Renters Rights Rundown: Victoria’s new renting rules

This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum series held on Zoom on 8 June 2021.


Overview

More than 130 changes to Victoria’s renting rules came into effect on 29 March 2021. They clarify the rights and responsibilities of both renters and landlords (‘rental providers’), from before signing a rental agreement until after the lease expires. The new rules set minimum standards for rental properties, and authorise renters to make simple changes around the home without permission. The changes apply to all types of tenancies, including private rentals, caravans, residential parks, rooming houses and specialist disability accommodation.

James Latham from Department of Justice and Community Safety is joined by Bronwyn Trickett, an Advocate from Action for More Independence and Dignity in accommodation (AMIDA), and together they provide an overview of the changes and how advocates can support renters to navigate the new system.

 

 

Session resources

Links and downloads for the resources mentioned in this session can be found at the bottom of this post.

Listen to audio

 

Transcript

Melissa Hale:
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the second session of the June 2021 Advocacy Sector Conversation series.  My name is Melissa Hale and I’m the coordinator of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit.  I would like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin nation, the traditional custodians of the land in which I am coming to you from today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.  I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.  And I also acknowledge that sovereignty were never ceded, and that it always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

Once again, we are delivering the Advocacy Sector Conversation Forum to you online.  We hope at some stage to be able to deliver this series face to face when it’s safe to do so in an inclusive and accessible way.  However, hopefully you’ve all settled in comfortably and are ready for a fantastic series this week.  We encourage your active participation today.  So, please type your questions in the Q & A box.  And at the end of the session, I will be facilitating a Q & A session with our presenters.

The second session of our series is the Renter’s Rights Rundown of Victoria’s new renting rules.  There have been over 130 changes to Victoria’s renting rules which came into effect on the 29th of March this year.  The changes include protections against discrimination, new minimum standard for properties, the ability to make modifications, a new process around rent arrears, and protections against evictions.  With us today, we have James Latham, who leads Rental Group Forum’s implementation at the Department of Justice and Community.

James will give us an overview of the new renting rules and processes.  We also have Bronwyn Trickett who is an advocate at AMIDA – Action For More Independence And Dignity In Accommodation.  Bronwyn will share some thoughts on the new rules mean for people living in different types of housing, common issues that arise and what the changes mean for funding and support.  James will present us with an overview first before we are joined by Bronwyn, and then we’ll have a Q & A session with them both there.  Please welcome James Latham.

James Latham:
Good morning, everyone.  Yes, as Melissa said, I am the project manager for the implementation of these reforms.  I’ve been working on them since 2018.  Just to give a bit of background, there was a review conducted by the government called the Fairer Safer Housing Review.  And that is the one that came out with the 130 or more than 130 recommendations on how to change the rental laws in Victoria that Melissa referred to.  Those laws were implemented through a piece of legislation in 2018.  They were originally intended to be introduced on the 1st of July 2020.  But obviously, with the rise of Coronavirus emergency, those dates were changed, and the final implementation date was the 29th of March this year.

I’m going to give an overview of those 130 reforms.  Obviously, I can’t cover all of them.  But I’m going to hit the, uh, the notes of the most important ones in that list of 130.  And they’re covered off in this presentation.  So, just to give you an overview of what I’m going to talk about, uh, I’ll cover those key changes in the rental laws with a particular focus on the modification laws. Um, and that’s the kind of specific examples I’m talking about.  I’m also going to talk about the application of the law.  And then we’ll have the Q & A.  You may have questions on particular aspects of the laws I’m talking about, um, more detail about them or exactly how they work.  So please, just, um, type those questions in for Melissa to gather, and we can run through them at the end of the presentation.

So, the first thing I’ll go through is those key changes to the laws.  One of the things that sort of is an overview of the entire, uh, set of changes is that the terminology in the legislation has changed.  So, what was originally referred to as a “tenant” is now called a “renter” in the legislation, what was previously called a “landlord” is now called a “rental provider”.  Now, the real estate agent stays the same as an agent in it, but also what was called a “lease” is now called a “rental agreement”. So that terminology applies throughout the legislation in all situations.  Obviously, renter and rental agreement are fairly simple, uh, terms for people to adapt to.  The rental provider is a somewhat more, um, uh, difficult term for people to understand. So, whenever we at Consumer Affairs publish information, in the first instance, we always write rental provider (landlord) just to make sure people understand what that new term, uh, means.

So, there’s a number of changes that occur, and we’ve tended to group them to into before a rental agreement, during a rental agreement, and at the end of a rental agreement.  So, there’s changes occurring in all those phases of a, um, rental lifecycle.  Firstly, there are some discrimination safeguards, um, in the new legislation, and particularly, there’s a new form that describes the discrimination laws in Victoria.  Uh, that is provided, uh, now has to be provided as part of the rental application process.  There’s also, uh, questions that have been banned, uh, from certain, uh, from being asked during the rental application process.  There is information that the, the rental provider or their agent have to provide to all rental applicants.  And there’s also a ban on rental bidding processes.  I’ll discuss that in a bit of detail.  And then there is a new form of rental agreement that is required for all rental providers to use.

Now, during a rental agreement, there are new minimum standards that apply to rental properties.  These will apply for all new rental agreements that are signed after the 29th of March this year.  They cover things like, uh, hot and cold running water, the provision of a, uh, a stove with at least two burners, um, and also heating in the property.  There, they sort of set a, a minimum standard that must be applied over all properties.  And they include that it’s also structurally safe and secure.

There is a new process that allows renters to make modification to their rental property.  And I’ll be going through that in a little bit more detail.  The urgent repair process has been updated.  That is a process where a renter, if the rental provider does not conduct a repair in a sufficient time period, then the renter can do that repair themselves and claim the funding back from the rental provider.  There’s new rules on keys and locks, uh, particularly, all renters of a property must be provided with a free set of keys when they, uh, take possession of the property.  And there must be a dead lock on the front door and locks on all the windows to ensure that the security of the property.

There is a whole new process for the, uh, for entry.  That is when a rental provider wants to come to the rental property and inspect it.  There’s new processes, but probably the most important one is that if they are doing, uh, coming to the property to do a open house inspection, for example, that house may be for sale, then they’re required to provide compensation to the renter for those inspections, which is set at, uh, $50, or one day of rent, whichever is, whichever is, uh, less.  There are also required electrical and gas safety checks for, uh, properties that are coming into effect, uh, for properties, again, that have signed new leases since the 29th of March this year.

And there are a range of family provide- uh family violence provisions in the legislation.  Um, these mostly cover the ability for people to change the nature of the rental agreement, uh, if there are, um, if they’re a victim of family violence.  So, for example, they could, uh, leave the rental agreement or have it reassigned to themselves if another person has left.

There are also key changes that occur, uh, to the end of an agreement or even after an agreement has finished.  The first is the abolition of the No Reason notice to vacate.  So, within the legislation, a rental provider has a series of reasons that they can provide, uh, to provide a notice to vacate to a renter.  For example, if they wish to move back in when they previously lived in the property, or they are planning to sell the property.

Uh, there used to be before these rental reforms came into effect, a power to just, uh, give a notice to vacate for no reason whatsoever.  That has been removed from the legislation so that that can no longer be used, they have to have a reason to provide a notice to vacate.  Um, there’s also a change to the late payment notice to vacate process. Previously, if a renter was behind on their rent, the rental provider could provide a notice to vacate and then move to get a Possession Order at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Now, uh, if a renter receives one of those notices to vacate, they- and then they pay the rent back, they meet their back payment of rent, then the landlord sorry, the rental provider, can no longer go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  So, it gives a process for people who are behind on their rent to catch up and not get evicted, uh, in that process.

There is also a change to the bond claim process.  So, once you’ve left a property, and you want to claim your bond previously, it could only be done through the rental provider or their agent.  There is now a new process if you find that’s too slow, that the renter themselves can apply directly to the residential tenancy bond authority to reclaim their bond directly to them.  So, that’s an overview of sort of the range of changes that are occurring with these rental reforms that are occurring to during, uh, sorry before, during and after a, uh, rental agreement.

And I’m now just going to go into a little bit more detail about some of those particular processes that might be relevant to this group.  So, as I said, there is now a requirement when it for all rental application processes to include a, um, a document which sets out, uh, discrimination requirements.  Uh, this is a one page document that has been mandated by the government and must be used by all rental providers and or their agents and includes a description of what the discrimination laws in Victoria are, what the protected attributes are, and then refers people to, uh, other agencies who may also be able to assist in that area.

There’s also a series of questions that can no longer be asked by a rental provider or their agent during the rental application process.  So, for example, they cannot ask whether you’ve been involved in taking legal action or have had a dispute with a previous rental provider.  They can’t ask about your bond history, whether you’ve made a claim on a bond or whether you have disputed a bond.  They also can’t ask for details of your credit or bank account.  They can ask for a copy of your bank account, but they-, uh, you can blank out the daily transactions.  They can only really ask for the total amount in a bank account statement.  And then they cannot ask any questions about disclosure of protected attributes in the Equal Opportunity Act. So, all those questions are banned by rental providers, uh, asking.

Um, the minimum standards, these apply, uh, and have to be in all rental properties before a rental or when a renter, uh, moves into the property.  So, as I’ve said, that include things like a functioning toilet, a cooktop, an oven, a sink, food preparation areas.  Uh, the structural integrity of the property.  And they also include, uh, functional heating in the properties main area.

Um, they’re also coming in overtime with minimum energy efficiency standards that apply to that heating.  But as I said, this only applies to new leases.  So, if you’re in a lease that started before the 29th of March this year, uh, then those new rules won’t apply until a new lease is signed, either for that property or another property.

Um, modifications.  So, these are new processes that allow a renter to make modifications to the property that they are in.  There are certain minor modifications which you can make to a rental property without asking for or receiving permission from the rental provider.  Then there’s another group of modifications, which you are required to make, request permission to make those modifications.  But the law says that the rental provider cannot unreasonably refuse allowing you to make those modifications.

So, I’m just going to run through the kind of steps involved in doing a modification under these new laws.  In the first step, you should try and understand the nature of the modification you’re making.  This is because the requirements for, uh, whether you need to seek approval or not depend on the nature of the actual modification.  So, it depends on what the type of modification you’re doing. Are you, for example, painting or are you, uh, installing something on a wall, you have to understand the impact.  So, for example, if you’re going want to hang something or fix something to a wall, it depends on whether you’re it is a plasterboard wall or a brick wall.  So, the nature of the change.  The purpose of it is also important just because there are certain, uh, standards for whether you require approval depends on the purpose of the modification.  And you also need to know how you would reverse the modification, since the requirement of these laws is that at the end of the rental agreement, you have to put the property back into the situation it was before you made the modification.

So, that’s understanding what kind of modification you want to make to the rental property.  Then the next step is you have to determine if you require seeking approval from the rental provider.  And I’ll go through the list of, of the non-required modifications you can make in a moment.  Then you go through the process of seeking approval, then you can undertake the modifications with the, with the note that at the end of the rental agreement, you will have to reverse the modification unless you make an arrangement with the rental, uh, provider, voluntarily, which you can always do.  And in some cases, if it’s for example, painting, they may, um, want the property to remain painted at the end of the rental agreement.

So, the modifications that do not require consent, there is a list of them in the legislation. There is a list of them on the Consumer Affairs Victoria website by going through them here, they’re things like putting picture hooks or screws or wall mounts or shelves, brackets on any kind of surface other than a brick wall just because that would require to actually physically, um, damage part of the wall.  And it’s not easily repairable.

But you can put wall anchoring devices.  So, that’s for example, you know, shelves, shelves often have an anchoring device, so they don’t tip over and cause injuries.  You can change LED lights in for other types of lights, uh, you can change the showerhead to a low flow, uhm water efficient showerhead. You can install, uh, blind and chord anchors. You can have hardware mounted child safety gates.  So again, that’s just, um, referring back to the purpose of the modification.  In this case, it’s for safety, you can put in place security lights, alarms, or systems.  As long as they don’t impact on the privacy of nei- neighbours, can easily be removed and are not hardwired.

In addition, you can put, uh, uh, non-permanent window film on windows, install a wireless doorbell, replace the curtains if you keep the old ones to put back, put an adhesive child safety lock on drawers and doors in the kitchen, for example.  Um, put in child safety gates and put a lock on a litter box.  So, there are all sorts of minor alterations that do not require any, uh, permission from the rental provider.

Then there’s the list of modifications which do require you to ask the rental provider for permission.  These include installation of a fixture like lighting as a fixture, um, those kinds of items.  Uh, any kind of item as long as it doesn’t penetrate or modify surfaces.  Any modifications you require for health and safety purposes.  Again, this is getting back to those certain modifications depend on the purpose of the modification rather than the nature of it.  Any reasonable alterations required under the Equal Opportunity Act, um, or where an occupational therapist or other registered health professional has determined they are required. Those that allow you to ensure telecommunication services, those that are reasonable for security. So, if you, if you want to make sure that your property is secure, for whatever reason, you can make modifications for that.

There’s, as I said, there are changes that relate to family violence.  So, there’s also a, um, permission for modifications if a person is subject to family violence, um, if they’re necessary to ensure the safety of a renter who’s under a safe- Safety Intervention Order.  If they’re required for thermal comfort, insulation, or, you know, um, insulation under doors or around windows.  The picture hooks on the shelving, I think we’ve mentioned, safety gates, hardware mounted so you didn’t need permission to use the stick on ones.  In this case, if it’s ones where you have to screw in, that has to require approval.  Um, wall anchoring into a brick wall, draft proofing, security systems, fly schemes on doors, um, and then there’s a, a heritage requirement as well.

So, there’s a, a big range of, of modifications you can do where you’re required to ask permission that relate to changes you make or the purpose for which the modification has been made.  Now that test that I described, where the rental provider cannot unreasonably refuse, the legislation does actually set out what it means by “unreasonably refuse” and just for some examples here, it has to be a good reason.  For example, if it was going to significantly change the property, like moving the kitchen, or it would impact on the common property in, say, an apartment building.  Or the changes would impose an additional maintenance cost on the rental provider, or it couldn’t really be done without, um, being easily reversed.  So, it has to be a practical, actual reason.  The rental provider can’t just say, “I don’t like it,” or, “I don’t want it,” they have to provide a, uh, reason that’s not unreasonable.  So, that’s the modification process.

As I said, there are changes to the keys and locks.  Uh, everyone in the property, each renter is, has to be provided with a key that incl- for free, and that includes, uh, um, electronic keys, for example, for, um, garages or apartment building um car parks.  The entry door must have a deadlock and all the windows must be lockable.  Not necessarily with a key lock but must be able to be secured, um, and closed, uh, in a locked position.

Just to cover off the, uh, end of No Reason to vacate notices.  As I said before, there is this, there was previously an ability for a landlord to, um, provide a no reason notice to vacate.  And this was considered to be, um, something that allowed landlords to arbitrarily, uh, evict people.  It was called the 120-day notice because the renter had 120-days from when the notice was given to when they had to vacate the property.  But that provision has now been removed.

So, like land, uh, rental providers can only have a legitimate reason to provide an eviction.  And in certain circumstances, the legislation also says that they have to provide written, um, material to support the reason that they’ve provided for the notice to vacate.  I’ll just notice that there are a couple of new reasons that have been included to list.  One is if renters or their visitors provide threats, intimidation to neighbours, or if they are keeping a pet without consent, and that relates to the new pet provisions, which allow people to, um, have a pet on a property.  Those changes came into effect in 2020.

As I said, there is a new, uh, notice to vacate process for late payment.  And that is if you repay your rent, uh, even if it’s late, then the notice to vacate becomes ineffectual.  And this works on a four strikes process.  So, beginning in any 12-month period, the first time the second time, the third time the fourth time, then the notice to vacate becomes ineffective.  However, if it happens a fifth time, then the notice to vacate is still effective, even if you do repay the rent, and you would have to leave the property.

Um, bond claims.  There is a new renter initiated bond claim I mentioned previously.  This allows a renter to apply directly to the Residential Tenancy Bond Authority for the repayment of the bond.  If- at that point, the rental provider then has 14 days to dispute the bond claim with the Victoria, with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  And if they have not made that dispute, then the payment will be made back to the renter.

So, it does take some time.  Our advice is that it is still the quickest way is to reach agreement with the rental provider on the bond, then it can be submitted straightaway, and the bond will be paid out within 24 hours.  This new process, it allows you to by- bypass the rental provider and go straight to the authority.  But it also does have that 14 day period in it.  So, it does add some time to the, to the bond process.

So, that covers off, uh, some of the detail about various aspects of the new laws.  Um, if there’s something in there that I have not covered in detail that you would like to know about or have some questions about please just ask those questions through the process and we’ll cover them off at the end.

I also just wanted to talk about the application of the law.  The residential tenancy laws actually have separate parts to them.  So, most people who rent in Victoria would be under what we call Part 2.  That’s general renting.  That’s renting an apartment from a rental provider that most people would do.  But there are laws that also apply in specific circumstances.  Part 3 covers rooming houses.  And there are some of the new laws that I’ve discussed will apply to rooming houses, but some of them don’t.  And we have more information on that on our website.

Then there is another part; Part 4 which applies for caravan parks. And again, sometimes these changes apply in that situation.  And sometimes they don’t. Part 4 A is for site agreements, that’s what we tend to call residential parks with what are called moveable dwellings on them.  And then Part 12 A is the specialist disability accommodation, um, section of the Residential Tenancy Act.  That is a completely separate system that’s modelled on these changes to the law.  But again, it’s quite separate for specialist disability accommodation in Victoria.  And there’s a particular part of the Consumer Affairs website which addresses how that accommodation works and the laws that apply to that.

These new laws under the general renting Part 2, as I’ve described, apply to all private accommodation in Victoria.  They also apply to public housing and social housing in Victoria.  So, if you’re in those types of housing, these, all these, uh, changes I have discussed also apply to that housing.  They’re very much exactly the same as private rental housing.  There are maybe one or two very small differences for public housing, um, but so small that they’re not worth mentioning here.  Essentially, all these changes will apply to public and social housing at the same time, as they do to private housing.

I think that’s all covered there. Okay, that’s it.  That I think is my entire presentation.  But I’m very happy to answer questions at the end of this process if people have, um, particular aspects they want to ask about.  And obviously, I want to answer to the best of my ability, recognising that the changes were 350 pages of legislation.  So, there might be some detail that I might have to take on notice and come back to you with, uh, more information afterwards.

Melissa Hale:
Thank you very much for joining and we will come back to you very soon.  We’ve had a few questions.  But for now, we have Bronwyn Trickett from AMIDA to take us through what is meant by advocate and for people with disabilities.  So, welcome Bronwyn.

Bronwyn Trickett:
Good morning.  Thank you for having me today.  I’m an advocate at AMIDA, which stands for Action For More Independence And Dignity In Accommodation.  AMIDA provides individual advocacy for, for people with disability who are having, uh, concerns in their, in their housing if their rights are not being upheld.  And we also do, uh, systemic advocacy.  So, individual advocacy is 55% of the work that we do.  And systemic advocacy is 45% of the work that we do.  That means that when there are things like changes to the Disability Act, which is coming up, the National Disability agreement and the 10-year housing build.  For example, we can have a say, we can, we can write submissions and put those in to be considered by government.

As we’ve just heard from James, the Residential Tenancy Act is an important legislation that will have benefits for people with disability, older persons and people with mobility needs, but there are other issues to navigate when advocating for people on housing matters.  Here are some of the issues to be aware of.  Specialist disability accommodation, for example, SDA legislation is now included as James has mentioned in the RTA and Consumer Affairs Victoria are instrumental in providing advice around SDA matters.

AMIDA has noticed many residents, partners, family, friends or visitors of people living in SDA look for education on their rights. It’s a new, new section, um, a new set up, a new (unclear 00:35:06) and not everybody is sure exactly how it works until, until they understand the, the model and their rights.  It’s important to have rights listed and available in an accessible format and AMIDA have advocated for this in our submissions for, for everyone with disability.  So, that’s in a format that is easy to understand and accessible to everybody.

Sometimes people who have access to the NDIS will not be offered SDA, but will be offered supported independent living, otherwise known as SIL. Which means that it is available to participant staff, or support workers within the house.  So, for SDA and SIL, a person’s rent will come out of their disability support pension, or Centrelink payment with extra funding from the NDIS for SIL or SDA.

Some providers of SIL are offering services in rundown houses that owners are trying to rent out, which may not be to a minimum standard according to the new laws around minimum standards, which James has mentioned.  SIL is traditionally provided by one provider to a property of multiple residents.  But it’s important for renters to understand that they have rights to request their own SIL provider and not be forced to take services from the same provider who may be offering services to other residents in the same property.

Much of Australia’s housing stock is not accessible and will require modifications to cater for people with disability or people who are aging and have mobility needs.  And AMIDA has advocated about, uh, changes to the national Construction Code to be more accessible in all new buildings, both private and commercial.  And we’re pleased to have seen some change to this recently.  Um, the government has announced there will be silver level accessibility in all new buildings. This is a big, big change. AMIDA did advocate for gold level, but, um, silver level has been agreed upon.

Modifications to rental properties are easier now to gain approval than in previous legislation, as, as you heard from James.  Renters may have access to the NDIS and can apply for modifications through the scheme.  Although only 10% of people with disability in Australia are deemed eligible for the NDIS.  Only 6% of that 10% on the NDIS will have access to SDA.

This has ac-, uh, this has, uh, created quite a big service gap which AMIDA has also given feedback to, um, government about this.  Social Housing refers to two different types of government subsidised housing, subsidised housing.  Community Housing, which usually charges around 30% of people’s income and public housing charges around 25% of income.

Community Housing is available to middle or higher income individuals or families and most vulnerable, the most vulnerable people in the community on lower incomes or find housing options may be inaccessible and unaffordable.  This is where housing advocacy such as AMIDA can deliver services and can make a difference to assist and improve chances of gaining accessible and affordable housing.

Many people may not be aware that if they went through Community Housing rather than through the Department of Housing or public housing, they may not have access to any funds if they require modifications to their property.  Whether a community housing provider can fund modifications will be included in their policies.  CHIA, which is the regulating body for Community Housing, can only hold providers of Community Housing accountable to their own policies.

So, if they don’t, if community housing providers don’t include modifications, if they don’t have the funding for it, CHIA can’t enforce that they agree and fund for those modifications.  This is also a new service gap that we’ve noticed.  People with disability who have applied for public housing also may not have a choice of public or Community Housing if they’ve made an offer of housing.  Renters are usually entitled to two offers of housing.  If a person declines bo- both offers, they may return to the waitlist.  If a person declines both offers, they may, they may, um, be able to argue that perhaps the property was not accessible.  Or if there’s another reason to do with their disability, they may be able to, um, argue that they need to be offered more than two.

If a renter is housed in public housing, then the Department of Families and Fairness will assess a medical professional, as James has mentioned, or an OT report about a person’s modification needs and will offer, offer some modifications.  So, public housing, uh, is, is pretty much guaranteed to, to, uh, agree and fund reasonable modifications.  At times, there can be delays on the modifications being completed, from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and the NDIA decide which department will cover which costs.

So, this is called cost shifting when, um, the department and the NDIA will, um, try to, um, relinquish their responsibility of, of who needs to pay for what. We see this quite often in, in our work at AMIDA.  Another type of accommodation offered to people with disabilities called Supported Residential Services.  This type of housing is not included in the Disability Act or the Residential Tenancy Act and has separate regulations.

This can mean that people with disability are not protected by laws that they would be if they lived in a different setting like SDA, social housing or private rental.  In fact, I was, I was passed an article, um, just yesterday which talked about the Office of the Public Advocate having made complaints about, uh, conditions of people living in SRS housing.  At AMIDA, we have also seen examples where conditions have not been to the same standard as we have seen in SDA and other settings.

In AMIDA’s work, we’ve also noticed that there is no specialist home or service for people with disability.  Now, AMIDA is under the impression that an assumption again has been made that the NDIS would cater for all people with disability and their housing.  As mentioned before, the NDIS only covers 10% of people with disability in Australia.  People with disability can become homeless at any time, including people of all walks of life, like any member of the community.

We’ve also noticed that there’s been no temporary crisis accommodation specific to people with disability aside from respite up until now that offers accessible housing for people who may be between residences.  This is also feedback that we’ve given to government about, uh, planning, new services, and service gaps.  It’s also important to bear in mind that many staff in the housing industry are not trained in disability or mental health and are not aware of many barriers people face who have a disability or mental health condition on a daily basis.

We’ve also been requesting that changes in ou- changes being made to this; in our systemic papers.  Um, if, uh, if there’s more information that you require, either for individual cases or, um, on a systemic level, we’d be happy to help.  And, um, you can visit the AMIDA website, which has a list of all the systemic papers that we have submitted.  And also, amida@amida.org.au is the, um, email.  But happy to take questions, as, as James mentioned, and Melissa has mentioned, we’re, um, available at the conclusion of this to take questions.  So, thank you.

Melissa Hale:
Thank you very… Thank you very much, everyone.  That was really useful and so much to wrap our heads around.  I really appreciate the rundown in a way that makes it more digestible for us all.  So, I think people we got a question.  The first thing I would like to highlight is that the slides and recording from the session will be available after this and the DARU website as usual.

Also, if you want to learn more about the renting rules, you can visit Renters Rights Rundown page, on the VCOSS website where you will find the videos and resources on all the changes.  So, we’ve got another question coming through, so I’ll pop them up on the screen.  So, what about changes? What about changing the agreement?  If there are neighbour, neighbour dispute that cannot be resolved.  Who would like to answer that one?  So, it’s a dispute with the neighbour, and they can’t resolve it.  And they need to get out, what happens then?  Bronwyn?

Bronwyn Trickett:
I’m happy to make a comment.  Sometimes AMIDA receives requests for advocacy in an SDA setting where run, one resident will be having difficulties with another resident.  And this is something that we are able to cover.  So, uh, we, we have in the past taken on cases in this regard and worked with the SDA staffing and the individuals and their families to come to a resolution.  So, that, that is something that we can address if, if there are problems in SDA.  But it’s not something that we cover generally in other, other areas.

Melissa Hale:
James, do you have any comments on that?

James Latham:
There’s nothing in the rental laws that would allow you to escape on a rental agreement just because you have a neighbourhood dispute.  Um, it’s not a reason for ending an agreement.  I would say… I mean, it depends on the nature of the disputes.  But, uh, the Department of Justice and Community Safety also runs the dispute settlement, uh, service, Victoria, and there are a group of people who assist the public in resolving neighbourhood disputes, which is a particular focus of their organisation.  So, there is that pathway as well.

Melissa Hale:
That’s great advice.  Next question.  Do the standards also apply in boarding houses or similar environments?  I think that the question for James.

James Latham:
Yes. I mean, it depends what you mean by boarding houses.  But I would say that mostly they would come under the rooming house definition.  The difference between a, a normal tenancy is you rent a whole property that is the bedrooms, the corridors, the living room, etc.  Um a rooming house is defined by you only rent a bedroom only and the corridors, kitchen etc are common, common property essentially.

There is different laws for those. Um but many of these requirements are the same.  So, there are minimum standards for, uh, rooming houses, although they’re different to the minimum standards for general rental.  Um and there are many different requirements just because the different nature of the living environment, but there are requirements, um, for rooming houses as well.  So, they do have standards and mental requirements for rooming houses. So, you can also find out about that by going to our website at consumer.vic.gov.au.

Melissa Hale:
Excellent.  Next one.  What should a renter advocate do if they think they have been discriminated against?  I might go to Bronwyn to that one first.

Bronwyn Trickett:
Sure.  Sure.  Uh, if a person with a disability is, is feeling that they’re being discriminated against, they can call us, we can have a chat, um, about the situation.  Um, sometimes we will refer to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Human Rights Commission, if it’s a clear case of discrimination.  We’ll look at, um, people’s rights under the, um, Residential Tenancy Act or whichever agreement it is that applies to their situation.  And also, the, um, Victorian Charter of Human Rights and the, um, the UN CRPD the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability.

So, we’ll look at all of those rights.  And we’ll see how the situation applies, um, how it fits in and how the, how the laws apply.  And we may refer on.  Also, consumer affairs are very good, um, advice, provide very good advices on this kind of situation.  So, they’re, they’re a good place to call.

Melissa Hale:
Yeah, great. Thanks Bronwyn.  James, do you have anything to add, particularly in context with the new changes?

James Latham:
The, the, the fundamental rights, um, around discrimination are still in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act.  So, that is the primary vehicle for that, um, those, those laws.  The laws that we’ve brought in, in the rental area, are, for example, the disclosure requirements or the banning of certain questions, but they are, um, they’re in addition to the fundamental rights that are in the Equal Opportunity Act.  So, that’s still the main pathway for dealing with discrimination issues.  And, and yes, Consumer Affairs can find advice and also some of the tenancy specialist agencies like Tenants Victoria are also, um, sources for advice in those areas.

Melissa Hale:
Great, thank you.  Next question.  What can you do if you think your rental provider or agent has unreasonably refused the modification?  I might go to James with this one first.

James Latham:
So, the main dispute pathway… So firstly, you can call Consumer Affairs Victoria, that’s obviously a first step.  Um, but the main dispute resolution agency is the VICAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  Now, um, they sound scary because of that word tribunal in there.  And I think some people think they’re like courts, but they are a much more accessible pathway for people to deal with disputes.

In particular, since the Covid emergency they have been focusing on doing, um, telephone hearings.  So, rather than people having to trudge down to King Street, and be physically present for hearings, they’re actually just done over the phone with the renter and the rental provider and the tribunal member.  Um, and they can be done quite quickly and efficiently in that process.  So, it actually is quite a good, um, process to try and, and resolve those disputes.  So, if they, if they, if they have, if you think they’re unreasonably refusing the modification, then you can just lodge online with VICAT and perhaps just have a, a, a telephone hearing and get it sorted fairly quickly or efficiently.

Melissa Hale:
And Bronwyn, would you agree with that process? Was there anything you think you could add to do that?

Bronwyn Trickett:
I certainly agree with that process. And yes, we can, we can add something here.  In the instance of a, of a person having a disability, we are able to at times advocate depending on the situation.  Um, we have had in past, uh, cases where an NDIS fund… Well, NDIS funding has been available for modifications and approved and available and the rental provider has declined when clearly it has been needed. Um and I’m hoping that in that same situation because of these new reforms, that that’s, that’s not going to happen in the same way. You know, that’s, it’s a big change with, with what James was explaining about the modifications and how it some, um, rental, rental providers are unable to discriminate.

Melissa Hale:
Great.  Thank you. Next question.  Question for James.  How can you prevent an organisation from taking away the choice of the resident from where they live?  Move them to another SDA in another second part, local geographical area away from family, friends, day placement just because it suits the organisation?

James Latham:
Yeah, uh…

Melissa
Hale: Maybe Bronwyn… Yeah, go.

James Latham:
Yes, Bronwyn might want to start and I will just add what the rental laws say about it as well.

Bronwyn Trickett:
Yeah, I have, I have something in mind already about that we have seen this quite a lot at AMIDA.  Many instances and we’re, we’re not happy about the current process where people may be moved away.  Um, and certainly, advocacy with AMIDA, that is something that fits in with, with the advocacy that we provide, depending on the whole situation, of course, um, that is, that is something that, that we can advo- advocate for.

Melissa Hale:
James, do you want to add anything?

James Latham:
In both those Part 2 general rental agreements and SDA agreements, the renter is signing a rental agreement to take possession of the property.  Um, that agreement can’t be ended by either party except following the rules involved.  So, once a renter has rented a property, they, they’re in possession of that property and have the right to live there.  And that actually can’t be changed by anyone, um, without going through a legal process.  So, they shouldn’t be able to be removed, um, now.  I don’t know what the experience is.  I’m just explaining what my understanding of how the law applies in those circumstances.

Melissa Hale:
I think, I think we will go to the last question.  What happened if a renter makes a modification that I want to take with them to the next property, but the rental provider wants to keep it because it has improved the property?

James Latham:
Well, it relates to that requirement to return the property to its original state.  So, that’s the requirement on the renter.  So, if you, for example, um, put in new light fixtures that are more energy efficient and better light the space, then you’ve got the right to take those, uh, with you at the end of the end of the rental agreement. It’s your property, um, there’s no power for the rental provider to try and keep it in any way, shape or form.

Melissa Hale:
Bronwyn, anything to add to that?

Bronwyn Trickett:
Agreeing with James on that.  It’s not something that we have seen so far in, in our case work recently.  Mostly, it’s the other way around, that, um, the rental provider will want the property reversed to how it was, um, but I can, I can see that that might occur.  Um, but yeah, James, I, I think James is spot on there that, that clearly the rights are with the person who have installed those modifications.

Melissa Hale:
Hopefully these changes start making a difference to, um, how, how we do things and how people are able to rent properties in a fairer and more equit- equitable way.  So, James and Bronwyn, thank you very much to both of you for taking the time to break down some of these rules for us today.  It’s very much appreciated, and without a doubt, there are so many advocates who will find this information such an important tool to add to their toolkit.  So, thank you very much.

Bronwyn Trickett:
Thank you.

Melissa Hale:
We have come to the end of the session for today.  Thank you to the online interpreters and captioners for their hard work today and to Show Division for bringing this production to you today. Have a wonderful week everyone, stay safe, and see you next time.

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Author:
DARU

Date published:
Tue 8th Jun, 2021