Boarders and lodgers

Boarders and lodgers are a special group of home-dwellers in terms of the law. As they are not tenants, they are not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 but instead have rights under common law provisions.

Distinguishing between tenants, boarders and lodgers

It is not always easy to distinguish whether a person is a boarder or a lodger, or a tenant or sub-tenant.

A tenant is a person who pays rent and in return is granted a right to occupy a residential premises, whether exclusively or not, as long as they are not a boarder or lodger. A tenant is more likely to have exclusive possession than a boarder or lodger. 

A right of exclusive possession means the right to exclude anyone, including the landlord, from the premises. This is different from exclusive occupation or use where you may have your own room in which no one else can stay without your permission.

A boarder generally stays at another person's house paying rent with meals supplied by the landlord.

A lodger generally stays at another person's house and pays rent but is generally not supplied with meals.

The following factors may assist you to determine whether you are a tenant, a boarder or a lodger, however only a court can make a binding ruling about this. 

Depending on the documents which make up the agreement and the circumstances of your situation, you are more likely to be a boarder or lodger, if you pay rent and:

  • The landlord exerts control and authority over the whole premises, that is the boarder or lodger is entitled to live in the premises but cannot call the place his own. 
  • The landlord provides attendance or services (e.g. cleaning, linen or meals) which require the landlord or his servants to exercise unrestricted access to, and use of, the premises. 
  • There are house rules that are enforced. 
  • The landlord/owner/representative lives on site. 
  • The length of time of the agreement / the length of time you are given permission to stay in the house (generally on a short-term basis). 
  • The landlord and you only need to give a very short period of notice to leave – see notice to leave information below.

The landlord is the person who provides the room/s and gives permission to the boarder or lodger to live there. If you are a boarder or lodger, your landlord keeps control and authority over the house, even if you have a key, and can come into the house without giving any notice.

If your room has a lock which physically stops the landlord from entering, this does not automatically mean you have exclusive possession of the room. The 'house rules' may state the manager, landlord and/or owner is allowed to come into your room without your permission.

It is your responsibility to keep your room clean and tidy and report any damage you have caused other than normal wear and tear.

Sub-tenant or lodger?

If you are renting all or part of a house from an existing or head tenant, the head tenant should have obtained approval from the landlord before you moved in. If this is the case, whether you are a sub-tenant or lodger depends upon the agreement reached between you and the head tenant.

If you and the head tenant agreed you could have exclusive possession of all or part of the house (where you have the right to exclude anyone, including the landlord), you are a sub-tenant. This agreement must have been approved by the landlord before you moved in.

If you are a sub-tenant the head tenant becomes your lessor and the agreement between you should be in the prescribed residential tenancy agreement. Even if it is only a verbal agreement you should be provided with Information for tenant with non-written tenancy agreement at the commencement of the tenancy.

If you are staying in a room and paying rent to the head tenant as a lodger, the head tenant still needs the landlord's approval. However, you won't have exclusive possession of any part of the house.

Be aware there are other factors that may impact on whether you are a sub-tenant or lodger. Each case needs to be determined by looking at the particular agreement reached between the parties.

If you are not sure whether you are a boarder, tenant, lodger or sub-tenant, or a dispute arises in relation to your living arrangement you can discuss the matter by calling the Consumer Protection contact centre on 1300 304 054 or contacting one of the agencies listed below. However, in some circumstances it may be necessary for a court to make a binding decision about which one you are.

Work-related arrangements

If your employer provides you with a place to live in, you may be a boarder, lodger or tenant, depending on the circumstances. You are likely to be a boarder or lodger if:

  • your employer provides you with a room in his or her home in return for services such as gardening, cleaning or general handiwork, instead of paying rent, or
  • you are provided with a room and/or meals as part of your employment.

In both circumstances, your right to live in your employer's home may exist only as long as you continue to be employed.

If you rent a house provided by your employer which is not the employer's own home, you are probably a tenant and will have rights under the Residential Tenancies Act 1987, even if your employment comes to an end. You will need to check your tenancy agreement for any special conditions relating to your employment.

Put it in writing!

Whatever the arrangement, you should put the agreement in writing and make sure it is signed by you and your landlord. 

Ending the agreement

  • If you are a boarder or lodger, your landlord may ask you to leave - without any reason - at any time. However they must give you 'reasonable notice' to leave the premises and take your belongings. This may have been agreed to before you moved in - check any written agreement you may have. You should be able to agree a reasonable time with your landlord, but be aware you may have to move out with short notice.
  • If you are a boarder or lodger, the length of notice you are required to give before you leave the premises may have been agreed to before you moved in, so you should first check any written agreement you may have. As a courtesy, you should let your landlord know about a week in advance if you want to move out. You should give the landlord time to do a check of your room and arrange for the return of any security bond you may have paid.

Having problems?

If you have a problem with your boarding or lodging arrangements, you should always check the terms of your agreement and first try to resolve it by discussing it with your landlord. If this does not work, you can contact one of the agencies listed below.

In some instances, you may be able to take civil action in the Magistrates Court. However, you should seek legal advice first. You should remember if you have failed to meet your responsibilities as a boarder or lodger, your landlord is entitled to take civil action against you.

Need some assistance?


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Want more information about your rights and responsibilities as a boarder or lodger?

Boarders and lodgers – your rights and responsibilities (publication)


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