VCAT decision strikes a blow to thousands of Victorians at risk of eviction

5 Aug 2021

A case argued in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) by Justice Connect has struck a blow to thousands more Victorian renters at risk of eviction for rental arrears accrued due to COVID-19.

Acting on behalf of their client, Justice Connect lawyers argued that Victorian renters who could not pay their rent due to a COVID-19 reason* while the Victorian Government’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium was in place cannot be evicted because of unpaid rent.

Justice Connect acted on behalf of their client**, who regularly paid their rent before the pandemic, but suddenly lost work as a rideshare driver, and wasn’t eligible for JobKeeper.

They went into debt, forced to choose between spending money on their health, groceries, and their pet just so they could pay at least half their rent. Two days after the eviction moratorium ended, their landlord attempted to evict them on the basis of unpaid rent.

VCAT disagreed with Justice Connect’s argument. Although acknowledging that the client couldn’t pay rent due to a valid COVID-19 reason*, VCAT found that the client’s rental provider’s decision to evict them was lawful.

“We were hoping this VCAT decision would help protect the thousands of Victorian residential renters facing eviction due to COVID-19-related arrears” said Principal Lawyer Samantha Sowerwine.

Since the COVID-19 rental protections ended on 28 March 2021, Justice Connect has seen a 95% increase in renters facing eviction for unpaid rent, and a 64% increase in people using Dear Landlord – our self-help tool for renters who’ve fallen behind in rent.

“The impacts of this global pandemic didn’t end for people at the conclusion of the eviction moratorium on 28 March 2021. That was clearly recognised with the recent announcement of a $400 million state and federal government support package for Victorian commercial tenants and landlords.”

“Victorian renters need a rental assistance support package that includes rental relief and targeted legal protections.”

Renters now face greater risk of being evicted from their home, whilst also managing their accrued rental debt during rolling lockdowns and COVID restrictions, without long-term, targeted supports from government.

VCAT also found that renters cannot be required to pay compensation for unpaid rent accrued due to a COVID-19 reason until after 25 October 2021. Once that protection ends, renters will face further significant financial strain.

*A COVID-19 reason is defined in the legislation as illness, being unable to comply because of restrictions, being unable to comply without suffering severe hardship or as a result of any exceptional circumstance related to the pandemic.

**Client’s details have been omitted due to an anonymisation order protecting their identity.

Samantha Sowerwine is available for interview.

Read our summary of the VCAT judgment

Read our submission to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT:

Roj Amedi

Head of Engagement

+61 3 8636 4476

About Justice Connect:

Justice Connect is a legal services organisation and charity that designs and delivers high impact interventions to increase access to legal support and progress social justice. Justice Connect’s Homeless Law program is Victoria’s specialist free legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and has been providing assistance to Victorians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness for 20 years.

Apply for legal help at justiceconnect.org.au/help