Tenants and landlords beware: the winds of change have begun to blow. The State Government has recently completed a comprehensive review of the law regulating residential leases. The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced into the lower house of the Victorian Parliament on 8 August 2018. The Bill seeks to “modernise” the Victorian rental market and, if passed, will bring about extensive changes to the rights and duties imposed on landlords and tenants.
Rented premises must be offered for rent at a fixed amount. Landlords (to be known as “residential rental providers” under the amendments) and real estate agents now face a fine of up to $9,671.40 ($48,357 for corporations) if they solicit or invite tenants to make an offer for rent which is higher than the advertised price. It is proposed that rent increases can only be made once every 12 months, instead of every six months as is the case under the current Act.
Minimum Standards for Rental Properties
Landlords will be required to ensure that premises comply with prescribed minimum standards. These minimum standards are yet to be formally established, but are expected to include:
- A vermin proof rubbish bin;
- A functioning toilet;
- Adequate hot water connections;
- Windows with functioning latches and functioning deadlocks on entry doors;
- A functioning cooktop, over, sink and food preparation area;
- Heating in the main living area; and
- Window coverings to ensure privacy in bedrooms and main living areas.
The Bill will also allow tenants (to be known as “renters” under the amendments) to make prescribed modifications to rental premises without first obtaining the consent of the landlord. The Government is yet to outline what these “prescribed modifications” will include, but it is expected that this will permit tenants to hang pictures without the need to obtain consent.
Entering Premises during Lease Term
Under the proposed changes, landlords will be allowed to enter premises to produce advertising images and videos as long as the images and videos produced do not identify the tenant or any of their possession which may increase the likelihood of theft. Tenants will be entitled to be paid prescribed compensation where the landlord exercises their right of entry in order to conduct an inspection for the sales of the premises.
Notices to Vacate
The Bill proposes enhanced powers for landlords to give tenants a notice to vacate where they cause damage, do not pay rent, use the premises for an illegal purpose or make serious threats the landlord. However, landlords will not longer be able to give tenants a notice to vacate without specifying a reason.
The situations in which tenants may give notice of intention to vacate have also been reconsidered. Tenants will only be required to give 14 days notice of intention to vacate where they are moving into crisis accommodation, supported accommodation or public housing.
Blacklist for Landlords
The Bill seeks to introduce a new “Rental Non-Compliance Register” setting out the names of landlords and the premises they rent out where the landlord has committed a breach of the Residential Tenancies Act. Landlords may be included on the Rental Non-Compliance Register for up to three years.
Discrimination Against Tenants
Tenants are now able to apply for compensation if they have been discriminated against by a landlord who has refused to let the premises to them in contravention of the Equal Opportunities Act 2010. This is an extension of the existing provision which prohibits a landlord from refusing to lease a property to a tenant with children.
It is now presumed that tenants are able to keep pets on their premises unless the landlord has some reasonable grounds to refuse to allow it. VCAT may determine whether it is reasonable to keep a pet at the premises in light of the type of pet and the nature of the premises.
Hardship and Domestic Violence
Where unforeseen changes in the tenants’ circumstances result in severe hardship, they may apply to VCAT for an order to terminate or reduce the length of the tenancy agreement. Such orders are also available where a tenant or other person living at the premises has been subjected to family violence.
Under the Bill, the Residential Tenancy Bond Authority will have to repay bonds to tenants if no dispute is made within 14 days. Bonds will not be able to exceed four weeks rent for a larger number of properties.
State Parliament has just two more sitting weeks before the next election. In the coming days it is expected to become much clearer whether or not these amendments will be passed ahead of the election. In the event that the Bill is put on the backburner, it’s chances of being passed will depend largely on the outcome of the election on 24 November.
If you would like to further discuss how these proposed changes affect you, please do not hesitate to contact our office.