tenancy complaints service can assist by contacting the real estate agent or landlord on your behalf and helping to negotiate an agreement.

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New video: Help with tenancy problems

A landlord and tenant negotiating a tenancy problemWant to know more about how the tenancy complaint service works? Take a look at Fair Trading’s new video which shows how the service has helped people in cases that are based on real complaint scenarios.

The video demonstrates many of the ways Fair Trading can assist tenants, landlords and agents to negotiate tenancy problems.

The video can be accessed through Fair Trading’s YouTube channel.

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Tenancy tales – case study from the tenancy complaint service

The tenants of a property in a Sydney location made complaints to their landlord’s agent because they noticed severely deteriorated grouting in the bathroom and the floor appeared to be at risk of collapse.

When the floor later dropped by approximately 1.5 metres, they received notice that their tenancy agreement had been terminated because the property was considered uninhabitable.

They quickly found a new place to live and moved out, but all up they had lived without a shower or bathing facilities for 25 days. For this reason they requested a full refund of the rent over the period, an amount of $2000.

The landlord felt the request was unreasonable due to the unusable space being only a small portion of the total house area, and provided a counter offer of $50, which was not accepted by the tenants.

No further offers were made by either party and the tenants lodged a complaint with Fair Trading’s tenancy complaint service.

The service arranged a meeting to bring together the tenants, the agents acting for the landlord, and two Fair Trading Customer Service Officers to lead the negotiation. The two parties eventually agreed to a mutually acceptable amount of $1,000 in compensation to be paid to the tenants within 7 days.

Both parties thanked Fair Trading’s Customer Service Officers, for assisting them to resolve their matter and saving them the time and expense of taking further action through the Tribunal.

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Top tips for tenants

Two tenants signing a tenancy agreement with an agentSave yourself headaches with these useful tips to help you avoid problems while renting:

1. Be careful with what you sign and don't let anybody rush you when you’re signing tenancy documents. Never sign a blank form, such as a Claim for refund of bond.

2. Keep copies of your renting documents and correspondence together so you can easily find them.

3. Never stop paying your rent or you could be evicted - even if the landlord is not following through on their side of the agreement (for example, by not doing repairs).

4. Record details of conversations with your landlord or the agent including who you spoke to and what was agreed. Put requests in writing and keep a copy.

5. Comply with your tenancy agreement. For example, never make any alterations or keep a pet without the landlord’s permission.

6. Consider taking out home contents insurance to cover your belongings in case of theft, fires and natural disasters. Even if the landlord has building insurance, it won’t cover your things.

7. If you’re happy in the place and your tenancy agreement ends, ask for it to be renewed. Then you won’t have worry about being unexpectedly asked to leave, and it helps lock in the rent for the next period.

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Top tips for landlords

A landlord standing outside her propertyA smooth tenancy benefits both you and your tenant. Following these tips can help you avoid potential problems:

1. Always use a Residential Tenancy Agreement (a lease). It is required, but it’s also a great way to clearly define the terms of the tenancy.

2. Take care to lodge the rental bond with NSW Fair Trading within 10 days of receiving it, and don’t accept any more than 4 weeks' rent as bond.

3. Always provide a written receipt for rent paid with cash.

4. Don’t access the property without providing the required notice.

5. Make sure your tenant has been provided with full contact details for either you or your property manager – these should include full names, an email address, telephone numbers and a postal address.

6. Keep a record of all your dealings with the tenant, including times and dates of conversations, who you spoke to and what was agreed.

7. If repairs are needed, put details in writing of what will be done and when. Provide a copy to the tenant and keep one for yourself. Make sure repairs and maintenance are carried out within a reasonable timeframe.

8. Be aware that landlords who choose to self-manage have the same responsibilities as a property manager so make sure you have a full understanding of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and visit our website for information on your responsibilities as a landlord.

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We want to make sure The Letterbox is relevant and interesting. Please send us your comments, suggestions or topics you wish covered: theletterbox@finance.nsw.gov.au

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