Boarders and lodgers

What is the difference between a tenant and a boarder/lodger?

Firstly, it matters whether you are a tenant OR a boarder/lodger because your rights are different and protected under different laws.

It is not always easy to determine whether a person is a boarder/ lodger, or a tenant/sub-tenant as it often depends on your situation.

Generally, you are more likely to be a boarder/ lodger if you pay rent and:

  • Your landlord (or their nominee) lives on the premises, and/or
  • Your landlord provides services such as meals or laundry and/or
  • You live in someone else’s home and cannot call the place your own and/ or
  • There are house rules, and these rules are enforced by the landlord, and/or
  • You have no rights to exclude the landlord from your premises, and/or
  • You have not paid 4 weeks rent in advance or, if you have, the money has not been lodged with the Bond Administrator

Difference to a tenant/sub-tenant

Tenants, sub-tenants and landlords are covered under the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (WA).  

A tenant and sub-tenant occupy a residential property and pay rent.  They can call the property or room their own and exclude all others, including even the landlord, from entering the premises except in the circumstances provided in the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (WA).

If you are still not sure, contact Consumer Protection Contact Centre on 1300 30 40 54 to discuss your circumstances.

Difference between a boarder and a lodger

The main difference between a boarder and a lodger is if you are supplied with meals or other services: boarders are provided with meals or other services; lodgers are not.

If you have your meals and cleaning provided, for example, you are most likely a boarder. If you are not supplied with any meals or any services, you are most likely a lodger.

If you are eligible for rent assistance payments from Services Australia how much you get will be based on the cost of lodging only.

What are my rights as a boarder/lodger?

As a boarder or lodger, your rights will depend on the contract you have with your landlord.

The landlord must ensure that they take reasonable steps to avoid causing loss or damage to you and your property when providing the accommodation such as keeping your room secure; and providing safe access to your room. This includes giving your things back if you leave them behind.

Incidents such as theft and trespassing are criminal offences and can be reported to the police.

A boarder/lodger has the basic right to expect the following:

  • The accommodation is in reasonable condition.  You can expect the house to be clean and tidy and in a reasonable state of repair when you move in and while you are staying in the house, including all the rooms, common areas, facilities, furniture and equipment supplied by the landlord
  • Access to your room, and shared spaces
  • Reasonable privacy, peace and quiet and to use your room and facilities without unreasonable interference by the landlord
  • Security for your room and personal belongings
  • Be provided with the house rules
  • Reasonable notice to leave

You also have various rights under the Australian Consumer Law.

  • Any meals or other services you pay for must be provided with reasonable care and skill and must be reasonably fit for purpose and provided at reasonable times. 
  • Landlords must provide receipts for any services supplied over $75.Also, you can ask your landlord to itemise how charges like power and meals are calculated within 30 days of getting the original receipt.
  • You may also have the protection of the unfair contract term provisions if your contract can be classed as a standard form contract.

What are my responsibilities as a boarder/lodger?

This depends on what has been agreed between you and your landlord. For example, you will probably be responsible for:

  • keeping your room clean and tidy;
  • paying your rent when it is due and in the agreed way;
  • following the house rules;
  • giving the required length of notice to leave;
  • not using your room or common areas for any illegal purpose; and
  • not sub-letting your room.

What should I do before I move in?

You might consider asking the following questions of your prospective landlord:

  • Does the rent cover the cost of other expenses such as gas, electricity, water, telephone or internet? If not, how will you be charged for them?
  • What services, such as linen, laundry or meals, will be offered and how much extra will they cost?
  • Who has the keys to your room?
  • Is there space for your vehicle to be safely parked?
  • How much notice do you need to give if you decide to leave, and how much notice will you receive if the landlord asks you to leave?
  • Who cleans the common areas?
  • Who else lives in the property?
  • Are there any limitations on visitors, pets, noise, hours of entering and leaving, use of common areas, parking or gardening?
  • Are there any house rules and, if so, what are they?

Written agreement

Read any written agreement that your landlord gives you carefully. Ensure that you understand and agree to all the terms before you sign it.

This written agreement represents the terms and conditions of the arrangement and can be useful to refer to if there is a disagreement between you and the landlord, or even with another boarder/lodger at the premises. Write the date next to your signature when you sign the agreement.

Request a paper or electronic copy of the signed written agreement.

Keep your copy of the written agreement even after you move out. The written agreement can be useful if there are issues about getting your bond back.

The terms of your written agreement may be changed or varied, by agreement between you and the landlord either at the start, or during the boarder/lodger arrangement. For instance, you might no longer require meals, or may have requested a portable air conditioner included in your room which you did not have when you moved in.

If you and the landlord agree to change the terms of the agreement during the boarder/lodger agreement those changes need to be put in writing.

You may be able to write in or strike out your agreed changes onto the original agreement, or by crossing out a particular term. You and the landlord should both write your initials and the current date against each change

If there are significant changes, then the original agreement may need to be re-written,

TIP: Always keep a copy of any written agreement. Get a receipt for any payments and keep all receipts. This may help in the event of a dispute.

Check the condition of the property

What condition is the property in?

It is useful to take photographs or make a video recording showing the condition of certain areas and the date the record was made. You should make a list of all the contents and brief descriptions of the condition they are in, plus a description of anything damaged or in bad condition, for example, torn fly screen on front door, stained carpet in your bedroom, dirty or chipped walls in the hallway. Having a record of the condition of the property at the start of the agreement can help minimise disputes about any changes in the condition of the property at the end of the agreement.

Making Payments

Make sure you ask for a receipt that shows what the payment is for, for example part may be for the bond and part for the rent. If you are paying rent in advance, make sure the receipt shows the rental period covered. 

Ending the agreement

Ending the Agreement by Landlord

Your landlord may ask you to leave without any reason at any time. However, your landlord must give you ‘reasonable notice’ to leave the premises and take your belongings. The length of notice may have been agreed before you moved in – check any written agreement you may have. If not, you should be able to agree about a reasonable time with your landlord but be aware that you may have to move out at short notice. What is ‘reasonable notice’? ‘Reasonable notice’ depends on the circumstances of each situation. For example, if you need to move furniture, you may need more notice than if you are renting a furnished room.

The landlord must allow you access to collect your belongings. There are special obligations for important personal items such as your passport and birth certificate that mean they must not be disposed of and must be safely held if you leave them behind.

Important: A landlord can evict you without any reason if you are a boarder or lodger. If you remain on the premises without the landlord’s permission, then you could be at risk of trespassing.

Ending the Agreement by Boarder/Lodger

The length of notice you are required to give may have been agreed to before you moved in, so you should first check any written agreement you may have. As a courtesy, you might let your landlord know in a reasonable time – at least a week in advance, if you want to move out. This gives the landlord time to look for another lodger, inspect your room and arrange for the return of any security bond you may have paid.

Where can I get advice or help?

If you have a problem with your boarding or lodging arrangement, you should always check the terms of your agreement and try to sort it out by discussing it with your landlord.

If this does not work, you can contact the Consumer Protection on 1300 304 054 or via email at consumer@dmirs.wa, for advice and information.

For legal advice contact:

If either party has failed to meet their responsibilities under the signed agreement, either party can start an online claim against the other in the magistrates’ court. Claims under $10,000 are minor case claims and lawyers are usually not allowed with court fees being lower than many other claims. The Consumer Protection website has more information about going to the magistrates court or you can access information from the Magistrates Court of Western Australia website. 


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