Treat All Renters Fairly

Changes to the residential tenancies act are coming on 1 july 2020

Not all of the changes will impact people who live in public housing – but some of them will. There is lots to like in the new laws and regulations, but we are worried that people who are already living in public housing will miss out on some of the key benefits.

We’ve outlined the problems for existing residents in public housing, and kicked off a petition to tell the Government to make sure people who live in public housing are included.

The new, draft Regulations, and the Regulatory Impact Statement are available online, and accessed through the Engage website. Submissions are now closed, and were due on 18 December 2019. You can read our submission here.

Read on to see our quick take on the changes that are most important to people who are living in public housing, what we’re doing to get a better deal for tenants, and for what you can do!

Changes

Rent increases

The change: The law about how often rents can be increased has already changed. Previously rents could only be increased once every six months. But this was changed on 19 June 2019 and now rents can only be increased once a year.

The issue: This is a good change, but the new rule will not apply to people who are already living in public housing.

This is because the way the Act was written, says that this change will come into effect for new tenancies that begin on or after 19 June 2019. People signing a new lease in public housing (after being on the wait list or the transfer list, for example) will only be able to have their rent increased once a year, but ongoing tenants who signed their lease before 19 June 2019 could still have their rent increased twice a year.

What we want: We want for all people who live in public housing to be under the same rules, and for all people who live in public housing to only have their rents increased once a year.

Minimum standards

The change: For the first time, rental properties will be required to meet minimum standards, and renters will be able to refuse to move in, if the property does not meet these standards.

The minimum standards include: deadlocks on external doors, vermin-proof rubbish and recycling bins, working toilets, bathrooms with hot and cold water, kitchens with working appliances and hot and cold water, basic structural soundness of properties, access to light in interior rooms, weatherproof properties, mould free properties and a requirement for all properties to have fixed heaters.

The issue: As with the rent increases, this is a good change, but the new minimum standards will not apply to people who are already living in public housing.

This is because the way the Act was written, which says: before you move in, or by your move in date, your home must meet all the minimum standards. If you move in before 1 July 2020 there’s nothing in the law about your home having to have these minimum standards.

We don’t think this is fair, we think that all people who rent in Victoria should be covered by the same minimum standards.

While the list of standards included so far is a good start – we believe that more should be covered.

What we want: We want all renters, including people who live in public housing, to be covered by the minimum standards. We also want to see the minimum standards extended to require properties to have air conditioning or basic cooling, as well as ventilation and insulation.

Safety related activities

The change: The new law clarifies who is responsible for what when it comes to safety. It says that Landlords are responsible for having regular gas and electrical checks, as well as regular checks of smoke and carbon dioxide alarms, pool fences and other, more specific things in bushfire prone areas. The person renting a property will be legally required to not tamper with certain safety related devices (like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers) and to let the Landlord know if these devices are not working.

The issue: These are good changes, and they should make everybody in our community safer. But like the minimum standards, they will not apply to people who are already living in public housing.

What we want: We want everyone to have the same rights, responsibilities and protections.

Energy efficiency of heaters and some other appliances

The change: As part of the minimum standards, fixed heaters in standalone (called ‘class 1’) properties will have to have a heater that is at least ranked ‘two stars’ for energy efficiency. This rating will also be applied to the energy efficiency of new appliances that replace old ones when they no longer work – such as dishwashers.

The issue: We are concerned that the ‘two star’ rating is not high enough for people to see any reductions in their energy bills.

Additionally, because the energy efficiency standard for heating is part of the minimum standards, at the moment existing tenants will never be covered by even this, low, requirement for energy efficient heating.

What we want: We want to see the minimum energy efficiency standard increased so that renters can see meaningful reductions in their power bills, and heat their homes over winter without worrying about an impending electricity bill.

Other Changes

There are some other changes that we think are okay.

These include changes to terminology.

‘Tenants’ will now be called ‘renters’, ‘landlords’ will now be called ‘residential rental providers’ and ‘residential tenancy agreements’ will now be called ‘residential rental agreements.’

The form of some documents is also changing, this will impact the format of new Condition Reports, Notices of Rent Increases and Notices to Vacate. The changes to these forms are not yet finalised.

What happens to items that are left behind when a person leaves their property is changing. Currently, landlords are able to dispose of anything left behind after 28 days if the total estimated cost of the removal, storage or sale of those items is greater than the total monetary value of the items combined.

Under the new rules, a landlord must attempt to let the former resident know that they have left some goods behind which have a monetary value, and store them for at least 14 days so that the resident can collect them. Additionally, the law says that some types of items cannot be removed or destroyed by the landlord – these include medals, trophies, prosthetics and urns containing human remains.

The landlord will be able to dispose of goods which have no monetary value, and are not on the list of goods that cannot be removed.

What we’re doing

We wrote a submission to argue that these issues should be fixed, so that all renters are treated fairly.

Our final submission can be read here.

What you can do

Lend your support and tell the Government that you believe all renters should be treated the same, by signing our petition below. We’ll include the signatures with our submission when we send it in on 18 December.

*UPDATE* Thanks for your support! We’ve closed the petition, as we had to submit our final submission. You can still sign up for general updates from our Monthly Bulletins, use the form at the bottom of the page.

Make a submission directly to Consumer Affairs Victoria, either through the Engage website, or using this quick submission form prepared by Tenants Victoria.