The Residential Tenancies Act 1995 (SA) (Act) has recently undergone significant amendments, ushering in a new era of rights and responsibilities for landlords and tenants. Although these changes aim to enhance the rights of both parties, it's evident that tenants stand to benefit more. In this article, we will delve into the most impactful changes brought about by the amendments, focusing on their potential implications for landlords and suggesting proactive measures to navigate the evolving landscape of rental property management.

Here is a summary of some of the key amendments.

Tenant pet ownership

Under the new amendments, tenants now possess the right to apply to landlords for permission to have pets. This change increases administrative costs for landlords, who can now anticipate pet-related requests from tenants. Landlords are required to respond to such requests within 14 days; failure to do so will result in automatic acceptance. If a landlord wishes to deny a pet application, permissible grounds must relate to reasonable conditions regarding the type of pet and the nature of the premises. These reasons must be provided in writing.

Acceptable grounds for refusal include:

  • Keeping the pet would exceed a reasonable number allowed.
  • Unsuitability of premises due to lack of proper fencing or open space.
  • Keeping the pet poses an unacceptable health or safety risk.
  • Contravention of laws or by-laws.

Tenants dissatisfied with a refusal can seek a tribunal order to overrule the landlord. The allowance of pets and the introduction of an appeal process are anticipated to increase administrative costs for landlords. To mitigate risks, landlords should proactively establish policies for housing pets, considering the permissible considerations allowed under the new amendments.

Alterations to residential premises

The amendments allow tenants to request alterations to the property for mobility or ease of access due to a disability. Tenants may also make minor changes, such as window fittings or drilling holes for picture frames, with the obligation to restore the property to its original state at the termination of the lease at their own cost. Landlords may refuse alterations for specific reasons, including impending termination or if the alterations would significantly change the premises or violate laws. Landlords must carefully consider any refusal to allow alterations in accordance with the Act.

Notice to be given at the end of a fixed term

The amendments prohibit landlords from ending a fixed-term lease agreement without grounds. A prescribed ground is now required, and the notice period has increased from 28 to 60 days. If the tenant receives notice, they can give up possession before the end of the fixed term and will not be liable to pay rent if they provide at least 7 days' written notice of their intention to vacate. This amendment allows tenants to vacate the property earlier without rent obligations after early vacation.

Rents

Amendments to the Act restrict the ability of landlords and tenants to increase rent by mutual agreement. Rent may not be increased within 12 months of the tenancy's commencement or the last increase.

Excessive rents

Amendments to the Act now empower the SACAT to examine whether a rent increase is disproportionate. If SACAT limits the rent and the landlord insists on an amount exceeding the prescribed limit, the penalty has increased from $2,500 to $25,000.

Inspections

Changes to the legislation now restrict landlords to inspecting residential premises no more than four times a year, with a required notice of no more than 28 days. This amendment will make it harder for landlords to monitor the state of their property.

Changes to fines

Amendments increase penalties for breaching the Act, demanding heightened attention from both tenants and landlords to ensure compliance.

These amendments signify the government's effort to bolster tenant protection, albeit with potential consequences for landlords. 

This communication provides general information which is current as at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information. Should you wish to discuss any matter raised in this article, or what it means for you, your business or your clients' businesses, please feel free to contact us.

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William Esau

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