How to be a good tenant and boss the rental game like a baddie

Just hold on, we're going home

Moving boxes piled up with tan sofa
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're flying the parental nest — chances are you'll wanna know how to be a good tenant. I mean, no one really tells you what's expected of you. One day mom's still making your doctor's appointments and the next minute — you've landed the keys to a rental.

I've been renting since my early twenties, so I've had about a decade of experience. And let me tell you, it's been a journey. From pest control to passive-aggressive What's Apps from roomies, I've seen it all. Organizing an apartment is relatively easy, but can you keep yourself afloat in the choppy waters of budgeting, building maintenance, and being the bigger person when you've got petty neighbors?

Thankfully, I'm in a unique situ rn, where I have the dreamiest landlord who is living his best life in Australia and sends me voice notes to check in now and again. SB, if you're reading this, you da best.

I'm going to cover everything from the obvious — aka paying your rent on time (duh!) — to the essentials you might not have thought about. 

1. Pay your rent on time

This *must* be your priority as you’ll be in breach of contract if payments are late or missed, putting you at risk of being evicted. Rent is normally due a month in advance on the anniversary of the date you moved in, so arrange for it to be paid (usually by direct debit) a couple of days earlier to allow for delays caused by a weekend or holiday. Remember to pay for utility services, waste management, and other bills promptly too if they're not included in your landlord's costings.

Yup — that means no Uber Eats or Target trips until you've allowed your renting costs to leave your bank account.

2. Follow your tenancy’s terms

Read your tenancy agreement carefully and follow its terms. If it contains a clause expressly prohibiting smoking or having a pet — don’t carry on regardless and hope that the landlord won’t find out. I'm warning you, none of these "Girl, don't do it, I did it" meme vibes.

Because at best this behavior will detrimentally affect your relationship, and at worst this breach could end up with you losing your home. What's more, if your pet causes damage to the property (stains the carpet or scratches furniture) — be prepared to cough up that coin.

3. Ask permission

Want to start a business from home, paint the walls or sublet a room? Check your contract to find out if permission’s needed before you go ahead. If it is, make your request in writing and keep (physical and digital) copies of all correspondence.

4. Communicate clearly

Good communication will earn you brownie points, so tell your landlord or letting agent if you’re going to be away for two weeks or more, as an empty home is more likely to be burgled and a prolonged absence (30+ days) could invalidate the building's insurance policy. 

Accidents happen, so if you break something, own up immediately rather than trying to cover your tracks — ghosting is not a good option. Honesty is the best policy. And always respond quickly to a message or email from your landlord as being hard to reach won’t go down well. If you haven't already, you'll want to set up a professional-sounding email address (not one you've had since eighth grade, girl).

5. Make your home secure

Adopting basic security measures should be second nature, so lock doors and windows every time you go out. Don’t give spare keys to anyone who doesn’t live with you, and never, ever leave them outside under a flower pot or doormat.

Your landlord may have already set up their own precautions by installing a smart doorbell (like Ring on Amazon) or a home security system to track movements at the door. They may have even fitted a good key safe for if you get locked out and need access to a spare set of keys.

Find out more about how to make your home less attractive to burglars.

6. Carry out basic maintenance

Although the landlord is responsible for upkeep and repairs, you're required to carry out minor maintenance. Relax, this is nothing major — you’ll just need to check that smoke alarms are working, change the lightbulbs and batteries occasionally, and tighten loose screws.

Find out what to ask your landlord before you move in so both of you know who is expected to do what.

7. Look after the property

It goes without saying that good hygiene is a must, so keep the property clean and mess-free (with the best cleaning supplies), ventilate it to minimize condensation, and empty your kitchen trash can regularly so that waste doesn't build up and attract pests.

It’s your responsibility to inform the landlord immediately of problems such as a leaking tap, a damp patch, or trouble getting rid of mice. All of these are often easy to deal with if tackled early, but can quickly escalate if neglected.

They have a legal and moral obligation to sort out the issue within a reasonable timeframe. But, be patient as this might involve temporary contingency. For example, they may provide a good dehumidifier to tackle a recurring mold issue.   

8. Keep your neighbours sweet

There’s nothing worse than bad neighbors, but the relationship works both ways — stay in their good graces by treating them with respect. Tidy communal areas, don’t let garbage pile up around trash cans, and don’t play music loudly or stomp around late at night if people are living underneath. Rudeness, excessive noise, and mess can be deemed unacceptable and grounds for eviction.

9. Allow the landlord reasonable access

Contrary to how they are portrayed in TV sitcoms, landlords generally don’t enter their tenants’ homes without good reason IRL. They’re entitled to do so to inspect for problems and carry out repairs and safety checks and as a tenant, you’re entitled to reasonable notice — usually 24–48 hours, as detailed in the tenancy agreement.

If this isn’t convenient, be flexible and offer alternative dates and times for access. A landlord is only allowed to enter without permission in a major emergency such as a flood.

10. End the tenancy without icky vibes

Make sure you give the right amount of notice when you want to move out. A fixed-term tenancy can only be ended early if it contains a break clause, though it’s worth asking the landlord if you can leave sooner. Otherwise, check the contract to find out whether notice is required.

For periodic tenancies, when the fixed term has ended without being renewed, you must give a month’s notice if you pay rent monthly or one week if paid weekly. On your last day, leave the property clean and tidy, remove all your belongings, return keys, and provide a forwarding address.

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.