Residential Tenancies (Vic)
A residential tenancy exists when a lessor (a landlord) and a lessee (tenant) enter an agreement to lease premises for the tenant to reside. Numerous pieces of legislation affect residential tenancies in Victoria. The most important are the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the Residential Tenancies Regulations 1998. These contain the majority of rights and duties of tenants, landlords and agents. Both the Act and the Regulations also govern agreements to lease space in a caravan park, and agreements to lease a room within a rooming house. This article outlines the rights and obligations that arise from residential tenancies in Victoria and the processes for resolving disputes.
Rights and Obligations of Landlords and Tenants
Many residential tenants are not aware of their rights. Division 5 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 contains the rights and obligations of both tenants and landlord. Tenants’ obligations include refraining from using the premises for any illegal purpose, avoiding damage to the property, and giving notice of any damage to the premises to the landlord. The landlord’s obligations include giving the tenant quiet enjoyment of the premises, maintaining the premises, and making sure that any water devices which need replacing have an A rating. Consumer Affairs Victoria provides information to tenants and lessors regarding the process of renting at all stages of a lease.
Types of residential tenancy disputes
Common residential tenancy disputes involve the refund of bond, the payment of rent, repairs, service charges including water and electricity and termination of the tenancy.
It is also common for a party to a lease to claim that the other party has breached its obligations under Division 5 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. An example of this is where a tenant claims the landlord has breached its obligation to give them quiet enjoyment of the premises by accessing the premises without giving the tenant requisite notice.
Dealing with residential tenancy disputes
As with most types of civil disputes, provided it is safe and feasible to do so a person should try to resolve the situation by negotiating with the other party. Settling a matter without resorting to the judicial system is quicker and cheaper than going to court and may preserve relationships between parties. Consumer Affairs Victoria offers a specialist conciliation service for some residential tenancy issues. This service will attempt to facilitate a resolution between parties by providing an impartial and informal service that helps them to identify the issues and explore options to resolve the situation.
If this conciliation cannot settle the dispute, a party may take the matter to VCAT.
Consumer Affairs Victoria can also issue infringement notices against parties that breach certain provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. The party that receives the infringement notice can pay the fine without admitting guilt, and the matter will then be finalised. This benefits the infringing party as the fines are less than the maximum penalties that can be imposed by courts.
Hearing disputes at VCAT
VCAT is mandated to hear residential tenancy disputes. The tribunal’s residential tenancies division deals with disputes between tenant and landlord, rooming house owner and renter, the Director of Housing and public housing tenants, and caravan park owners and residents. VCAT does not hear neighbourhood disputes or disputes between tenant and tenant. It has a jurisdictional limit of $10,000 so it cannot hear claims for compensation or for money owing under a tenancy agreement that exceeds that amount.
Starting proceedings at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
If a person wishes for VCAT to hear their residential tenancy dispute, they must file a residential tenancy dispute application form. There are five different application forms for different personal circumstances, although the majority of applications require the General Application Form. This form must be supported by all the evidence and information the applicant intends to use in the hearing.
The application can either be lodged at VCAT and a copy served on the respondent (the opposing party) within seven days, or served on the respondent first and then lodged at VCAT within seven days.
Respondents can defend themselves at the VCAT hearing or file a counterclaim. Note that a fee is payable when making an application at VCAT.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.