“Biggest changes” to the Residential Tenancies Act set to become a Victorian election issue, again


Daniel Andrews

Australian Labor Party reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act, some which were mooted before a recent bi-election of an inner-Melbourne seat and which the government was at risk of losing to the Greens, will be introduced to Parliament this week.

Yesterday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that more than 130 reforms would “strengthen renters’ rights, better protect vulnerable tenants and enable people to turn the house they rent into a home”.

A Facebook post by Mr Andrews points to one of the biggest proposed changes: the right for tenants to have a pet in their home.

Made out to the “secret cats of Victoria” – a nod to the number of tenants that retain pets in rental homes unbeknownst to their landlords – Mr Andrews adds: “I know your mums and dads are responsible pet owners, and if you get up to no good, they’ll still have to pay for repairs.

“But soon, they [pet owners] will no longer have to worry about getting turned away from rental accommodation time and time again”.

This link, attached to the post, adds that residential rental providers would only be able to refuse a right of a tenant to have a pet by order of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Additional reforms include ensuring every rental home meets standards in regard to functioning kitchen basics, heating and deadlocks. Other proposed reforms will attempt to:

• eliminate rental bidding: where prospective tenants offer an agent more than the advertised rental;
• limit rent increases to once a year;
• cap a payable bond to the equivalent of four-weeks rent. Additionally, tenants will be able to apply for the release of a bond without written consent from their landlord, who will have 14 days to raise a dispute, before it being repaid automatically;
• compensate people who rent in caravan and residential parks if their park closes;
• clarify right of entry and photography when a rental property is being sold;
• allow the termination of rental agreements in situations of family violence, the government adding this change “will ensure victims are not held liable for the debts of their abusers” and implements a recommendation laid out in a Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The proposed reforms “will also require landlords to meet basic safety standards for gas, electricity and smoke alarms”.

Renters also won’t need to obtain a landlord’s consent prior to making minor modifications including nailing hooks, or installing anchors, into walls.

The government says the “landmark” proposals present the biggest change to the Residential Tenancies Act since it was implemented more than two decades ago.

REIV president Richard Simpson

However, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria – an association for the Victorian real estate industry – describes the proposed changes as “draconian”.

The REIV warns the “so-called ‘Rent Fair’ legislation” has the potential to deplete Victoria’s rental housing stock, which it estimates is valued at a total of about $519.2 billion, because landlords will withdraw their supply.

“The Victorian government’s attacks on property owners are unfathomable,” the REIV said in this statement, also released yesterday, in which it states it intends to fight the “Nanny State” changes.

“These [landlords] are usually mum and dad investors, or young people trying to get ahead, not property mogul ‘fat cats’”

The REIV adds that one quarter of Australians aged 25-39 years old own an investment property and most landlords are on annual incomes of less than $150,000.

REIV president Richard Simpson said the proposed Residential Tenancies Act “would swing the pendulum of rights overwhelmingly to renters.

“The Victorian government should remember who actually owns $519.2 billion in rental housing stock and line the State’s coffers with a plethora of property taxes

“The idea that landlords cannot have a say if pets are permitted to live in their houses or if modifications are allowed, is completely unreasonable considering the possible negative impact on landlords’ properties.

“REIV also objects to capping bonds to four week’s rental, the withdrawal of the 120 day ‘no reason’ notice to vacate and burdening landlords with the expense and responsibility of disposing of abandoned goods and furniture.

The REIV points to a petition, ‘Rent Fair is Unfair’, which has 20,000 signatures.

Some property observers point out Mr Andrews may be attempting to legislate on this issue in 12 sitting days prior to the November general election.

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Marc Pallisco

A freelance property writer and experienced analyst, Marc is the co-founder of realestatesource.com.au