Landlord vs real estate agent – what are the differences?

A real estate agent acts as a representative of the landlord.  Everything that an agent says or does is as though the landlord said it or did it.  If the agent tells you (in writing) that you have permission to install a shelf, you can rely on it as though it was the landlord who told you.  If the agent interferes with your privacy, it is as though the landlord interfered with your privacy.

Also, if you say something to the agent, it is as though you said it to the landlord.  So, if you notify your real estate agent of the need for repairs, it is assumed that the landlord knows about it. 

There is no law against the landlord contacting you.  The landlord can take over any of the tasks that their agent does, but they cannot duplicate them.  So if your landlord does an inspection, your agent is not entitled to do another one.

There is also nothing in law preventing you from contacting your landlord directly, if you have their contact details.  Normally, tenants deal exclusively with the agent, unless there are problems with doing this.

A real estate agent is legally required to act in the best interests of the landlord, unless it would be against the law to do so.  Although agents are paid their commission from the rent you pay, it is the landlord who hires or fires them, so it is also in an agent’s interests to please the landlord.

If your rights under the tenancy agreement are breached, the Tribunal can only make compensation orders against the landlord, not the agent, even if the agent was the one at fault.  However, agents have to comply with a Code of Conduct in the Agents Regulation, and the Office of Fair Trading can investigate complaints about agent conduct (read Tenancy Factsheet: Making a Complaint Against a Real Estate Agent).

A landlord can hire, fire or change real estate agents whenever they want.  But this does not give them a right to change any terms of your lease unless you agree.  Your old agreement, whether a fixed term lease or a periodic (month-by-month) tenancy, written or verbal, continues on the same terms.  They cannot force you to sign extra terms or a new agreement.

You probably have to pay rent to a different person or account, but they aren’t allowed to make you change the way you pay rent (eg BPay, transfer, cash) or how often you pay rent (weekly, fortnightly, monthly) unless you agree to the change.  Always ask for written confirmation that an agent has been appointed or ceased acting for the landlord before you change who you pay rent to or who you communicate with.

Information reviewed 4/12/13

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