This information is a guide and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

Avoiding maintenance charges for public housing

You don’t have to pay maintenance charges unless there is an order made at VCAT requiring that you pay.

The Victorian government provides limited public housing for people on low incomes.

The department that manages public housing in Victoria is Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS).

The landlord for public housing tenants is the Director of Housing.

The law is the same for public housing tenants and private residential tenants, but some of the steps are different.

What are maintenance charges?

When you move out of your public housing property, the Director of Housing might ask you to pay for any damage, repairs or cleaning that are needed at the property.

These payments are often referred to as maintenance charges, maintenance charges against the tenant (MCAT), vacated maintenance charges or tenant responsibility (TR) charges.

What the law says

Under Victorian tenancy law all tenants have a duty to keep their rented premises reasonably clean and to take reasonable steps to ensure that the premises are not damaged. If you have met these duties, VCAT should decide that you do not have to pay any charges. However, if you breach one of these duties then the Director of Housing (your landlord) can make a claim for compensation against you for any losses or costs they incur as a result of your breach.

How to avoid maintenance charges

If you want avoid paying maintenance charges at the end of your tenancy there a number of simple steps to follow during and after your tenancy.

During your tenancy

Make sure that you report any repairs that are needed to your property to the Director of Housing as soon as you know about them.

If there is any damage to the property you also need to report this to the Director of Housing as soon as possible.

If the Director of Housing thinks that you are responsible for any damage they may seek a Tribunal order requiring you to pay for repairing the damage. Remember, you can only be held responsible for not taking reasonable steps to avoid any damage. This means for example that you are not responsible for damage caused to the property by someone breaking into your house or for storm damage.

If you receive a maintenance claim from the Director of Housing you should contact us for free and confidential advice.

When you move out

There should be a Condition Report for your property, which describes the condition it was in at the time that you moved in. If you don’t have a copy of the Condition Report, ask your local Housing Office if they can provide you with a copy. You cannot be held responsible for damage that was recorded on the Condition Report or that was there when you moved in.

When you are moving out of your property, you should clean the property and repair any damage that you think you are responsible for. Don’t forget to tidy up the garden if you have one. Any damage should be repaired in a ‘tradesman-like’ manner. That means it should be repaired properly and to the appropriate standard. In most cases, professional cleaning or carpet steam cleaning is not needed in order for the property to be left in ‘a reasonably clean condition’.

Before you hand back the keys to the property, do a final inspection to make sure that everything has been done. It’s a good idea to take a friend or someone else with you who can be a witness in case a dispute arises later about the condition of the property when you vacated. You can also take photographs or a video of the property to show the condition it was in when you moved out.

Once you have moved out of your property, the Director of Housing will make an inspection. If the Director of Housing thinks that you are responsible for damage or repairs they must make a proper claim against you.

If the Director of Housing makes a claim

A Director of Housing maintenance claim should include specific details of what they think is wrong with the property and the cost of fixing any problems.

If the claim does not include all the details then you should ask your local housing office to provide you with a proper list of their claims against you. There should be a maintenance or works order or an invoice for any works that have been completed.

If you receive a claim for maintenance charges from the Director of Housing it’s very important that you do not ignore it, even if you are no longer a public tenant. If you do nothing, an order will be made at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and you will owe a debt to the Director of Housing. If it’s not repaid, that debt may stop you from getting access to public housing in the future.

If you’re unsure whether or not you are responsible for the charges, you should contact us for advice on 1800 068 860.

As an alternative, Tenants Victoria is using the name Director of Housing as the best way to describe this service. Please also note that your local housing office may now be located within the Department of Human Services.

If you believe that you’re not responsible for some or all of the charges, you should try to negotiate with the Director of Housing. You may be able to reach an agreement to pay a lesser amount or to pay off the amount in instalments. Do not agree to pay charges if you do not believe that you have breached your duty as a tenant. The Director of Housing will have to apply to VCAT for compensation.

For more information see Defending a compensation claim and VCAT.

Remember, you have nothing to lose by going to VCAT to defend a claim for maintenance charges. Tenants who defend a compensation claim are often successful.

You can also contact the Victorian Ombudsman

The Victorian Ombudsman takes complaints about public housing in Victoria.

More info

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