Five proposed changes to rental laws that will lead to more homelessness


As you read this, the Victorian Government is discussing possible changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA); the law that set out the rights and responsibilities of Victoria’s landlords and tenants.

The RTA review is called Fairer Safer Housing – an apt name given that the private rental market isn’t all that fair or safe, especially for those on low incomes or experiencing mental illness or family violence. The review process is an opportunity to strengthen the tenants’ rights and protections, but with landlord lobbyists already pressuring government, there is fear that the review could further weaken tenancy protections.

A recent Choice study highlights just how bad the situation is now for renters (see the article Top five #RentInOz experiences ).

Some options on the table, like more stringent minimum standards and incentives for landlords to make repairs more quickly, would make the rental market fairer and safer, and we’ve given them the thumbs up in our submission.

But here’s the bad news. Many proposed changes would give landlords increased (and in our opinion, excessive) powers, leading to an immediate increase in homelessness and insecurity for tenants.

Here are five of the worst changes being proposed to the RTA:

1.Expanding the reasons people can be turfed out with zero day’s notice

What is the change?

Currently landlords can seek and use a same day eviction for property damage or personal endangerment that is occurring or expected to occur. That seems fair. This change brings in new zero day notices for past conduct, like where property damage has already occurred and been repaired.

Why is this a worry?

Every same day eviction causes homelessness. A huge new raft of same day evictions threatens to overwhelm homelessness services, and cause homelessness for people who would have otherwise remain housed.

Unless it’s an absolute emergency, you can’t just kick renters straight out onto the street! People need an opportunity to fix damage, or to get their life issues in check to avoid eviction. This measure is not fairer – and more experiences of homelessness are not safer!

 

2. Easier evictions (terminating tenancies after a single breach, or broadening the three strikes rule)

What is the change?

Breaches cover non-urgent or minor issues like noise or cleanliness. Currently, a tenant must breach the same duty three times or ignore three directives to remedy a breach (ie. fix damage) to be evicted (this is called the ‘three strikes’ rule).

This change proposes to make it so that a combination of any three breaches would be cause for eviction. It also allows VCAT to terminate a tenancy after any one breach if serious.

Why is this a worry?

Currently a renter can fix breaches, and keep their house. This proposal makes evictions so easy that landlords will be able to kick people out almost on a whim (whose house doesn’t have three things that are slightly damaged or dirty?). In Victoria’s highly competitive rental market large numbers of evictees will not be able to gain a new rental quickly enough, and will end up homelessness.

 

3.  Eliminating the opportunity for tenants to remedy a problem a landlord has raised, and instead leap frog straight to eviction

What is the change?

Currently where tenants receive a notice to vacate, the notice gives a reason why, and tenants have the chance to fix the problem and keep the property. The proposed new system would remove that opportunity, instead evicting more tenants in a reduced timespan.

Why is this a worry?

This removes an important protection against evictions. It will create a huge number of new evictions at a much shorter timeframe. Tenants have a right to address any problems that may lead to an eviction – but this change removes that right.

 

4. Evicting tenants for late rent, even where fully repaid.

What is the change?

Currently, if tenants fully repay rent arrears within 14 days, there is no punishment. If they are behind after 14 days, the landlord can evict. Under this change, if the tenant has fallen behind by less than 14 days three times, they can be kicked out.

Why is this a worry?

Incomes are often irregular, and there are good reasons for falling behind in your rent – you may have received fewer shifts at work than normal; been unwell and unable to go to work; or had an unexpected emergency or bill. The RTA needs to recognise the reality of people’s lives and provide a reasonable level of flexibility. People shouldn’t be evicted if they have caught up with their repayments.

 

5. Leaving it up to the landlord to decide what is ‘anti-social behaviour’

What is the change?

Reasons to evict are currently in a list. This change creates a new eviction for any behaviour that is “likely to cause alarm”. What does that even mean?

Why is this a worry?

This gives landlords almost unlimited discretion to evict tenants, in a fraction of the time currently provided in the 120 day ‘no specified reason’ notice to vacate. It gives landlords huge power over tenants behaviour inside their own homes. Tenants could be evicted for nonsense reasons like ‘being in the backyard at night’ or arguing loudly. This provision is likely to be misused particularly against people who already face discrimination in the rental market.

 

What should I do?

CHP continues to advocate for reforms that will improve housing stability for those who might otherwise experience homelessness. If you want to join with us to call for a rental system that prevents homelessness you can sign this petition. For more information, you can read our full submission.