New rental laws from 29 March

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New laws improve conditions for renters

New rental laws have begun today – and no one is formally called a landlord or a tenant anymore.

The changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 include two significant name changes. Now a landlord is known as ‘residential rental provider’, and the person who pays them rent will be known as a ‘renter’.

These and many more changes in place from 29 March have long been lobbied for by Tenants Victoria and other housing advocates.

Protection if your rent is overdue

A number of new provisions see rent arrears treated differently from 29 March.

If your rent is 14 days overdue the rental provider can give you a notice to vacate for non-payment of rent.

It is important to note that if you get a notice to vacate you do not have to move out on the termination date. This has always been the case. If the rental provider wants to evict you they will need to take you to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Under the new provisions, if there is a VCAT hearing there are a number of things that VCAT has to look at before they can make an order that you can be evicted. These include putting you on a payment plan to repay the rent instead of making a possession order for eviction and only making a possession order if it is ‘reasonable and proportionate’ to do so.

Previously rental providers didn’t need to give a reason when they gave a renter a ‘notice to vacate’. Now they must.

Even if a rental provider can prove the reasons they want to evict you, VCAT must still decide if it is ‘reasonable and proportionate’ for the them to evict in you in the circumstances.

Another key change is that rent increases can only be made once every 12 months instead of every six months for most renters (renters on periodic agreements that started before 19 June 2019 can still be subject to increases every six months).

Minimum standards for rental properties

There are also new laws ensuring that your rental property is safe. If you move in from 29 March, it must also meet minimum standards. Among these are that basics are in good working order, for example locks, water supply, toilets, stoves, smoke detectors and heating, and that the structure is sound, weatherproof and free of vermin, mould and damp.

If minimum standards aren’t met then this means an urgent repair at the rental provider’s cost is mandatory.

Renters also have rights around making some modifications to the premises. A rental provider can’t ‘unreasonably refuse’ to consent to modifications if the changes don’t permanently modify surfaces, fixtures or the structure, and if they are needed for health and safety. These changes also protect renters with disabilities.

If the rental provider plans to sell or rent to a new renter when your lease is nearing its end and they want to conduct open for inspections, there are new laws. If the inspection is for a sale, the rental provider will need to pay you compensation of half a day’s rent, or $30 (whichever is greater) for each sales inspection held.

Family violence

The amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act address family violence situations removing the need for a victim survivor to have a family violence or domestic violence intervention order if they want to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to end their lease or have a perpetrator of family violence removed from their lease.

This is only a brief guide to changes to rental laws. For more detail about how the changes might affect you, see here.

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