The ABCs of renting a room

With Queensland experiencing low vacancy rates, sub-letting may be an option you are considering. As Queensland’s residential rental authority, the RTA is here to provide tenancy information and guidance on the ins and outs of sub-letting for tenants, property owners and property managers.

What is sub-letting?

Sub-letting occurs when a tenant—named on an agreement—gives another person (the sub-tenant) the right to rent part, or all, of the property.

In this arrangement, the head tenant has the same responsibilities as a lessor/lessor’s agent, and they are required to provide the sub-tenant with:

All rental bonds must be lodged with the RTA within 10 business days—even in sub-letting, boarder or lodger situations—and failure to do so is an offence. All bond contributors must be listed on the form along with the amount paid.

It’s important to understand which agreement you’re using, as agreement types can differ vastly and may impact your rights and responsibilities under the legislation.

If you’re not sure which tenancy agreement you should be using, you can call the RTA for advice or make an urgent application to QCAT (Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal) for decision.

In conversation: the ins and outs of sub-letting

The RTA’s commitment to educating our stakeholders and customers extends through many forums, including the media.

Recently, RTA Principal Project Officer Sam Galer discussed sub-letting on ABC Radio Brisbane Drive with Steve Austin, following a series of questions from listeners.

The interview presented an opportunity for Sam to expand on many topics, including sub-letting, so, With permission from ABC Brisbane, we have republished the interview below, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Steve Austin (ABC): Can I rent out a single bedroom in my house if I've got a spare room?

Sam Galer (RTA): There are a couple of key things to clarify there. Where you have the owner living on the property, if you are renting only one bedroom out, then that would not come under our legislation.

But it doesn't mean that you can't do it and it doesn't mean there are no protections in place.

But it does means the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (the Act) would not apply to that agreement. It's more likely to come under boarders and lodgers, which are covered by common law rather than the Act.

Steve Austin (ABC): The Residential Tenancies Authority does cover you if you're sub-letting four rooms or more?

Sam Galer (RTA): Yes. So, there's many different arrangements including if there are four rooms or more, and if you own the property or not. But where you own the property and are living there, the legislation says more than three rooms need to be available for rent for it to be covered under rooming accommodation.

Steve Austin (ABC): While there are no formal rental documents with the Residential Tenancies Authority over renting out a bedroom, the RTA does have a role when it comes to holding a bond?

Sam Galer (RTA): It's a really important point. So, even though our Act doesn't cover the agreement as such, if the owner decides to take an amount of money as insurance for the agreement for the property, that is a bond. That bond is still required to be lodged with the Residential Tenancies Authority within 10 business days.

Steve Austin (ABC): So, if the Residential Tenancies Act doesn't cover a boarder or a lodger arrangement, what should you do to ensure that you have some protection?

Sam Galer (RTA): It's always necessary to have agreements in writing. Good intentions start out great. We want people to help ease the pressures in this competitive rent market. While our Act wouldn't apply in the scenario you've described, there are documents on our website for tenancy agreements. A lot of the key points in those tenancy agreements are what you would want to be covering in any agreement.

Steve Austin (ABC): So, what sort of things should you communicate with a proposed boarder or a lodger? What sort of things should you get down on paper?

Sam Galer (RTA): Under our Act, all agreements must be in writing. And while the Act in this situation wouldn't apply, it's obviously a good idea to ensure people have the same understanding. If it's just a handshake agreement, I think you're potentially opening yourself up to challenges.

If you do need to have any level of protection, you need to make sure that everyone understands what the scenario is.

Steve Austin (ABC): What can you do if a boarder or a lodger stops paying rent?

Sam Galer (RTA): So, I can't give too much information on it from an owner-occupier, but I can try and be helpful with a scenario that may come under our legislation.

So, there is the ability for a tenant to sub-let. To sub-let, if for instance, you are renting a property and there's three bedrooms and someone moved out and you thought, “oh well, it'd be good to have someone come in and help me with the rent, but I don't want them on the same agreement as me”.

There are requirements where you can sub-let a property, there is a lot of information on our website and encourage people to have a look at this. You need to ask permission from the owner of the property before you sub-let. But they also need to be reasonable in assessing that decision and saying yes or no.

But back to your point on what you could do if the person suddenly stopped paying rent.

Sub-letting between a head tenant and a sub-tenant would come under our legislation, so you would be able to issue a breach notice. You'd be able to issue a notice to leave if that breach wasn't remedied. There are timeframes through that, but certainly there'd be protection if it's someone renting and then someone coming on (to the lease agreement) and renting from them.

Steve Austin (ABC): Councils and the State Government are making it easier to rent granny flats to people other than your family. Does the RTA, the Residential Tenancies Authority, cover those types of arrangements?

Sam Galer (RTA): You're correct that the government changed some of the legislation recently to allow for granny flats to be rented out. Usually it's reasonably clear and it will come under our legislation generally, either as a general tenancy, where the secondary dwelling is entirely self-contained, it's got a kitchen and a bathroom and bedroom, you don't have to go in the other house at all; but it can also come under rooming accommodation.

Steve Austin (ABC): Well, overall Sam, what's your advice for someone who wants to rent out a bedroom?

Sam Galer (RTA): It's a matter of being cautious. I appreciate the goodwill, and I'm all for helping people, but it is taking that little bit of time and effort to get things clear, get it on paper, make sure that you know your rights and that you've done your research because we don't want good intentions to end with people having a bad experience from either side.

Useful resources

If you’d like to learn more about sub-letting: 

Original publication on 27 Jul 2023
Last updated on 27 Jul 2023

Note: While the RTA makes every reasonable effort to ensure that information on this website is accurate at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after publication may impact on the accuracy of material. This disclaimer is in addition to and does not limit the application of the Residential Tenancies Authority website disclaimer.