Since the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 was first introduced, renting has changed significantly. More Victorians are renting than ever before – 28.7 per cent in 2016 compared to 24.4 per cent in 1996, according to Census data. In addition, the State Government reports one-third of private tenants have rented continuously for over 10 years.
The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill is designed to update the Act for today’s rental market, and increase protections for tenants while ensuring landlords can still effectively manage their properties.
More than 130 reforms were passed in Victorian parliament in September 2018. Some have already come into effect, with the remainder to be introduced progressively by July 1, 2020.
Keep reading to catch up on the key changes to Victorian rental laws (in plain English).
1 / LONG LEASES ARE NOW EASIER
Already in effect, a new tenancy agreement for long-term leases of more than five years has been introduced.
2 / TENANTS WILL BE ALLOWED TO KEEP PETS
From 1 July 2020 it will be easier for tenants to keep pets, provided they obtain written consent from their landlords. Consent can only be refused by order of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). In the case of assistance animals, consent cannot be refused at all.
Outgoing tenants may be required to remedy pet-related damage that goes beyond expected wear-and-tear.
3 / MINOR MODIFICATIONS ARE WELCOME
Renters will be given the right to make minor modifications to the home. The definition of ‘minor modifications’ is not yet clear, but is likely to include picture hooks and furniture anchors.
More significant modifications will still require written consent, and landlords may require the tenant to employ a qualified trade person. For disability-related modifications, landlords can ask for an assessment to determine the need for changes.
4 / LANDLORDS MUST HAVE A REASON TO END A PERIODIC LEASE
Currently, a landlord can tell a tenant to vacate their property for ‘no specified reason’ provided they give 120 days notice. After 1 July 2020, a reason must be specified in all cases.
5 / “END OF FIXED-TERM” NOTICES WILL BE LIMITED
Landlords will only be able to terminate a tenancy using an ‘end of fixed-term’ notice to vacate at the end of the tenant’s first fixed-term agreement. Subsequent fixed terms for the same tenant can only be ended using a reason specified in the Act.
Tenants receiving an ‘end of fixed-term’ notification will be allowed to give 14 days’ notice to leave, rather than seeing out the remaining tenancy period.
6 / HONESTY AND ACCURACY IS MANDATORY
Landlords must practise transparency when speaking to prospective tenants. For example, if you’re planning to sell or know of any asbestos found on the property, this must be declared. Landlords who do not disclose information as a way to secure a lease agreement may be liable to compensate tenants.
7 / LANDLORDS MAY BE BLACKLISTED
Unfit tenants may already be added to a blacklist to protect landlords. In the interest of fairness, landlords who have breached their obligations now risk being added to a similar blacklist.
8 / BOND MAY BE RELEASED WITH CONSENT
The Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA) may release a bond before the end of a lease, provided both landlord and tenant have given consent. The bond will be released within 14 days in full, or according to agreed-upon apportionment.
9 / A NEW BOND AND UP-FRONT RENT CAP
Bond and up-front rent amounts will each be limited to one month’s rent for any property where the weekly rent is less than double the Victorian median.
10 / URGENT REPAIR REIMBURSEMENT MUST BE FASTER
Tenants paying up to $1,800 for urgent repairs can seek reimbursement within seven days and pursue a compensation order via VCAT if the landlord fails
to comply. Landlords breaching the compensation order may be blacklisted.
11 / RENT INCREASES NOW LIMITED TO ONCE PER YEAR
Already in effect, landlords are now only able to increase the rent they charge tenants once a year. Prior to the change they could raise the rent every six months.
12 / RENT AMOUNT MUST BE ADVERTISED
Landlords must advertise rental properties at a single fixed price and not invite tenants to make higher offers.