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What Victoria’s new rental laws mean for landlords and tenants

Long overdue reforms which set minimum standards for rental properties will come into effect next month, after being delayed due to the pandemic.

Providing a working toilet and door locks will be among the minimum standards introduced under Victoria’s new rental laws, which have sparked a mixed reaction from tenants groups and the real estate industry – with some welcoming changes to legislation, while others say it will add to costs for both tenants and landlords.

The details of a raft of new rental regulations have been released by the Victorian Government over the past two weeks, with the changes to come into effect on March 29. They were scheduled to begin in July last year but were delayed by the pandemic. 

The new laws would also include minimum standards for rental properties to provide a three-star shower head, a working stove, food preparation area and sink in the kitchen, as well as a vermin-proof rubbish bin, Consumer Affairs Victoria said.

Landlords must also ensure tenancies are free of mould, have appropriate lighting and ventilation, and heating in the main living area. If heating has to be installed, it must be energy efficient.

“In addition to the minimum standards, for rental agreements starting on or after 29 March 2021, a licensed or registered electrician and gas fitter must have conducted an electrical or gas safety check within the past two years — and every two years — while the property is rented,” a Consumer Affairs Victoria spokesperson said.

Tenants will also be able to make small changes to a property without needing to ask their landlord, including installing picture hooks, shelves and child-safety devices on surfaces that are not exposed brick or concrete.

Under the changes, rental providers will not be able to ask applicants whether they have been in a previous dispute with a landlord or other housing provider or if they have ever had a claim on their bond. They also cannot ask applicants to provide a credit or bank statement detailing  daily transactions.

The 132 new regulations would strengthen the rights of renters, Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said. 

“For too long, the balance has been tipped in the favour of landlords,” Ms King said. “That’s not a problem if you have a reasonable and responsible landlord, but too many renters have been living in shoddy and unsafe homes with a dodgy landlord.”

Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge also welcomed the reforms, adding they would improve the lives of Victoria’s two million renters. 

“We are [still] analysing the detailed measures but overall these regulations will help renters to become more secure in their homes and enjoy far greater amenity over time,” Ms Beveridge said.

While VCOSS and Tenants Victoria welcomed the new measures, Better Renting executive director Joel Dignam said the measures did not go far enough.

“These regulations include some positive measures, but they are not good enough to ensure safe homes for renters and their families. In some cases, they make things worse,” Mr Dignam said. “The new regulations allow landlords to insist upon professional cleaning to be paid for out of the pockets of people who rent. 

“This is a money grab for landlords. It’s unreasonable that renters will have to spend hundreds of dollars to deal with trivial issues like some dust in the window tracks. 

“Not only will this new burden cost renters, it will slow down bond recovery, putting more pressure on people living pay cheque to pay cheque.”

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria is preparing to support landlords and property managers implement the new regulations, but warned it could discourage investment in property.

“New costs introduced through these changes are likely to result in higher rents and could see mum and dad investors exit this asset class, putting further pressure on rental availability and affordability for Victorians,” REIV chief executive Gil King said.

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