July 17, 2024

Obligate Law

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My rental agent in NSW says we are now responsible for putting out the bins. Is this a breach of contract? | Australian lifestyle

4 min read
My rental agent in NSW says we are now responsible for putting out the bins. Is this a breach of contract? | Australian lifestyle

I am renting a one-bedroom unit in a large building of 12 units. Our real estate agent told us we have a “change of arrangement” – from tomorrow tenants are fully responsible for garbage bins (collection day, removal in and out kerbside, cleaning of bins). They assigned bins for each unit. I’ve been renting in different buildings in New South Wales and this is always the manager’s responsibility (unless it’s a stand-alone house/townhouse). Can I consider this a breach of my lease contract? Is it legal to make a change to a lease like this?

Firstly, I’m sorry you’ve had an unexpected change made to your living arrangement. You’re absolutely right to question whether the agent can make this unilateral change on the landlord’s behalf without notice.

I haven’t seen your particular rental agreement but the NSW Fair Trading standard form residential tenancy agreement does not include anything express about responsibility for garbage bins – the same goes for standard residential tenancy agreements in Queensland and Victoria. As a first step, you should review your rental agreement and confirm that additional terms have been included which state the landlord is responsible for taking out and bringing in the bins on collection day, and cleaning of the bins. If this term is included, check also if there are any provisions in your agreement that would allow the landlord to change an additional term without notice or by consensus with you as the tenant.

If you do have the additional term in your rental agreement and no provision for the landlord to change it, you should seek legal advice about whether the landlord could be in breach of their contract. Without being able to see your lease agreement, it’s unclear whether this is the case or not. Complicating things further, if your landlord (or agent on the landlord’s behalf) made a verbal undertaking to have responsibility for the bins, this is also considered binding but might be harder to prove if you end up in front of a tribunal.

In the case that there was an additional term in your tenancy agreement about the bins, and the landlord has made a change to the agreement that is not allowed by the agreement, you can contest this with the agent. If you choose this route, in the first instance, you should make an appeal to your estate agent in writing, stating the terms of your agreement and that you believe they have been breached. Also state the remedy you’re looking for – which I assume is for the status quo, with the landlord responsible for the bins, to continue.

If you don’t get anywhere with the agent yourself, you can contact Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services in NSW, which will be able to provide you with further advice and assistance. You can also seek independent legal advice if you are willing to challenge your agent or landlord in a court or tribunal – but ultimately that will be costly, time-consuming and stressful, and it’s unclear what the result might be. In other states, you can contact similar organisations, such as Tenants Victoria or Tenants Queensland.

On the other hand, if you don’t have additional terms in your contract regarding the bins, the residential tenancies legislation in NSW does require that the landlord must provide you with reasonable repairs and maintenance. Legislation in other states including Victoria and Queensland has similar provisions. In Victoria this includes that property is “maintained in good repair and is in a reasonably fit and suitable condition for occupation”, while Queensland has a list of minimum standards for rental housing.

But it’s unlikely this would include taking out or bringing in bins as part of a weekly routine. Tenants are responsible for minor maintenance, which NSW Fair Trading describes as things such as “replacing light bulbs, cleaning windows, dusting, removing cobwebs and routine garden maintenance such as watering, mowing and weeding”. Applying a pub test, it seems likely that taking the bins out and bringing them in once a week would fall under the minor maintenance category. Similarly, it doesn’t seem as though bins would fall under the definitions for “good repair” in Victoria, or the minimum standards in Queensland.

The outcome of your situation will hinge on the particular terms of your tenancy agreement and, unfortunately, unless there’s an express additional term that’s been explicitly breached, you might be taking out your own bins from now on.

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