Paying the rent
The golden rule is to always ask for receipts when paying rent or bond. If you collect rent or bond from your housemates, always give receipts.
If you’re the co-tenant responsible for paying rent to your landlord, you should ask for receipts from your landlord.
If you’re the head-tenant, you should give rent receipts to your housemates when they pay their rent. If they pay you bond at the beginning of the tenancy, you should give them a receipt and lodge it with Renting Services at the Office of Fair Trading.
If you’re a sub-tenant paying your rent to the head-tenant, make sure they give you receipts, and keep them somewhere safe. This will ensure that if confusion arises about who’s paid, you can prove you have paid your share.
If you’re moving in and you pay a tenant who is leaving their share of the bond, make sure you lodge a “Change of Shared Tenancy Arrangement” form with Renting Services. This form is available on the NSW Office of Fair Trading website. The bond that is lodged already will be transferred to your name, which will simplify things when you vacate the premises (see Looking for a new housemate).
TIP: Always get a receipt for any rent or bond you pay!
It is a good idea to pay your rent by electronic funds transfer. That way, you can keep track of how much money you have paid to whom. You can also set up an automatic transfer online, which will make sure you pay the rent on time. If you do, check you have sufficient funds in your bank account to pay the rent.
If one person is in charge of paying the rent on behalf of the other housemates, you may want to create a separate bank account from which to pay the rent. That way, everyone can keep track of the rent payment and make sure that the person doesn’t accidentally spend the rent money on something else.
Share houses vary enormously in the way they purchase food. Some housemates do cooking and groceries shopping together, while others prefer to do it alone.
Sharing food with your housemates can be difficult, as you are likely to have different tastes, dietary requirements, portion sizes and cooking skills. Your budget-conscious housemate might consider your chicken salad a luxury, or your foodie roommate may not enjoy the home brand vanilla ice cream as much as you do!
If you decide to share food with your housemates, start by sharing basic foodstuffs such as milk, bread and butter. Once you get used to each other’s cooking and grocery shopping, you can share the food and cooking responsibilities.
Some share houses have a ‘kitty’ to cover basic foods, cleaning products and other household items. Having a kitty is a good idea if you want to avoid a scene over who finished that last roll of toilet paper, but make sure you don’t use it as an emergency fund for cigarettes and alcohol. While the quickest way to disrupt domestic bliss is to abuse the kitty system, it’s also important to realise that everyone has different ideas about what is a vital household purchase, it doesn’t help to become obsessive about how the kitty is spent.
Like it or not, there are certain tasks which have to be done for a household to continue functioning. The toilet is not self-cleaning, the garbage has to go out eventually and disposable plates are not the answer to the washing-up saga. Floors, bathrooms and lawns also need looking after.
Many households find that a roster for certain tasks, especially cooking and washing-up, is the best way to ensure that chores are completed fairly. Others find that a more flexible honour system is sufficient. In some share houses, people put down a tick every time they do the washing-up or some other chore.
Again it’s necessary to realise that if you want the advantages of having housemates, you will have to do your share in the upkeep of the household. If you find that one or more of your housemates is falling in their duties, remind them politely that jobs have to be done. Rude notes left under people’s doors are probably unproductive. If you think there is a problem, it’s a good idea to get together and discuss before things get out of hand. Try not to let this discussion turn into a hunt for someone to blame.
Living in a happy household means finding people who have similar ideas about cleanliness and domestic arrangements. If the differences are too great, it may be difficult to continue living together.
Paying The Bills
A major conflict in a share house often arises over the payment of bills. When you move in, it is important to decide who will be paying bills and how the bills are to be divided. Generally, bills such as gas, electricity and water are divided equally between all members of the household.
In some share houses, people decide to set aside some money each week to pay for bills. That way, you don’t have to worry about paying extra when a $1000 electricity bill lands on your doorstep.
If the bills aren’t included in the rent, it’s a good idea for each housemate to organise different services in order to spread the financial responsibility around. That way, one person is not left with a huge debt and a bad credit rating if things go wrong.
Electricity, gas, phone and internet bills
Bills for electricity, gas, phone, and Internet usually arrive either every month or three months. Often these can be quite large and housemates on tight budgets can sometimes have difficulties paying their share all in one hit – which is why bills cause so many problems.
You can decide to set aside some money each week to cover the bills, or you could arrange a pre-payment plan with these services. Pre-payment means that you pay a certain amount each week or month, which gets credited your account. When the bill is issued, the credit will be taken off and you will only have to pay the remainder.
TIP: If you’re worried about your housemates running up a huge phone bill making interstate or international calls without paying for it, you can ask your telephone provider to restrict out-going calls, so that these more expensive type of calls can not be made from the home phone. Contact your telephone provider for more information.
If you are responsible for paying for the water, the landlord must give you a copy of the bill within three months of the issue of the bill for those charges by the water supply authority. The landlord must give you at least 21 days to pay. Water bills usually come quarterly.
If there is a dispute over payment of an account, call the Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW (see Contact Points).
If your housemate is leaving without paying the bills, you might be able to come to an agreement to keep all or part of their bond to cover the bills. Legally, you do not have the right to use bond without the permission of a housemate to cover anything but rent arrears and damage to the house. This is because the bond is part of the tenancy agreement and does not cover household bills.
If your housemate and you can’t reach an agreement, and you have applied to the Tribunal to terminate the housemate’s co-tenancy (see Moving Out), the Tribunal may make an order that the housemate pays for the outstanding utilities if it thinks that it is appropriate to do so.
Alternatively, you may be able to to sue through the Local Court to recover the money. This can be time-consuming and expensive. A Local Court chamber magistrate or community legal centre can give you advice about what you need to do. Sometimes you might decide it is cheaper and less troublesome to write the debt off, rather than going to court.
Having guests over
If you have guests over, be mindful of your housemates and keep the noise to a minimum. If you have guests who stay overnight, let your housemates know in advance.
Some share houses like to have regular parties and gatherings, while others prefer everyone to ‘party outside the house’ and keep the house relatively quiet. If you want to have a house party, tell your housemates in advance and don’t forget to invite them to the party. Be flexible – your housemates might have an exam or an assignment over the weekend you have organised a house party.
If you’re a tenant, you also have an obligation under the residential tenancy agreement not to disturb your neighbours or damage the property. This includes disturbance or damage caused by your guests. Make sure you keep the noise to a minimum and set a reasonable end time to avoid any potential breach of the residential tenancy agreement.
Make sure you speak to your housemates before getting a pet. Your housemates may dislike pets or be allergic to certain types of animals. You may breach your tenancy agreement with the landlord if the tenancy agreement does not allow you to keep pets. If you decide to get a pet, generally you will need written consent from the landlord. Unless you agree otherwise, you will also have to pay for carpet cleaning when you decide to move out.