Sweeping changes in a momentous year
Our 2020-2021 Annual Report documents a huge – and deeply challenging – year for Victorian renters.
In March 2021 sweeping changes to the Residential Tenancies Act were fully implemented, after being delayed due to the onset of COVID-19. The laws seek to strengthen tenancy rights into the future, and were brought in as year-long COVID-19 emergency measures to protect renters ended.
On the pandemic, our Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Beveridge noted the struggles faced by tenants grappling with new hardships.
‘Renters as a cohort have felt the storm more severely as the impact of successive lockdowns was very hard and led to huge demand for our services. The end of government payments and supports remained as pressure points for many renters and so demand for Tenants Victoria’s legal and information services was magnified beyond expectations.
‘We anticipate that need will continue to be high as we move into ‘COVID normal’, with a long recovery for those most severely impacted.’
This pandemic put the tenuous nature of renting in sharp focus. Since it started renters have been over-represented in those experiencing housing stress – particularly those employed in industries hit hardest, such as hospitality, tourism and leisure.
The emergency measures that ended included a moratorium on evictions of renters in financial hardship, a freeze on rent increases, a mediation service to help renters negotiate lower rents with their rental providers (landlords) and a rent relief grant scheme to help rental providers who agreed to reduce rents. Despite the resistance of some rental providers and real estate agents, more than 70,000 reduced rent agreements had been lodged with Consumer Affairs Victoria by early March 2021.
The new laws, meanwhile, bolstered the rights of renters through significant changes such as being able to have pets, the introduction of minimum standards in rental homes, and identifying those repairs that are considered urgent.
However, while very welcome, the legislation was conceived long before COVID-19 disruptions. Uncertainty remains about how renters will fare who faced continued reduced income, and who might have accumulated rental arrears or other debts.
A gap that Tenants Victoria identified, and urged government to address, was that transition arrangements from the pandemic protections to the new rental laws did not adequately cover renters who continued to be financially hurt by the pandemic. However, we welcomed the Government’s second rent relief grant scheme, introduced in September 2021, as a good first step.
We continue to speak up for our state’s 2 million renters, with the impacts of the pandemic and the new laws still unfolding.