RTA amendments pass Parliament

On Friday the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill passed Parliament, and with it come some significant changes for the sector.

Overall, CHIA Vic is happy with the changes, which include additional protections for staff and contractors; many changes recommended by the Family Violence Royal Commission; and, clarification around matters such as who can apply a service charge and what can be declared a rooming house, both of which are now available to registered housing agencies.

The amendments remove the 120 notice to vacate for no specified reason, limit rent increases to once every 12 months, and allow a notice to vacate only at the end of the initial fixed term for tenants on a fixed term rental agreement.

The new laws will ensure every rental home meets basic standards – with functioning stoves, heating and deadlocks. It will also require landlords to meet basic safety standards for gas, electricity and smoke alarms. These are already things that the community sector does well, and it is good to see that they will be required of landlords in the private rental market as well.

Renters will be given the right to make minor modifications – probably including things like nailing a hook on the wall or installing anchors to stop furniture falling on children – without first obtaining the landlord’s consent.

Changes have been made to how pets are treated. People will be able to ask to keep pets, and the rental housing provider cannot refuse unless they get a VCAT order. If they do get an order, however, providers will be able to give a Notice to Vacate (NTV) for having pet without consent, which they can’t now. This should not affect community housing – most providers have pet agreements and pet policies already.

One major concern is that a new section will require VCAT members to assess whether every application for possession is ‘reasonable and proportionate’. This will again introduce a whole new set of legal arguments that housing workers will have to present every time they go to VCAT.

The bill has yet to be signed into law so we do not yet know when the amendments will come into effect. Another important factor will be that many of the changes to the Act involve the introduction of new regulations, prescriptions and guidelines which will be developed by Consumer Affairs. They have said they will consult CHIA Vic ‘where necessary’ when developing these.

CHIA Vic will be working closely with the sector on the effect of these changes and developing an understanding how they might affect existing tenancy management practices.