Landlords, real estate agents and proprietors of hotels and motels have rights and responsibilities as providers of housing, as set out in the Residential Tenancies Act 1995.

Landlords, people acting on behalf of landlords and real estate agents may choose their preferred tenant.

However, it is against the law for you to make decisions based on personal characteristics. These decisions include:

  • refusing to sell or rent out property
  • processing an application differently from other applications for the same property
  • changing the terms upon which accommodation is offered such as imposing higher bonds
  • denying or limiting access to a benefit or facility that is available to other tenants
  • refusing to extend or renew accommodation
  • evicting tenants.

It is also against the law for a landlord or real estate agent to sexually harass a tenant or prospective tenant, and vice versa.

Choosing a tenant

If you provide accommodation services you should think about what criteria you want met by a prospective tenant.

These should focus on factors like their ability to:

  • pay the rental price
  • keep your property in good order
  • abide by general tenancy conditions like not disturbing neighbours and acting responsibly when issues arise.

You are allowed to:

  • ask for pay slips, Centrelink or bank account statements
  • seek references from previous landlords or real estate agents
  • decide to not allow pets on the property - however, guide dogs and other assistance animals must be allowed.
  • ask for references about the behaviour of your tenants from neighbours
  • inspect properties
  • expect that a property will be maintained to an agreed standard, no matter who the tenants are.

Make sure you process all applications for a property in the same way using the same criteria, and any staff you employ to rent out your property are aware of these policies and procedures.

You should also check all advertisements carefully to ensure they do not indicate any intention to discriminate.

You can't refuse to rent out a property to someone, change the terms on which the property is offered, or process an application differently from other applications because of a person’s:

  • age
  • association with a child
  • caring responsibilities
  • disability
  • gender identity
  • intersex status
  • marital or domestic partnership status
  • pregnancy
  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • spouse or partner's identity.

To ensure that you do not discriminate against a tenant, you should:

  • avoid asking applicants questions about these personal characteristics unless strictly necessary
  • ensure that facilities on the premises, such as a pool, are made available to all tenants regardless of any characteristics above
  • allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable alterations to the property to enable access
  • refrain from touching or making advances towards tenants or talking about personal matters such as their sex life.

If you are acting on behalf of a landlord, the same advice applies. You could both be held liable for any discrimination that occurs.

Exceptions to the rule

There are some situations where equal opportunity laws do not apply:

  • Private households - for example, when a person is deciding who they want to live with under the same roof.
  • Specific accommodation - this is provided by charities or to cater for the welfare of a particular race, age, sex, marital status, for example an aged care facility, respite for single mothers, accommodation for homeless men etc.
  • Education accommodation - this is provided by an educational authority that caters specifically for students of a particular sex, age, race or students with disabilities.