Rental/legal terms made simple - A glossary for the average renter

Nico Lim

Being a renter isn’t always so straightforward. Between all the paperwork, leases, bonds, and repairs issues, a lot of confusing legal terms get thrown around that make things harder than they need to be.

Whether it’s dealing with ‘rental arrears’, working out your lease, or wondering what a ‘moratorium’ is, it isn’t always clear where you stand with your landlord and agent.

Knowing the basic legal/tenancy jargon you’re likely to run into can help demystify some of the finer details of renting, so we’ve created this little glossary to help you out!



When you’re behind in your payments – whether it’s late rent or a past-due utility bill – you’re in arrears. Rent arrears is rent owed for the days you have lived in a place but haven’t paid for. (See “rent” below)

Bond/security deposit

This is the extra sum of money you provide to your landlord when you move in or sign the lease. This sum covers any damage you might do to your apartment, or rent you don’t end up paying during the term of your lease. Your landlord holds this money in escrow until you vacate the premises. Upon moving out, you should receive this sum of money back in full unless your landlord decides to charge you for damage or repair to the place beyond normal wear and tear.

Bonds are held by the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA). If there is a dispute over the bond, VCAT can hear it.


Consumer Affairs Victoria
Victoria’s consumer regulator that ensures a fair market place for landlords, tenants, businesses, and consumers in general. 


When two or more people sign the tenancy agreement they are known as co-tenants.


When a tenant is forced to leave. VCAT can issue a warrant of possession (final step of the eviction process), which is enforced by the police.

Fixed-term agreement

You have a fixed-term agreement with the landlord when you enter into a lease for a set period (usually 6 or 12 months). During this period, the landlord cannot ask you to leave unless you have breached the agreement.


Lease/Tenancy/Residential tenancy agreement

A lease (also known as a tenancy or residential tenancy agreement) is a contract between you (and your co-tenants) and the landlord or owner. The amount of the rent, lease term, rules, regulations, and you and your landlord’s responsibilities for the apartment are all outlined in this document.

In most cases (but not all), an agreement will be signed with an initial fixed term of 6 or 12 months, during which time the rent generally cannot be increased and the agreement cannot be terminated unless it is breached.

*note - the terms ‘tenancy’ and ‘lease’ often cause confusion but they actually mean the same thing. A tenancy/lease can be oral or in writing, for a fixed or ongoing/periodic term. 

Legally, a lease is a 'grant of exclusive possession'.


An informal arrangement within a share house where a person is let a room but doesn’t have 'exclusive possession' and thus tenancy rights.


A temporary ban or prohibition of an activity (eg. The moratorium on evictions in Victoria has been pushed back until December 31 2020). 

Notice to Vacate

A formal written notice ending a tenancy. A landlord cannot give notice within a fixed-term lease period unless there is an egregious breach, such as deliberate damage to the property. A notice to end a periodic lease must be for a specific reason, such as the landlord selling or moving back into the property.

Periodic agreement/continuing agreement

This is when there is no set period for the tenancy agreement, or if the fixed term of a lease expires and you continue on the lease. A periodic or continuing agreement goes on recurring automatically until something is done by the parties to end it. A tenant can end a periodic lease by giving 28 days’ notice in writing.


The cost of letting property. Rent accrues on a daily basis and is usually payable 1 month in advance. 


Where a person whose name is on the lease rents the whole house to another person for a lesser period. Legally, a tenant cannot sub-let without the landlord’s prior consent.

Transfer of tenancy

This is when a person whose name is on the residential tenancy agreement signs over their legal rights as a tenant in the house to another person.


Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
VCAT handles residential disputes between tenants and landlords. 

In need of more tenants information? Explore our blog for more articles.

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