If you are living in a share house, your rights will depend on whether you are a co-tenant, a sub-tenant, a boarder or a lodger.
You are a co-tenant if your name and the name of at least one other person is written on the tenancy agreement. Co-tenants share the same rights and responsibilities set out in the tenancy agreement. If a co-tenant breaches a term of the tenancy agreement, the landlord can hold one or all co-tenants responsible.
If your name is not on the tenancy agreement but you pay rent to a tenant who is on the tenancy agreement you may be a sub-tenant. A sub tenant generally has exclusive control over their room. If you are a sub-tenant, the tenant you pay rent to is your head-tenant. You have the rights and obligations to the head-tenant, who in turn has rights and obligations to you under the law.
Boarder or Lodger
Boarders and lodgers may live in a commercial boarding house, private accommodation, a hostel, motel or hotel. A boarder usually receives meals from their landlord, whereas a lodger will not.
Your rights as a boarder or a lodger are different to those of tenants. It is important to work out whether you are a boarder or lodger or a sub tenant, so you know what your rights are.
Boarder or Lodger vs Sub-tenant
The following factors suggest that you maybe a boarder/lodger rather than a sub-tenant:
- If you receive services from the person you pay rent to (e.g. washing, ironing, meals);
- If there are house rules (e.g. about visitors and times of entry/exit);
- If you have not paid a security deposit;
- If you can use the property but do not control over it;
- If you cannot lock your own room or if other people can access it.
Rights of Boarders and Lodgers
Only some boarders and lodgers will be protected by the Residential Tenancies Act whereas others will only have rights in contract.
If you are one of 3 or more people (other than the landlord, a member of the landlord’s family or a caretaker of the property) boarding or lodging at the property, and you have resided at the property for more than one week, the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 (NT) will apply to you as if you were a tenant.
If you are a boarder or lodger and have less than 3 people living in the property with you, you will only have rights in contract. This may be a written or verbal agreement you have with the owner. Your rights will depend on what was said or written in your agreement. If you are being evicted, the person you have your agreement with must give you reasonable notice if they want you to leave. A single rental payment period is generally considered reasonable notice (e.g. if you are paying rent weekly, you will need to be given one week’s notice to leave).
Moving into a Share House
If you are moving into a new share house it is important to know what your rights are in relation to everyone you will be living with and the landlord.
If you are moving into an existing share house, make sure the landlord agrees to this in writing. Find out if there is a written tenancy agreement and decide whether you want your name added to the agreement. Having your name added to the existing tenancy agreement means you will become a co-tenant.
If a landlord agrees to you living in the premises but does not want to add your name to the tenancy agreement, you will need to arrange with your housemates to become a sub-tenant or boarder/lodger. You should write down the details of the arrangement and have it signed by your housemates.
My housemate isn’t paying rent, what can I do?
It is important even when living in a share house that you keep a record of who you pay rent to and when. If you do not have an electronic record, make sure you get something in writing.
If one person is not paying the rent, you can either decide to cover the cost of their rent, or let the property fall into rent arrears. If you pay their share of the rent, you can seek this money back from them by making an application to the Small Claims Division of the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘NTCAT’).
If no one pays their share and the property falls into rent arrears, even if you have paid your share, the landlord can take action to evict all the occupants from the house and end the tenancy.
Leaving a Share House
A co-tenancy does not end until all co-tenants leave the premises and return the keys. If only one co-tenant wants to leave, they must assign their tenancy to another person. This could be an existing tenant, or a new person moving into the premises. If the co-tenant who is leaving does not assign their tenancy, they will continue to be responsible for that lease. You do not need the consent of the other co-tenants to assign your interests to a new person, but you do need the consent of the landlord.
If a sub-tenant wants to leave, they must give the correct notice to the head-tenant. If a head- tenant wants to end the tenancy of a sub-tenant, the head-tenant must follow the same process a landlord would have to take in a similar situation.
If you feel it is safe and appropriate to do so, you can attempt to resolve disputes by talking with your housemates. If this is unsuccessful, you can contact the Community Justice Centre (1800 000 473), which offers a free mediation service.
Darwin Community Legal Service 2019: Non-profit community groups have permission to reproduce parts of this publication as long as the original meaning is retained and proper credit is given to DCLS, as the publisher.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is a guide to the law in the Northern Territory. It is not a substitute for legal advice. You should talk to a lawyer about your particular legal issue. The information contained in this factsheet is current as at November 2019.