Tenants’ Rights (Vic)
Tenancy law in Victoria is governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (the RTA). The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hears disputes about residential tenancy agreements and has the authority to make orders in relation to them. This article outlines tenants’ rights and responsibilities in Victoria.
At the beginning of a residential tenancy agreement
At the beginning of a residential tenancy, a tenant has the right not to be discriminated against, to be provided with a property that is reasonably clean and secure and to be given a copy of a condition report and an opportunity to review and respond to this report.
Discrimination in renting
When renting out a property, a landlord has the right to choose the most suitable candidate for renting. However, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of various personal attributes such as age, sex, gender etc. If a tenant feels he or she has been discriminated against in the process of applying to rent a property, he or she can apply to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission for a review of the decision.
Standard form residential tenancy agreements
Short term leases or leases for less than five years can be written or oral. However, most of the time leases are in written form. In Victoria, there are standard form agreements for residential tenancies. Terms can be added to these agreements with the mutual consent of both parties. However, the agreements must still comply with the RTA.
Landlord’s obligations at the beginning of a lease
Landlords have certain obligations to tenants under the RTA. Some specific things that landlords must do at the beginning of a lease are to:
- Ensure the property is reasonably clean on the day the tenant moves in;
- Ensure that the property is vacant on the day that the tenant moves in;
- Ensure there are locks on external doors and windows;
- Ensure the keys given to the tenant fit the locks; and
- Ensure water appliances meet minimum standards.
If these obligations are not met the tenant may be able to end the agreement or obtain compensation from the landlord.
Bond and condition report
A bond is usually paid by the tenant at the beginning of a residential tenancy agreement or lease. This is to cover expenses that may be incurred as a result of damage that is done to the property by the tenant during the term of the lease. If a bond is paid, it must be lodged with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority. There is no requirement for a landlord to ask the tenant to pay a bond. However, if they do so, the tenant must be given a copy of a condition report for the property, setting out the condition of the property at the beginning of the lease. The tenant must be given an opportunity to review this report, and respond with any discrepancies they may find at the beginning of the lease.
The bond payable for rental agreements that are less than five years in length cannot be more than one month’s rent if the weekly rent is $350 or less. For a long term lease, of more than five years, more than one month’s rent cannot be charged if the weekly rent is $760 or less.
During a tenancy
During a residential tenancy, a tenant has the right to have repairs done to the property by the landlord, where the damage is not due to the tenant’s conduct. They must give the landlord entry to the property, but must be given adequate notice of the landlord’s intention to enter.
Repairs and damage
During a tenancy, all repairs to the property are the landlord’s responsibility. However, if the tenant has caused the damage, the landlord can request that the tenant pay for repairs. The RTA lists some repairs that are considered to be urgent. If a tenant requests urgent repairs, the landlord must reply to this request immediately. Generally, for all other repairs that are non-urgent, the landlord will have 14 days to arrange for these repairs.
Requests for repairs should be made in writing by the tenant. There are set procedures to follow for having repairs completed. If the landlord fails to complete repairs in time, a tenant may apply to VCAT for an order that the repairs be completed. If the order is not followed, the tenant may end the residential tenancy agreement on the basis of the breach, or seek compensation through VCAT.
Landlord’s right to enter
Landlord’s have a right to enter the property. However, before they do so, they must give adequate notice to the tenant of this intention. If they do not do so, and they enter the property without giving notice, they may be found to have committed an offence. In most residential tenancy agreements the required notice is twenty-four hours.
The hours in which the landlord can enter are between 8am and 6pm. If notice has been given, the tenant must allow the landlord to enter between these times. If the landlord wishes to enter the property outside of these hours, they must reach an agreement with the tenant about this.
The landlord must act reasonably in exercising their right to enter the property. They must also only remain on the property for the amount of time that is necessary for the purpose of their visit.
Right to make alterations to the property
A tenant does not have the right to make alterations to the property. However, if a tenant obtains the landlord’s approval, the tenant may be able to do this. The landlord may require the tenant to restore the property to its original condition at the end of the lease. The tenant will most likely be required to pay for these alterations.
If you are a tenant and find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of domestic violence, or other similar circumstance, you may be able to apply to VCAT to have your tenancy agreement changed in order that you can protect yourself. For example, you may wish to end your residential tenancy agreement early so that you can move to a different location. You can apply to VCAT for an order that you can do this without incurring a penalty.
Ending a residential tenancy agreement
Tenants also have particular rights and responsibilities when ending a lease agreement.
The landlord wants the tenant to vacate
A landlord may want a tenant to vacate for various reasons. Some of these may relate to the tenant breaking terms of the rental agreement. It may also be for other reasons, e.g. the landlord wants to move back into the premises. The landlord must give notice for most of the reasons that it wants the tenant to vacate the premises. Different notice periods apply for different reasons. The same notice periods apply to fixed-term and periodic rental agreements. The fixed-term tenancy must not be reduced in length by the giving of notice. The exceptions to giving notice are where:
- A tenant or person visiting the premises has damaged the property maliciously;or
- A tenant or person visiting the premises has put neighbours in danger by their actions.
The tenant wants to vacate
There may be several reasons why a tenant wants to leave rental premises and end their tenancy. If the reasons for ending the tenancy relate to the landlord breaching the residential tenancy agreement, by not fulfilling their legal obligations, then a tenant may not be required to give any notice before ending the tenancy. However, there are other notice periods that apply to other situations. These notice periods are the same for fixed-term residential tenancy agreements, as they are for periodic tenancy agreements. However, it is important to note that a tenant must not end a fixed-term tenancy agreement before its end date. To do so would be to breach the residential tenancy agreement.
Landlords can apply to VCAT to have tenants evicted if they have given appropriate notice to them to vacate and they have not left the premises. The order that will be given to the landlord by VCAT, if they are successful, is called a possession order. This order may instruct the tenant to leave and may also give the landlord the right to obtain a warrant which can be executed by a police officer to evict the tenant.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.