Significant changes were made to the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act 1997 in August 2018. These changes will come into effect progressively, between 2019 and July 2020. Among the changes are provisions setting minimum standards for rental properties, making renting with a pet easier and various other amendments designed to protect the rights of tenants. The Victorian Premier described the coming changes as the ‘biggest change to the Residential Tenancies Act since it was implemented more than two decades ago.’
Renting with a pet
Under Section 71A of the amended act, tenants will be allowed to keep a pet with the consent of the rental provider or by order of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). A residential rental provider will not be allowed to unreasonably refuse a request to keep a pet and will deemed to have consented to the request unless they apply for an order by VCAT within 14 days of receiving the request (section 71C). However, please note that this provision does not come into effect until 1 July 2020.
At present, the Residential Tenancies Act contains no mention of pets. In practice, tenants have to seek express permission from the rental provider to be allowed to have a pet. The RSPCA has supported the coming change, saying that a significant number of the pets surrendered to them came as the result of the difficulty of renting with a pet. Tenants Victoria also supported the change, saying that terms restricting a person’s ability to keep a pet should not be part of a Tenancy Agreement.
The reform of the Victorian residential tenancy legislation in relation to renting with a pet means that in 2020 Victoria will become the only state to have imposed a law that restricts residential rental providers from imposing a blanket ban on the keeping of pets.
Section 65A of the amended act means that rental providers twill have to ensure the compliance of rental properties with minimum standards in respect of security, amenities and privacy. These minimum requirements include:
- A vermin-proof rubbish bin;
- A functioning toilet;
- Adequate hot and cold water connections;
- External windows with functioning latches;
- A functioning cooktop, oven, sink and food preparation area;
- A functioning deadlock on external doors;
- Functioning heating in the living room;
- Window coverings to ensure privacy in bedrooms and main living area.
If a property does not comply with these minimum standards, a tenant will be able to issue a request for urgent repairs to be carried out (Section 65A(2)).
Failure to comply with minimum standards may result in the rental provider being fined, ordered to complete urgent repairs or in the rental agreement being terminated.
These reforms follow a Supreme Court decision that found that tenants have the right to expect that rental properties be maintained in ‘good repair’ even if it was in poor condition when it was originally leased.
The amendments have inserted several provisions into the Act aimed at protecting victims of family violence, including allowing for the termination of rental agreements because of family violence and allowing renters to challenge a notice to vacate on the basis of family violence. A provision has also been introduced to the effect that a person subjected to family violence cannot be personally cross-examined by the perpetrator of the violence in a VCAT proceeding.
Other states and territories have residential tenancy provisions that address the situation where a tenant is a victim of family violence. In some jurisdictions, this is limited to where a family violence order is in place, while others provide for situations of family violence regardless of whether an order is in place.
Other coming changes
The new regime will also allow rental providers to terminate rental agreements where the tenant has seriously threatened or intimidated them or their employee or agent. Processes for termination for non-payment of rent have been structured, so that a renter will be able to be evicted if there are four previous notices to vacate for being 14 days or more in arrears in a 12-month period.
The amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act have been touted as a watershed moment in the regulation of Victoria’s rental market which brings tenancy law into line with the realities of the modern rental market. The changes reflect the reality that a growing number of Victorians are renting long-term and that additional protections are needed to protect the rental population. The new legislation has also replaced the outdated terminology of ‘landlord’ and tenant’ with ‘residential rental provider’ and ‘renter’.
The changes described above will come into effect progressively during 2019 and 2020. For advice on where Victorian tenancy law stands at present or on how the changes will effect you, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.