Coronavirus: Victorian rental reforms delayed amid pandemic

Several of Victoria’s rental law reforms will be delayed from coming into effect for six months amid the coronavirus crisis.

All 130 amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act — which included introducing minimum standards for properties, allowing renters to make minor modifications to their homes, and banning no-reason evictions — were due to come into force by July 1.

But the state government has now stated it will postpone the start date of a number of the reforms to January 1, 2021.

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Several of Victoria’s rental law reforms will be delayed until next year, but the change preventing landlords from unreasonably blocking pets has already come into effect. Picture: Sarah Matray

The government is yet to respond to Herald Sun questions around how many of the reforms will be delayed, and specifically which ones.

Some of them have already come into effect, with landlords notably blocked from “unreasonably” preventing tenants from keeping pets and rent rises limited to once a year.

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria had earlier this month called for a six-month moratorium on the rental law changes, stating a delay to January 1 at the earliest would “allow businesses and their regulators to focus solely on getting through this crisis”.

Anthony Webb, chief executive of real estate agency Philip Webb, had also expressed concerns that introducing the reforms during the pandemic would add to landlords’ woes to the point where many “just choose to sell”.

Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge labelled the delay “a pragmatic decision” that would ensure the rental industry could give the reforms “due attention when they do come in”.

“We’re still looking forward to those laws being implemented, but we are at a time of crisis,” she said.

RENTAL SUPPORT PACKAGE GREY AREAS AND GAPS

The delay follows the announcement of a $500 million support package for residential and commercial tenants and landlords, with emergency legislation due to be put into Victorian parliament on Thursday, April 23.

The package includes a six-month moratorium on evictions and rental increases, $420 million of land tax relief for landlords who discount rents for tenants in pandemic-related hardship, and $80 million in rental assistance for tenants who remain under financial stress after mediation. The latter will be paid directly to landlords.

It has largely been welcomed by the real estate industry, which expected it to help achieve fairer negotiations between struggling tenants and landlords.

Presser- Level Crossing Removals

Dan Andrews’ government announced a $500 million rental support package last week. Picture: Nicole Cleary

But grey areas and gaps have also been flagged, with the $420 million of land tax relief notably deemed “unlikely to cover the amount of rent deductions (landlords were) offering tenants” by Mr Webb.

Other property professionals said the government needed to clarify how much of that package would be split between residential and commercial landlords, as well as what support was available to landlords who didn’t pay land tax. This included young people who had invested regionally, but still lived with their parents.

And it was unclear whether the rental assistance paid directly to landlords would match their lost rental income dollar-for-dollar.

Also missing was a provision to compensate impacted landlords to ensure they could pay compulsory owners corporation levies and fees, Strata Community Association Victorian chief executive Maree Davenport said.

She said Victoria had more than 85,000 owners corporations, and the fees and levies paid towards them were crucial in protecting safety, health and insurance in strata buildings across the state.

“All common property is maintained through owners corporation fees and levies, including car parks, storage facilities and lifts,” she said.

“And the hours spent ‘at home’ (during lockdown) place unforeseen demands on facilities within strata buildings. (This) converging with a decrease in funding of these services will create the ‘perfect storm’.”

Sad evicted roommates moving home complaining

Some Melbourne tenants are still reporting being threatened with eviction.

The government has clarified elements of the evictions moratorium, stating that any notice to vacate issued to Victorian tenants from March 29 due to failure to pay rent will not be enforceable.

Any parties unable to reach an agreement should contact Consumer Affairs Victoria, and the matter may then be referred for dispute resolution or to a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing.

Landlords are still able to seek eviction orders from VCAT if their tenant is engaging in threatening behaviour or maliciously damaging the property, or if they are selling the property or if they or their family need to move into it.

Despite this, a Berwick tenant told the Herald Sun her landlord had initiated a move to evict her and her six-year-old daughter last week because she could no longer afford her rent.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said after being stood down from her job as a council contractor, she offered to pay $1000 of her monthly $1800 rent until she received Centrelink payments that should allow her to cover the full amount.

But her property manager had “come back with a notice to evict as of May 6”.

She called on the government to “penalise property managers or landlords not doing the right thing”.

Ms Beveridge said Tenants Victoria was “supportive of the government package”, as it encouraged a “sharing of the burden between tenants and landlords”.

But she said anxious tenants were still contacting TV to report landlords failing to “act in good faith” — and she suspected many would continue to do so until the legislation was enacted.

She told tenants: “If the landlord doesn’t agree during the first stage of negotiation, don’t give up. Initiate a mediation process with CAV.

“The Victorian Government has made a stated commitment to support tenants who are disadvantaged by COVID-19.”

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