Changing the locks – The rules of tenant eviction

May 11, 2015

It’s a situation most landlords hope to avoid but there may come a time when you find yourself needing to evict a tenant. Perhaps they’ve failed to pay the rent or caused damage to the property, or maybe you want to renovate or sell.

Whatever the driver, being prepared and having a good understanding of the laws and processes of tenant eviction can save you time, money and stress.

The first place to start is with a detailed tenancy agreement that clearly sets out everyone’s rights and responsibilities. A thorough tenant screening process can also help you avoid problem tenants from the outset.

Ben Levi, founder of landlord software RentingSmart, says landlords need to be organised.

“Take lots of photos of your property, take notes of every conversation, do everything by the book and go through the official channels. You cannot go in and change the locks on tenants without the authority of the Tribunal or sheriff. Being organised and having evidence makes the process far simpler,” says Levi.

Understanding the process

The laws governing landlord and tenant rights differ from state to state but grounds for eviction tend to include non-payment of rent, other breaches of agreement, sale of the property, death of a sole tenant or damage rendering the property un-livable.

It’s important to know that a tenant is able to remedy the breach during the notice period and can apply for a tribunal hearing to dispute the notice. As a landlord, it’s imperative you follow the process for issuing notices correctly to avoid any unnecessary delays.

How much notice you need to give depends on the type of tenancy agreement and the grounds for termination.

Fixed-term agreement:

  • 30 days notice for termination without grounds
  • 14 days for a breach of agreement
  • If the property is to be sold, the fixed-term agreement cannot be terminated

Periodic agreement:

  • 90 days notice for termination without grounds
  • 14 days for a breach of agreement
  • 30 days for sale of premises

Ask the right questions

Ben Levi says asking the right questions will greatly assist in selecting the right tenants and avoiding potential problems.

“We provide all our landlords with questions to ask applicants as well as their former agents or landlords and referees. Asking when they want to move can indicate how organised and sensible they are – if they need somewhere immediately does it mean they have they left things too late? Why do they need to move so soon?” says Levi.

It’s a view shared by Rebekah Doyle from Laing + Simmons Woollahra who says a good property manager will be experienced in tenant selection with all the resources at their fingertips.

“Property Managers are skilled at understanding tenancy ledgers and know the right questions to ask employers and former real estate agents,” says Rebekah.

“Because we do it regularly, we can also interpret references and referee answers to get a good understanding of the applicant. We also have access to the National Tenancy Database which we check all applicants against before putting them into our properties.”