Better, fairer and safer renting for all

New tenancy reforms mean a better chance for Victorian renters

On the 6th of September, the Victorian Parliament passed the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018, which included over 130 reforms that create the strongest rental protections for tenants in Australia.

Justice Connect’s Homeless Law team made a comprehensive submission into the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (RTA) review, There’s No Place Like Home. We also made another five targeted, evidence-based submissions, drawing on the direct insights of our clients, as well as learnings from our integrated legal representation, social work support and human rights advocacy. We have collaborated closely with our allies in the legal assistance, homelessness, housing, family violence and social service sectors to campaign for these necessary and long overdue changes, including being part of the Make Renting Fair campaign led by Tenants Victoria.

From our experience providing intensive and holistic help to over 400 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness each year, Homeless Law has highlighted four changes that will make renting safer, better and fairer for all Victorians.

4 major tenancy law changes that make renting safer, better and fairer for all Victorians

  1. Strengthening vital family violence protections for tenants
  2. Removing ‘no reason’ eviction notices
  3. Improving the power imbalance faced by tenants through a more reasonable and proportionate eviction process
  4. Reducing avoidable evictions for rental arrears through a new five-stage approach 

1. Strengthening vital family violence protections for renters

People who have experienced family violence, including many of the women and children we help through the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project, will directly benefit from crucial safety mechanisms under the new laws. These vital changes also reflect the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the views shared by safe steps and Homeless Law in our 2016 joint-RTA submission. In particular, these reforms will make sure that people who have experienced family violence can apply to VCAT to:

  • end their tenancy agreements urgently, without having to pay unfair compensation to their landlord
  • create a new tenancy agreement, including in situations where it is not practical or safe for them to apply for an intervention order
  • make personal safety modifications to their property, including by installing security cameras, changing locks and adding additional security to windows and doors
  • remove unfair listings on tenancy blacklists that relate to family violence
  • avoid unreasonable and unfair evictions, with VCAT being required to consider whether family violence contributed to events that led to the eviction notice.
  1. Removing ‘no reason’ eviction notices

The reforms also mean that Victorian tenants can no longer be evicted without their landlords having a lawful and clearly expressed reason.

The threat of ‘no reason’ and ‘end of fixed term’ eviction notices has significantly blocked renters from exercising their rights to seek repairs or compensation, protect their privacy, or challenge rent increases. Both of these types of eviction notices have been removed under the new laws, with landlords only being able to evict someone for a lawful reason. This change makes eviction processes fairer and ensures renters have the security they need.

  1. Improving the power imbalance faced by tenants through a more reasonable and proportionate eviction process

The longstanding inequality between landlords and tenants in the eviction process will be improved through the implementation of a reasonable and proportionate test. Homeless Law has been advocating for the introduction of this test since 2011, with Scotland’s similar model having resulted in a 33% reduction in evictions in its first year of operation.

The test will require VCAT to consider whether it is reasonable and proportionate to make a possession order after taking into account the interests of and the impact on the tenant, the landlord, co-tenants or residents and the neighbours or people affected by the actions of a tenant.

  1. Reducing avoidable evictions for rental arrears through a new five-stage approach

Last year, Homeless Law prevented the eviction of 111 tenants and their families into homelessness. The majority of these clients had fallen behind in rent due to personal and financial complexities. The new laws introduce a five-stage or ‘strike’ approach to rental arrears evictions, which in conjunction with the reasonable and proportionate test, will significantly reduce the number of avoidable evictions into homelessness.

Under this approach, if a tenant falls more than 14 days behind in rental arrears, this results in a ‘strike’ and enables the landlord to give a notice to vacate. VCAT must make an assessment about whether the tenancy can be sustained on a payment plan and can direct tenants to seek financial counselling and other specialist supports, which will inform whether the tenancy is sustainable.

On a fifth ‘strike’ in a 12-month period, VCAT will not be required to make an assessment about whether the tenancy can be sustained, but will still have to consider the reasonable and proportionate test. A possession order can be made on each of the ‘strikes’, but only if the tenancy is unaffordable and if it is reasonable and proportionate to make this order.

Working together to reduce the risk of homelessness

We congratulate the Victorian Government for its commitment to creating a safer, better and fairer tenancy system for all community members. We are grateful to our pro bono partner law firms, and our pro bono lawyers, for their generous support and dedicated legal representation of Homeless Law’s clients, which has provided crucial outcomes, case studies and data for our six evidence-based submissions towards these reforms.

Thank you also to our clients who shared their insights with us, and to our allies in the legal assistance, homelessness, housing, family violence and social service sectors for their collective commitment to improving the systems that place people on the edge of homelessness.

Justice Connect’s Homeless Law team looks forward to seeing the positive impact that these Australia-wide, best-practice laws will have on reducing the risk of homelessness for Victorian tenants and their families.

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