Mark O’Brien, CEO of the Tenants Union of Victoria, which provides independent advice and assistance to tenants, says renters need to have their “wits about them” as they search for a home.

Do all the windows open?

“There are certainly red flags to keep an eye out for,” he says. “The most important thing is the consumer principle that if it seems too good to be true, say the rent of a property, it probably is. We encourage people to really dig, do their research and ask questions.”

O’Brien says assuming nothing, especially during an inspection, is key to avoiding trouble. “When you inspect, don’t take anything for granted. Ask. Even though you normally only have 10 to 15 minutes, look around, does everything work the way it’s supposed to? The lights, the taps? Do all the doors and windows open?

“Will you be able to cool it down in summer? Are there enough heaters? If you see a jack in the wall, don’t assume you can get TV or internet reception, you need to ask the question of the agent or landlord to avoid a nasty surprise later,” O’Brien says.

“Issues such as mould and dampness may not be immediately obvious, so you have to ask. The agent or landlord has an obligation to give you honest answers to any questions you ask.”

Why did the last tenant leave?

Also, ask why the last tenant left – the answer may be enlightening.

“There was a case in the media recently of people finding out the property had previously been a meth lab. You might want to know that. And while it’s rarely that extreme, it’s worth asking.”

Maintenance & the surrounding area

O’Brien also recommends taking a look around outside.

“Check out the general maintenance of the property and also adjoining properties. If there’s a big venue right next door or a property with a heap of cars and a big shed, you can reasonably expect noise and might want to reconsider.”

Read the fine print

Renting a property, either as an individual or with other people, means signing a lease, which is a legal contract, so O’Brien says people should tread carefully and read the fine print.

“When it comes to sharing, you need to ensure you’re on the same page as the people you’re going to live with, as such arrangements can quickly turn into a nightmare.” He also recommends reading lease documents carefully. “Don’t be rushed and if you don’t understand something, ask or get advice from someone you trust.