As the Victorian regulator of rental laws, we work to achieve fair and safe rental housing. This includes increased collaboration with partners so we can continue to improve our understanding of the needs of a modern market and make positive changes across the sector.
Emergency measures for tenancy disputes
The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 introduced on 25 April 2020 created several emergency rental measures designed to keep people safe and in a home during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included a moratorium on evictions, suspension of rent increases and establishment of a dispute resolution process for residential tenancies rent reductions. These measures were extended during the year and ran until 28 March 2021 alongside the availability of rent relief grants and land tax relief for eligible renters and landlords.
We partnered with the DSCV to deliver the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Scheme. The scheme established a single point of entry for residential tenancy disputes related to COVID-19. We provided information, advice and dispute resolution services to renters and rental providers to help them reach an agreement about rent reductions and registered reduced rent agreements. Parties could not take a rental dispute to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) without first accessing the scheme.
The emergency measures ended on 28 March 2021 and were followed by the introduction of new renting laws on 29 March 2021 to ensure there was no gap in protection for renters and rental providers
Over 11 months, we had more than 200,000 contacts for assistance and almost 700,000 views of our web content. Further achievements are provided on the following page.
Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution Scheme – key achievements
online disputes lodged
reduced rental agreements lodged
average rent decrease
webpage views of scheme content
of matters closed by our contact centre
matters closed through frontline resolution
referrals to VCAT
matters closed through the DSCV
binding orders by the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer
New rental laws
On 29 March 2021, more than 130 rental reforms were introduced under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (the RTA).
The reforms clarify the rights and responsibilities of renters and rental providers – from before a rental agreement is signed until after the agreement ends – and apply to all types of residential tenancies. This includes private rentals, caravan and residential parks and rooming houses. This year we delivered an extensive program of work to support a smooth transition to the new laws.
To raise awareness and understanding, we delivered a comprehensive education and stakeholder campaign and communication strategy. Our advertising campaign included print, radio, digital and social media, while a comprehensive public relations strategy delivered information and resources to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians. This included older Victorians, those on low or fixed incomes, family violence survivors, and people with disabilities. The renting content on our website was refreshed to provide updated, clear and accessible renting information and an enhanced user experience. Information was also published via our social media channels.
We funded work to raise community awareness of the rental reforms, including translated information resources for CALD communities. A total of $400,000 was allocated to agencies to provide training and support for tenancy and community sector workers and financial counsellors, helping to build their capacity to support vulnerable renters. Agencies that received funds included Tenants Victoria, Financial Counselling Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Service and the Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria.
Two new initiatives to protect renters, a rental non-compliance register and rent special account, were developed as a collaborative effort between CAV and VCAT. The public rental non-compliance register displays information about non-compliance by rental providers and their agents. The register is hosted on the CAV website and will help renters make informed decisions when considering rental providers.
The rent special account holds rent money in trust until repairs are made by a rental provider, protecting the health and safety of renters. The Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA) online system was also enhanced to support electronic bond transactions, which were introduced under the new laws. Modification bonds can now be lodged and renters can also apply directly to the RTBA to lodge bond claims.
We also developed guidelines issued by the Director of CAV that VCAT must consider when determining particular applications made under the RTA. The guidelines summarise relevant case law to help interpret the RTA and provide practical guidance for renters and rental providers about how to comply with renting laws. The guidelines support dispute resolution between renters and rental providers and greater consistency in VCAT decision making. They also cover common areas of dispute including maintenance, cleanliness, damage and fair wear and tear, urgent repairs and interpreting the term ‘endanger’.
We will continue to monitor the rental market to ensure compliance with laws and to identify new and emerging issues the new laws may present.
Protecting residents of rooming houses
COVID-19 public health restrictions during the year had a significant impact on our ability to undertake in-person inspections during the past year. However, as restrictions eased from late 2020, we increased our inspection activity substantially, focusing on high priorities such as rooming house accommodation, which is often used by more vulnerable or disadvantaged members of the community.
This year we collaborated on a project with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, local health services, community health providers and local councils. The focus of this work was to encourage COVIDSafe environments in rooming houses. Regulators worked together to identify and inspect high‑risk rooming houses.
A welcome observation was the strong attempts by rooming house operators to limit the spread of COVID-19. Some operators had proactively placed signs throughout properties instructing residents on how to maintain good hygiene to reduce spread of the virus. Some had developed procedures to manage guests by setting up registers. Remaining operators took action to make the rooming house COVIDSafe.
Under this collaborative project, we took the opportunity to examine compliance with minimum safety standards under the RTA. We completed 110 inspections of rooming houses. Non-compliance was addressed by issuing two infringements totalling $6,608 and 15 official warnings. Remediation checks were also undertaken to ensure compliance was met.
In March 2021, we conducted another risk assessment of registered rooming houses to identify licensed operators with significant market share and/or the highest risk of non-compliance. A total of 60 inspections of rooming houses run by those operators followed. Our compliance checks focused on six key safety standards designed to control potential fire hazards. Our initial regulatory response was to issue official warnings for each breach and ask for proof of remediation. Our focus was not simply to penalise non-compliance but to secure safe living conditions for residents. We have begun reinspecting these rooming houses to confirm all breaches have been remedied and will take escalated enforcement action for ongoing non-compliance.
We also protected rooming house residents from living in properties run by operators who were not ‘fit and proper persons’ as set out in the Rooming House Operators Act 2016.
In the first half of 2020, the BLA refused five rooming house operators licence renewals due to disqualifying offences. Upon receipt of this intelligence, CAV sought to reduce the risk of other disqualified persons operating in the sector by messaging all licensees to remind them of disqualifying criteria. In response, a further licensee voluntarily advised of a disqualifying offence. Those operators no longer hold a licence in Victoria.
Tenancy Programs are comprised of the Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP), the Tenancy Central Program and the Retirement Housing Assistance and Advocacy Program. During 2020–21 these programs provided much needed support to vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, all Tenancy Programs continue to be funded through 2021–22.
The TAAP continued to provide much needed support to disadvantaged renters in what has been a challenging year. The program was particularly important for many renters who faced greater difficulty paying the rent after losing jobs or work hours. Through this program 6,644 Victorians were able to receive valuable help negotiating rent reduction agreements, understanding their rights under the temporary eviction moratorium, and resolving disputes with rental providers. Additionally, the Retirement Housing Assistance and Advocacy Program was able to assist 373 vulnerable elderly Victorians maintain their tenancy.
Victorian Property Fund in 2020–21
The Estate Agents Act 1980 allows the Minister for Consumer Affairs to make grants from the Victorian Property Fund (VPF) for certain purposes. The Minister makes her decision on grants after consultation with us, the Estate Agents Council and any industry associations, government departments and other organisations, as appropriate.
We administer the VPF grants program. This includes evaluating applications, making recommendations about proposals to the Minister, and administering the grants.
In 2020–21, more than $7.7 million was spent on existing grants to community organisations to deliver estate agent professional development training, social housing development and environmental housing development projects. The table below details this year’s grant expenditure by purpose and recipients. No new grants were awarded from the VPF in 2020–21.
For more information on these case studies, see pages 21 – 26 of the Annual Report 2020-21 (PDF, 700KB).