Residential Tenancies Act needs better protections for renters: CHP

A three-stage review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (RTA) is underway as part of the Victorian Government’s Plan For Fairer Safer Housing. This is in response to the evolving function of the private rental market in Victoria – once the private rental market was mainly a transitional phase before people moved into home ownership or public housing. But as house prices continue to rise and the availability of public housing stock dwindles, more people are renting for longer periods, even for life. This review will consider how regulation can best meet the current and future needs of landlords and tenants and make recommendations for changes to the RTA so it can better balance the needs of the two groups.

Unfortunately, current legislation is weighed heavily in favour of protecting the investment of a landlord. This means the social function of providing a home for renters is the second consideration.  CHP would like to see changes in the following areas made to the RTA:

1. Greater control over rent increases

Under the current RTA landlords can increase rents every six months. Tenants can challenge the rise if it’s excessive, but in reality a rent increase doesn’t have to be excessive to push a low income household in to homelessness Improved security over rental prices can help stability to tenants in the PRM.

2. Notices to vacate (including abolishing no reason NTVs)

CHP would like to see greater protections put in the RTA around the process for evicting a tenant. Currently a landlord can serve a tenant with a notice to vacate for no reason which is unfair to the tenant and makes it difficult for tenants to establish their residence as a home. CHP understands that this often weighs on people’s minds and can stop them from enforcing their rights, for example not asking for repairs for fear of eviction.

3. The need for minimum rental standards

In Victoria there are no minimum rental standards, meaning that landlords are allowed to rent out properties with no hot water, have holes in the roof or even no cook facilities for example. Living somewhere that is unsafe can negatively affect people’s health, and most of the time it is people on low incomes who are exposed to these risks.

4. Property modifications

If a tenant acquires a disability for example, they should be allowed to make reasonable modifications to the property at their own expense. Under the current RTA a landlord can refuse, or require a tenant to reverse the property modification. Similar standards should also be introduced around minor changes to a home such as a picture hooks and other adornments.

As the number of people who will spend their whole lives in the private rental market continues to grow, the legislation needs to support tenants in making their house a home. The consultation paper can be viewed here, and initial submissions are due on Wednesday 5th August 2015. CHP will be making a submission so if you would like to be involved please email Sarah Toohey.