Tales from the Vault: housing workers assaulted

Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo with your latest episode of Tales from the Tenancy Vault.

Over the last two months I have had two phone calls that were rather alarming. One involved a support worker being stabbed by a tenant while the other involved a threat to kill a tenancy worker by her tenant. In both cases their managers were asking what could be done under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Unfortunately, in both cases my answer was ‘not very much’. Believe it or not there is currently nothing housing organisations can do to take immediate action about this under the Residential Tenancies Act. The RTA only refers to ‘the safety of occupiers of neighbouring premises’.

CHIA Vic made strong representations about changing this situation in the review of the Residential Tenancies Act over the last few years. As a result, there were protections for staff and contractors put into the RTA Amendment Act which was passed last year. Unfortunately, these new provisions will not come into force until late June, 2020. (Other states have had these protections for many years.)

So, what can you do in the meantime? In the case of assaults or threats, these are police matters and you need to inform the police. In some cases the tenant will be arrested and kept in custody. However, this will not always happen. The only option open to you is to issue a 120-day notice to vacate for no reason. You will not be able to do this after July 1 next year, but by then the provisions protecting staff and contractors will have come into force.

After you have done this there will be a period of four months (plus postage) during which staff will still have to deal with the tenant. Be very mindful of occupational health and safety during this period. Staff should always deal with the tenant in pairs, and you may even be able to get the police to accompany staff if there is a need to visit the property.

A long shot you could try is to make a general application to VCAT under section 452 of the RTA because ‘a dispute has arisen under the tenancy agreement’. You may not be able to get a possession order this way, but you may able to get some sort of compliance or restraining order.

If you are running rooming houses you have more protection for staff. The danger provisions for rooming houses in the RTA refer to causing ‘a danger to any person or property in the rooming house’ – a staff member is a person in the house while they are there. You can also use the Part 8 violence provisions where appropriate. Additionally, rooming house managers can create a house rule that forbids assaulting, threatening or harassing staff or contractors.

In the meantime, stay safe out there. Please ring me at the office on a Monday or Thursday if you have any questions or email mark.smoljo@chiavic.com.au


Tales from the Vault: frequency of rent increases

Frequency of Rent Increases under the recent changes to RTA

Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo with your latest episode of Tales from the Tenancy Vault. After nearly two months away I’m back on the shovel. This month I’m looking at something from the very shallow end of the vault, i.e. very recent.

As you are aware, nearly all of the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) arising from last year’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Act will not come into effect until June, 2020. The government has proclaimed a few changes already, such as provisions for leases of more than five years and appointment of the Commissioner for Residential Tenancies. The most recent changes, proclaimed on 19th June are:

  • Rent increases limited to once per year.
  • Providing renting guide (Renting a home: a guide for tenants) electronically.

Click here for Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) advice about these changes.

Despite this information from CAV, we are getting a lot of questions about which tenancies the frequency of rent increases applies to. The CAV website says that ‘Tenancy agreements that commenced before 19 June are not affected by this change’, but what does this mean? I will go through each of your possible scenarios:

Existing fixed term lease created before 19 June 2019

If you have a fixed term lease signed before June 19, the rent can’t be raised until the end of that lease (unless already agreed to in the lease). If they then sign a new fixed term lease at a higher rent, the rent can only be raised again after 12 months. If the lease rolls over into a periodic lease the rent also can only be raised at intervals of 12 months.

Existing periodic tenancies created before June 19, 2019

If tenancies were already periodic or rolled into a periodic tenancy before June 19, 2019, rent can be raised at six monthly intervals in perpetuity.

Tenancies on leases signed after June 19, 2019

Rent can’t be increased until the end of the lease term (unless already agreed to in the lease) and can’t be increased more than once in 12 months for both fixed and periodic tenancies.

Please note that there has been no change for frequency of rent increases for properties managed under the rooming house or caravan park provisions of the RTA.

If you have any questions on this or suggestions for future topics please email Mark Smoljo or you can ring him at the office on 9654 6077 on a Monday or Thursday.

Tales from the Tenancy Vault: Squatting and Other Illegal Occupations

Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo with your monthly episode of Tales from the Tenancy Vaults. This month I want to talk about what happens when your properties are occupied by people who shouldn’t be there. This seems to be happening a lot lately – I’ve certainly been getting a number of phone calls about it on the CHIA Vic Help Line. It’s probably a reflection of the housing crisis that Victoria is experiencing. There are many people desperate for housing so if they hear of a vacancy or notice an empty property they seize the chance to occupy it.

There are two broad types of illegal occupants:

  • Relatives or friends of your ex-tenant who has now departed.
  • Strangers unknown to you or the previous tenant – classic ‘squatters’

Family and friends

  1. If your registered tenant has not given notice or otherwise made you aware that they have gone, then they have effectively ‘assigned’ the property. You should firstly try to talk to the occupants and explain to them that they can’t keep staying there. If that doesn’t work, you will  need to send a notice to vacate under section of the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) to your registered tenant (the previous occupant). After adequate time for postage you can then apply to VCAT for an order of possession. Once you get your order you can apply for a warrant and get the police to remove the occupants while you change the locks.
  2. If your registered tenant has given you notice or you have evicted them, then their relatives or friends are occupying the premises without your permission. In this case, again try to talk to the occupants and explain to them that they can’t keep staying there.

If that doesn’t work this time you will  need to apply to VCAT under Section 344 for an order of possession where rented premises are occupied without consent. Send a copy of your application by registered post to ‘The Occupants’ at the address of the rented premises.

At the hearing, the Tribunal may either direct the principal registrar to issue a warrant or require you to fix a prescribed notice to the front door of the premises. They will usually do the latter. The notice will request the occupants to appear before the Tribunal on a day after the end of seven days after the giving of the notice and show cause why a warrant of possession should not be issued.

If they don’t show at the Tribunal, then the Tribunal will direct the principal registrar to issue a warrant ‘without delay’. If they do show, then the Tribunal will hear both sides of the argument and decide whether you are entitled to a warrant of possession. In these cases there is no need to apply for a warrant and there is no charge for the warrant.

In both of these scenarios you need to consider whether a tenancy has been created. If the tenant has been living there for a number of years (e.g. family, partners that were not ‘registered’ tenants), and especially if they have been paying rent, then a tenancy may have been created, and you should just sign them up.

The only argument you could have against this is if these occupants did not meet your eligibility criteria. The Tribunal certainly might consider that a tenancy has been created in these circumstances if the case gets to them.

If they have not been living there then you can use arguments about eligibility and the sanctity of your waiting lists in the Tribunal hearing.


Where the premises are occupied by strangers unknown to you or the previous tenant, you have two choices. The simplest one is to just consider them as trespassers, report the matter to the police and go and change the locks and make sure the property is secure. The second (much slower) alternative is to use step two above.

Whichever of these methods you use, always remember OH&S. If you are concerned about your safety with illegal occupants always go the property accompanied by a colleague or the police.

One final points about illegal occupations – the best way to avoid them is to fill vacancies quickly. The shorter the time a property is vacant, the less chance there is of it being illegally occupied!

If you have any questions on this, or suggestions for future topics, please email Mark Smoljo, or you can ring him at the office on 9654 6077 on a Monday or Thursday.


Tales from the tenancy vault – keys


Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo. I run the CHIA Vic Help Line, where I try to answer questions from tenancy workers about anything  to do with the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), taking matters to VCAT, or tenancy management practices in general. Obviously you should talk to your experienced colleagues first about a matter you are not sure on. However, if you are stuck you can always call me.

Decades running rooming houses and every other kind of accommodation, plus a frequent flyer card for appearances at VCAT mean that I have come across most things that are raised, but I still get a few out of left field. What can you do about someone keeping bee hives on the balcony of a rooming house in St Kilda?

Each month in our eBulletin I am going to highlight an area of tenancy management that has come up as part of my work here at CHIA Vic. This month it is key management. As I talk to and travel around community housing organisations I think that it is a somewhat neglected area that some groups could improve on. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Have an organised key cupboard, with at least 2 copies of each set of keys. Each set should contain all the keys required for that particular property.
  2. Make sure that you do, in fact, have duplicate copies of each key in your program. I have been shocked to find a few examples where groups do not actually have all of these. How are you going to gain access for a repair or an inspection, let alone in an emergency, if you don’t have a set of duplicate keys?
  3. If you don’t have a duplicate key because the tenant has changed the locks then you can ask them to supply you a copy. If they don’t you should issue a Breach of Duty Notice under section 70(2) of the RTA.
  4. If you don’t have a duplicate key for some other reason, then you should ask the tenant if you can make a copy. If they don’t co-operate you have a choice of sending the tenant a notice under 86(1)(c)  that you will attend with a locksmith to change locks and keys OR make an application under s452 because a dispute has arisen and get VCAT to make an Order.
  5.  If you work with security keys, and particularly, with restricted master systems, make sure you have a key register and that you keep it up to date. You should know where each copy of each security key is at any time. I once worked as a locum at a rooming house and was given a copy of the ‘grandmaster’ key that opened up hundreds of doors in a number of houses. I noticed that I had been given copy no. 14. I enquired where the other 13 were. 3 were with fellow housing workers, 1 was with the boss, 1 was with the fire brigade, 2 were in the key cupboard, and the other 6 were unaccounted for. This is not good enough for such an important key. I have proformas that you can use for key registers. If you want one you can email me
  6. Have a sign in and out book for keys, preferably linked with your key register. This is particularly important where tradies are taking keys for maintenance jobs. For security keys, record which copy they took. My experience is that this is a common cause of keys disappearing forever.
  7. When you change a lock remember to swap the sets of keys in the key cupboard AND to record this change in the key register. Remember to change the copies in the key cupboard if you are using bi-lock or fob systems too.
  8. If you are using card systems that are programmed electronically you need to have a recording system for this too.

Keys are a very important part of a housing worker’s life. You must be able to produce a spare key for a tenant or a tradie. If you can’t guarantee the integrity of a security system then it may have legal consequences for your organisation.

If you have any questions or suggestions please email or you can ring me at the office on 9654 6077 on a Monday or Thursday.