What you can and can’t do as a rental tenant

A couple hanging art in the room

Beverley Johanson

Posted April 20, 2021


Recent law changes give tenants new freedom to stamp their personality on rental properties. Here’s what you can do.

While it takes a certain flair to turn a house into a home that reflects your individual style, tenants face an additional challenge when trying to stamp their personality on to a rental property. Renters can’t simply rip up a tired old carpet and polish the floorboards to give a room an instant update, nor can they knock out walls to create an airier living space. 

But the good news is a raft of recent changes to Victoria’s rental laws make it easier to make a rental property feel more like home. Knocking out walls is still out of the question, but tenants can now install picture hooks, fit water-efficient shower heads and replace the curtains without asking for the landlord’s permission – as long as the property can be returned to its original state when they leave.

And, while you’ll need the landlord’s permission to paint the bedroomcreate a vegie garden or install a home security system, the owner cannot unreasonably refuse the request.

Other changes to the Residential Tenancies Act are also good news for renters. Among the 132 amendments that came into effect at the end of March, rental properties are now required to have such items as fitted heaters, locks and functioning stoves and sinks, and the property must be free of mould and have adequate ventilation. Renters also benefit from new rules relating to the handling of urgent repairs, bonds, payment of rent and rent increases. 

But while many of the amendments are designed to benefit tenants, those renting are still required to report damage as soon as it occurs, not cause a disturbance, and meet other obligations spelt out in the rental agreement. And crucially, they must leave the property in the same condition, minus wear and tear, as when they signed the lease.

That means that unless there’s a mutual agreement with the landlord to keep that aubergine feature wall, any home decor updates must either be reversed before the tenant vacates the property or the tenant must pay the landlord the cost of doing so.  

So, by all means get creative with personalising your rental, but just be aware that you may have to undo your home-decorating handiwork before you vacate. And no matter what you have in mind, it’s important to read your rental agreement carefully and keep an open and cordial relationship with your landlord. 


Nine changes renters can make without the landlord’s permission

Tenants can make the following modifications without permission from the rental provider, but these changes cannot be permanent.

Hang pictures

Adorning the walls with your favourite artworks is a quick and easy way to personalise your space. The law now allows renters to install picture hooks, provided they don’t penetrate exposed brick or concrete walls. If they do, you’ll need consent from the landlord. More: An artist's guide to investing in artwork.

Install shelves

Display your treasures and add extra storage with a set of built-in shelves. As with picture hooks, you can install screws and brackets for shelves as long as they don’t penetrate exposed brick or concrete walls. 

Upgrade your lights

Replacing traditional incandescent light globes with energy-efficient LEDs will save you money and you don’t need the landlord’s permission to make the switch, providing you don’t change the fittings. More: How to change a lightbulb.

Upgrade your shower heads

Save on water bills by swapping the shower heads to a water-saving model. Just be sure to keep the original so you can change them back when you leave. 

Installing wireless security is allowed.
Make yourself feel at home by hanging curtains.

Hang curtains

New window furnishings can transform a room. Hang on to the originals so you can reinstall them when you vacate. You don’t need to get permission to install blind or cord anchors. Need help? RACV’s Handy Andy shows you how it’s done in this easy DIY video on how to hang curtains.

Child-proof your house

Keep little ones safe by fitting adhesive child-safety locks to doors or drawers, and pressure-mounted child safety gates where needed. You’ll need the landlord’s permission if they are mounted by screws or hardware fittings.

Upgrade security

Keep things safe by installing security lights, an alarm system or camera. You don’t need the landlord’s permission as long as the device is not hard wired, can be removed easily and doesn’t affect neighbours’ privacy. You’ll need prior permission if the security device needs to be fitted by a qualified installer. You can also add a lock to the letterbox without consent.

Add a doorbell

You don’t need permission to add a wireless doorbell.

Shade your windows

A non-permanent film on your windows will help keep in the warmth in winter and keep out the summer heat, with the added bonus of enhancing your privacy. And because it’s removeable, you don’t need your landlord’s permission. 

Pets are allowed with permission.
Seek approval from your landlord before giving the walls a fresh coat of paint.

Eight changes renters can make with the landlord’s permission

A tenant must get the rental provider’s consent to make the following modifications, but the request cannot be unreasonably refused.

Paint the premises

There’s nothing quite like a fresh coat of paint to give a room – or the whole house – an instant lift. Check first with your landlord, then get creative – either painting a room, a colourful feature wall or updating a drab built-in wardrobe with a stand-out colour. Get your DIY on with this step-by-step guide to painting a room.

Install a dishwasher

Just because you’re renting, doesn’t mean you need to be a slave to the sink. If your landlord gives the go-ahead you can put an end to dishpan hands by installing a dishwasher. Check the energy star-ratings to make sure you keep energy costs low. More: How upgrading old appliances could save you money.

Make it accessible

The landlord can’t unreasonably refuse if you want to install disability-related modifications, such as grab rails and hand rails determined necessary by an occupational therapist or other practitioner.  

Secure the premises

Want to add a security screen or deadlock to protect your property and loved ones? Just check with the landlord before you call the locksmith. While you’re at it, ask about installing fly screens to keep out the bugs in summer. 

Drought-proof your home

Save on electricity costs by sealing in the warmth with weather seals, caulking or gap-filling around windows, doors, skirting and floorboards. More: Money-saving renovations and DIY projects.

Grow your own vegies

Turn your house into a home by putting down roots – literally – in a newly created vegie or herb garden. 

Make an entrance

Create the right first impression with a new front gate. 

Have a pet

Laws on keeping pets in rental properties changed in March 2020. Tenants now need to ask for the rental provider’s consent using a Pet Request Form, available from the Consumer Affairs Victoria website. In order to reject the request the rental provider must apply to VCAT within 14 days of receiving the form. Under the new laws, “no pet” clauses in agreements signed after 2 March 2020 are invalid, and tenants are not required to pay a “pet bond”. However, if the pet creates a nuisance, causes damage or disrupts neighbours, the landlord can take action through VCAT.


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