New rental laws in Victoria that are part of long overdue reforms come into effect at the end of March. The reforms set minimum standards for rental properties, together with a host of other changes.

A total of 132 reforms were originally set to come into effect on 1 July 2020, but they were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The start date of the “Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018” has now been set for 29 March 2021.

Let’s have a look at some of the main changes and what they mean for residential tenants in Victoria. A quick note about terminology — the new residential tenancy laws refer to tenants as renters and landlords as rental providers.

Added protection for renters

The new legislation increases transparency and protection for renters. As a result, rental providers and their agents are not allowed to request any kind of inappropriate information in a rental application, discriminate against renters or encourage potential renters to enter into an agreement by making misleading or false representations.

No-grounds evictions are no longer legal

In order to bring a rental agreement to an end, rental providers now need to provide a valid reason. Some of the acceptable reasons include a rental provider moving back into the property, change of use of the property, demolition, or sale. Rental providers need to attach documentary evidence to a notice to vacate if they intend to change the use of the rental property.

Changes to notice to vacate

The grounds on which rental providers can issue renters with a notice to vacate are modified. These now include the following:

  • The renter or any of their visitors endanger the rental provider, their agent, a contractor or the neighbours
  • The renter or any of their visitors causes serious damage to the rented property or the common area, intentionally or recklessly.
  • The renter or any of their visitors intimidates or threatens the rental provider, their agent, or a contractor

Changes to how rent is paid

The rental provider needs to provide at least one fee-free method of payment, even though any method of payment can be specified in the rental agreement. Any costs associated with the nominated payment methods included in the agreement must be disclosed.

Rent increases

For all leases signed after 19 June 2019, rental providers can only increase rent once every 12 months. Prior to that date, they could increase rent once every 6 months.

There are other changes to rent increases, which can only occur for fixed term agreements if the contract specifies the amount of the rent increase. When it comes to lease breaks, VCAT needs to consider the hardship renters may have suffered due to unforeseen changes in circumstances had they continued with the agreement.

Some specific circumstances now allow renters to give 14 days’ notice without paying any lease break fees. These include for example being accepted into social housing.

Rent arrears                

If a renter receives a notice to evict because they have fallen into arrears but they pay back any overdue rent within 14 days, the notice is invalidated. This only applies for the first four occurrences over a period of 12 months.

The rental provider is allowed to issue a notice to locate and apply for possession order if the renter fails to pay rent a fifth time in the same 12 month period.

Pets and modifications

Rental providers cannot unreasonably refuse a renter’s request to keep a pet. However, renters who want to keep pets at the property need to request the rental provider’s consent.

When it comes to modifications, renters are now able to make them without the consent of the rental provider. These modifications need to be from a list of prescribed modifications allowed in Victoria, which will be decided by April 2021.

Some of the rental reforms listed above have already been implemented, but the remainder of them will all come into effect by 29th of March 2021. Changes to the existing regulations have been made after listening to the feedback from more than 700 written submissions that were requested as part of the public consultation process.

Rhiannon Leonard is a property lawyer at Sutton Laurence King Lawyers.

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