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Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018 was passed by Victoria’s Parliament in early September 2018.

Click here to find out more about when these changes will take effect and what happens from here.

Here is a list of the key changes included in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 as they apply to the mainstream rental market:

Disclosure of information

What’s changing?  Landlords and real estate agents will need to use a standard application form and will no longer be able to request certain information from prospective tenants.  They will not be allowed to provide false, misleading or deceptive information to induce prospective tenants to enter into an agreement – including false and misleading advertising.

They will also be required to disclose certain information about the rental property prior to a lease such as:

  • if the landlord intends to sell the property,
  • if a contract of sale has been proposed or prepared,
  • if there is an enforcement action in place for the property,
  • if the landlord has a right to let the property,
  • prescribed details of the operator of any embedded electricity networks that exist,
  • the known presence of asbestos, and
  • any other prescribed information about the property.

 

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify what information landlords and agents cannot request from prospective tenants, as well as what information must be disclosed to prospective tenants prior to a lease.

Rental bidding

What’s changing?  Landlords and real estate agents will not be able to solicit higher bids for rental properties.

What else needs to happen?  There are no additional regulations required for this change.  However, we will continue to lobby for changing the legislation so that accepting higher bids is also banned.

Condition report

What’s changing?  Either the tenant or the landlord will be able to apply to VCAT to amend an inaccurate or incomplete condition report within 30 days of the commencement date on the lease.  If the landlord fails to provide a condition report, the tenant will be able to complete one and give it to the landlord within 5 days of the commencement date on the lease.  At the end of the lease, the landlord will be required to complete a condition report in the tenants’ presence within 10 days.  The condition report given to the landlord is taken as notice of defects or outstanding repairs.

What else needs to happen?  No regulations are required for these changes.

Rent and bonds

What’s changing?  Landlords and real estate agents will be required to provide tenants with at least one fee-free method for paying rent.  Rent increases will be restricted to once every 12 months as per the common practice within the rental market.

Bonds will be set for most rental properties (up to a certain threshold) at 4 weeks’ rent.  An additional bond to a prescribed amount may be charged for fixed-term leases over 5 years or to meet a tenant’s obligation to restore any modifications undertaken.  The bond can be released within 14 days of the end of a lease unless one party objects by application to VCAT.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to establish the threshold will be for capping bonds at 4 weeks’ rent.

Regulations will also be developed identifying the maximum additional bonds that can be charged for fixed-term leases of over 5 years, and for restoring modifications at the end of a tenancy.

Health and safety

What’s changing?  All rental properties will be required to meet certain health, safety and energy efficiency standards before they are leased.  This includes providing functioning deadlocks on all external doors (except screen doors) unless law provides for another device or security barrier, functioning locks on all windows capable of having locks, and a requirement to keep and produce evidence of regular gas and electrical safety checks.

The landlord will be required to maintain the premises in good repair and ensure it is ‘reasonably fit and suitable for occupation’ regardless of the rent amount, age or character of the premises, or whether or not the tenant is aware of disrepair.  The landlord or real estate agent must hire a tradesperson to undertake repairs.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify what minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards should be required by law.

Regulations will be developed to ensure that requirements for gas and electrical safety checks align with relevant building legislation, and that any additional requirements (i.e. timelines) are included.

Urgent repairs

What’s changing?  The definition of urgent repairs has been widened to include:

  • a breakdown or failure of cooling appliances (i.e. air conditioner) supplied by the landlord,
  • a breakdown or failure of any safety-related device including smoke alarms and pool fences,
  • fault or damage that makes the premises (including room) unsafe or insecure, including infestation by pests and mould or damp caused by or related to the building structure, and
  • A failure to comply with minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards once this legislation has taken effect

 

VCAT will be able to order urgent repairs for a higher maximum value taking into consideration the Director's guidelines.  If VCAT orders the landlord to carry out urgent repairs, VCAT must order rent paid into the Special Rental Account unless the landlord can demonstrate that doing so would cause them to suffer financial hardship.

Tenants will be able to provide the landlord with notice of reimbursement for any urgent repairs they have paid for themselves.  The landlord must reimburse the tenant for urgent repairs within 7 days.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed determining the maximum value of urgent repairs VCAT can order.

Non-urgent repairs

What’s changing? The Director of CAV will no longer be required to report on the repairs needed at the request of the tenant, but may do so.  If the Director issues a report that directs the landlord to undertake non-urgent repairs, the Renter no longer has to receive a copy of the report.

If renter applies to VCAT (within 14 days after notice to repair is given by Tenant), VCAT must hear it in 7 days.

What else needs to happen? No regulations are required for these changes.

Modifications

What’s changing?  Tenants will be able to make certain minor modifications to the rental premises without written consent from the landlord.  Landlords can refuse modifications if they would cause significant damage to the property, require additional modifications to other areas or common property, result in non-compliance with the law, will require extra maintenance costs if not restored at the end of the tenancy, or are not reasonably practical.  However, landlords will not be able to unreasonably refuse certain minor modifications that:

  • do not penetrate or permanently modify the property,
  • provide thermal comfort to the home,
  • reduce energy or water usage,
  • provide access to telecommunications services, and
  • are required for health and safety purposes.

 

Tenants will be able to apply to VCAT to challenge unreasonable refusal of minor modifications, and the application will be heard within 5 business days.

The landlord will be able to charge an additional bond proportionate to restoration costs unless there is an agreement not to restore the modifications or the landlord will benefit from a scheme such as a solar grant program.  (See ‘Rent and bonds’.)

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify what minor modifications can be undertaken without consent, and what constitutes as reasonable refusal of modifications.

We will continue to lobby for procedural changes to VCAT to encourage efficiency and fair outcomes for all parties involved in residential tenancy disputes.

Pets

What’s changing?  Renters will be able to own a pet if the landlord as consented in writing (using a prescribed form) or an order has been made by VCAT permitting the renter to own the pet.  Landlords will not be able to unreasonably refuse consent to own a pet and must apply to VCAT if they wish to refuse.  If the landlord fails to respond to a request to own a pet within 14 days, consent will be assumed.

The landlord will be able to apply to VCAT if they think the tenant is keeping a pet without permission to exclude that pet from the premises.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify what constitutes a reasonable refusal to allow renters to keep pets and the prescribed form to request permission to rent with a pet.

Privacy

What’s changing?  If a notice to vacate has been provided, the landlord or real estate agent will be allowed to enter the rented premises with 48 hours’ notice between the hours of 8:00am and 6:00pm to conduct an open house inspection for prospective renters.  This must only occur within the 21 days before the termination date, and only twice weekly for no longer than 1 hour unless otherwise agreed.

The tenant is entitled to compensation for sales inspections.

The landlord or real estate agent must give 7 days’ notice of their intention to enter the property for the purpose of photographing or filming for advertising purposes, and must only do so between the hours of 8:00am and 6:00pm.  Tenants can object by written notice to having their personal possessions photographed or filmed if this has the potential to directly identify them, reveal sensitive information, if the possessions are of value and increase the risk of theft, or if it is unreasonable to remove or conceal them.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to set the maximum compensation available to tenants subjected to sales inspections.

Evictions

What’s changing?  Landlords will no longer be able to hide behind ‘no specified reason’ notices to vacate, as these will now be abolished.  If the tenant is on a fixed-term lease agreement, they will only be able to be evicted using an end-of-fixed-term notice to vacate at the end of the first fixed term.

Landlords will be able to issue a 14-day notice to vacate to tenants if the tenant or any other person living at the rented premises has seriously threatened or intimidated the landlord, real estate agent or a contractor or employee of the landlord or real estate agent.

A new form for notices to vacate that must be addressed to the tenant, signed by the landlord or real estate agent, must specify one or more reasons for eviction set out in the Residential Tenancies Act, and identify the date for termination.  Under certain circumstances such as if the premises are slated for demolition, the notice to vacate must also include evidence to confirm the reason is valid.

If there is a possession order for rent arrears, VCAT may adjourn it and order the tenant to get financial counselling or another form of support.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify the type of evidence landlords have to include with certain notices to vacate, what support services VCAT can require tenants to take where a possession order has been issued for rent arrears and to develop the prescribed form for notices to vacate.

We will continue to lobby for procedural changes to VCAT to ensure that tenants are not subjected to unfair or onerous orders.

Family violence protections

What’s changing?  Tenants who are victims of family violence will be able to apply to have their abuser removed from the lease agreement, or if they are not already listed on the lease agreement to have a new lease created in their name.

The landlord will not be able to unreasonably refuse modifications related to the safety and security of family violence victims, such as installing CCTV on the premises.  The tenant will be able to change the locks on the premises provided they issue a copy of the key to the landlord.  The landlord must not provide a copy of the new key to a previously party of the agreement (i.e. the abuser).

Tenants who are victims of family violence will be able to require open house inspections by prospective renters to be by appointment only.  They will also be able to object by written notice to photography and filming of their personal possessions if there is a risk of identification by their abuser.

Tenants must not be listed on a tenancy database (i.e. ‘blacklist’) if a breach of duty was the result of family violence.  VCAT may order a real estate agent to remove tenants from blacklists in these cases.  VCAT may also make an order that the perpetrator of family violence be liable for damage to property where a bond is claimed.  In any application where family violence is a factor, VCAT must take into account any family violence safety orders or other evidence in effect relating to family violence.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed to identify what forms of evidence VCAT can consider when hearing residential tenancy matters where family violence is a factor.

We will continue to lobby with family violence organisations for increased protections for tenants affected by family violence.

Goods left behind

What’s changing?  The landlord must not remove, destroy or dispose of certain goods left behind by the tenant, and must store them for up to 14 days.  If the tenant does not reclaim their goods within 14 days unless otherwise agreed or VCAT orders additional storage time, the landlord will be able to sell or dispose of any goods left behind.

The tenant will be able to reclaim certain goods left behind, but they must pay reasonable storage fees required by the landlord before the goods can be reclaimed.  The tenant can also apply for the return of goods through VCAT.

If the goods left behind have been disposed of or sold by the landlord, the tenant can request payment (less reasonable storage fees and the cost of sale) within 6 months.  If payment is not made, the landlord will then be required to pay the proceeds (less reasonable storage fees and the cost of sale) into the Residential Tenancies Fund within 30 days.

What else needs to happen?  Regulations will be developed by community consultation to identify what types of goods must not be removed, destroyed or disposed of by the landlord.

Landlord blacklist

What’s changing?  The Director of Consumer Affairs will establish a register of landlords who have been found by VCAT to have breached their duties, or have been required by VCAT to pay compensation to the tenant for a breach of duty.  Landlords on this ‘blacklist’ will be subject to similar conditions as tenants listed on tenancy databases: A landlord cannot be listed for more than 3 years, and they will be able to apply to VCAT to have a listing corrected or removed as required.

What else needs to happen?  No regulations are required for these changes.