Rental laws in Victoria explained – what are my rights as a renter? (2021)

house cottage in autumn rental law

Rental laws – like anything legal – can get muddy and difficult to understand. Here’s Foxie’s simple breakdown of your rights and responsibilities as a tenant according to the latest Victorian legislation.

Rental laws in Victoria have been amended several times over the past few years, with the most recent changes arriving on 29 March 2021. Legislation around renting and renters’ rights can get so complicated that you could spend hours trawling through pages online, and leave with more questions than you started with.

It’s our job at Foxie to make your move as easy as possible, so that’s why we’ve compiled this list breaking down the most-commonly raised issues and questions from new renters and existing tenants.

Before you sign

Bonds and first month’s rent

As of 29 March 2021, the maximum amount landlords can ask for in a rental bond cannot exceed one month’s rent unless the weekly rental amount is more than $900. This does not include additional bond amounts that may be applied if you are keeping a pet in the house that may pose an additional risk to damaging the property, for example. Additional bonds can also be required every five years in a long-term lease.

Rental agreements also normally involve some rent to be paid in advance before you move in. According to the new rules coming in at the end of March, landlords cannot ask for more than the one month to be paid in advance at the start of an agreement, unless the weekly rental amount is more than $900.

Victoria’s new rental laws have changed the way bonds work at the end of leasing agreements too. Renters no longer have to seek permission from their rental providers to receive their bond back after the leasing agreement period has elapsed. Instead renters can apply directly to VCAT to receive their bond back from the RTBA, and the rental provider will have 14 days to submit an application to deduct from the bond for damages.

Advertising

The new rules state that rental properties must only be advertised or offered at a fixed price – this means landlords and estate agents are now banned from inviting or soliciting rental bids or offers of rent higher than the advertised price. 

The new rental laws also adds more defining language around deception and misrepresentation. Rental providers are now explicitly banned from making misleading or false representations in order to encourage someone into entering a rental agreement.

Rental providers also can’t discriminate against applicants and tenants on the grounds of disability, even if the tenant requires certain accessibility modifications to be made to the property.

Pets

Victorian pet owners rejoice! Since changes in Victorian rental laws came into effect in 2020, it is now much more difficult for rental providers to discriminate against pet-owning tenants. While applying to your new rental, the landlord or estate agent will often ask if you’ll be living with any animals, and you’ll need written consent from the rental provider to keep pets at the property. However in order to refuse your request to have a pet on premises, the landlord must apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for an order that it is reasonable to refuse permission (such as the property having historical value etc). According to the new rental laws, the rental provider “must not unreasonably refuse a request to keep a pet”.

You may be required to pay an extra bond to cover any additional risk your pet may bring to damaging the property. Of course, you’ll get this back at the end of your lease if there is no damage done.

In the event that the landlord does make an application to VCAT to refuse your pet request, the Tribunal will often try to negotiate an arrangement between you and your landlord before outright disallowing your pet – such as an agreement to only keep the pet outside.

Utilities

In Victoria, tenants are responsible for paying their utilities bills independently, unless the property is part of an apartment block with shared utilities such as bulk hot water. All new connection rates must be paid by the landlord.

Make sure to get in touch with water, gas and electricity, and broadband providers well in advance of moving in, and let them know about your move in date (or you could just call Foxie, and we’ll get it all organised in one phone call).

If you are moving into an apartment, your rental provider must inform you if there are utilities charges included in the weekly rental amount, and provide a breakdown of those costs, as well as a copy of the bill when it is issued.

According to the new rules, if a renter receives an excessive utility bill that can be attributed to a hidden fault (leaky water pipes, for example), the rental provider must pay for the costs that exceed the renter’s normal usage amounts.

Minimum Standards

There are updated minimum standards that your rental property must meet according to recent changes to Victorian rental laws. These standards apply only to rental agreements signed on or after 29 March 2021, and some clauses will only come into effect in the coming years, in order to give landlords time to adjust.

  • All external entry doors must be fitted with a lock that can be opened with a key from the outside, and can be locked with or without a key from the inside. Alternatively, the door must be securable with a functioning deadlock.
  • The premises must have one toilet in working order that is connected to an appropriate waste system, and it must be in a room or structure designated as a toilet area.
  • Bathrooms must have access to reasonable (not endless) hot and cold water supply, include a washbasin and shower (or bath), and include a 3-star rated showerhead at minimum.
  • Kitchen facilities must include a dedicated food preparation area, a sink with hot and cold water and a stovetop with two or more burners in good working order. If there is an oven, it must be in good working order also.
  • The property must be structurally sound and weatherproof.
  • From 29 March 2023, rental properties must have electrical safety switches installed.
  • From 29 March 2022, all windows in bedrooms and living areas must have coverings that can block light and provide privacy.
  • Rental properties must include a fixed heater in the main living area. If one has not been installed, an energy efficient heater (2-star minimum) must be installed.
  • The rental property must be vacant and reasonably clean when the renter moves in.
  • The rental provider must ensure there are working smoke alarms in the property, and the landlord is responsible for replacing both smoke alarm units and batteries.

If you discover the rental property you’re signing for does not meet the minimum standards it’s supposed to, you are legally allowed to end the rental agreement before you move in. Alternatively, you can submit an urgent repair request to make the property meet the standards at any time after you move in.

During Your Tenancy

Condition Report

When you first move in, you’ll be asked by your rental provider to fill out what’s called a ‘condition report’. The purpose of this report is to have agreed documentation on the state of the property before you’ve had a chance to live in it. This way, when you leave the rental property, any damages that the property incurred before you moved in won’t be blamed on you, and won’t be deducted from your bond.

If your rental provider doesn’t ask for photographs of the property as part of your condition report, it is probably a good idea to take some anyway. In the unfortunate event that you do enter a dispute with your landlord about whether you caused certain damages to the property or not, you’ll want as much evidence as possible to back up your claim.

Rental Payment

Under the new rental laws, the rental provider cannot evict you if your rent is paid late, so long as the payment is received at least 14 days after the due date. They can evict you, however, if your rent has been late more than four times within the same 12-month period.

It’s a great idea to set up a direct debit or scheduled payment through your banking institution so you never run into this issue.

The new laws also state that the rental provider must offer you at least one fee-free method of payment for your rent that is reasonably available. Providers have to tell you about all the methods you have available to you to pay rent, and if any include an incurred cost. They must also permit you to pay rent via Centrepay if you choose.

The rental provider is also legally obligated to provide you with a receipt when they receive your periodic rent payment.

Rent Increases

The new rental laws slightly amended the way rental increases work in Victoria. For fixed-term rental agreements, rent increases can now only occur if the rental agreement (that you sign at the beginning of your tenancy) specifies the amount by which your rent will increase, and the method through which this will be applied. If your fixed term is coming to an end, your rental provider may offer you a new contract with an increased monthly rent amount.

If you are renting on a month-to-month basis, your rental provider must give you at least 60 days written notice of a proposed rent increase.

Inspections and Entry to Premises

Your rental provider will want to conduct inspections of the property every so often to ensure you are adhering to your rental agreement and haven’t caused any catastrophic damage to the property. They may not conduct an inspection more than once every six months, and must give you written notice of their intention to inspect the property. Landlords and estate agents can only enter the rental property on an agreed upon date between 8am and 6pm, excluding public holidays.

Here are the reasons the rental provider is permitted to enter the property while you are occupying it:

  • To conduct a property inspection
  • To make modifications or fixes to the property
  • To show the property or conduct an open inspection or evaluation
  • To take images or video to advertise the property for sale or rent
  • If they have reason to believe the renter has failed to fulfil their obligations as part of the rental agreement, or
  • If they have to do a pre-termination inspection where the renter has applied to terminate the rental agreement because of family or personal violence.

A little known fact: if your landlord is planning on selling the property at the end of your lease, and has organised for potential buyers to inspect the property while you are still occupying it, you are actually entitled to a set amount of compensation for each inspection.

Modifications

Since the Victorian Government amended rental laws in 2018, renters have far more freedom to perform slight modifications to their homes without seeking consent from their rental provider:

  • Secure picture hooks, nails or screws for wall mounts on surfaces other than brick walls
  • Install LED light globes that do not require new light fittings
  • Install low-flow showerheads, so long as the original showerhead is kept
  • Replace curtains and blind or cord anchors, so long as the original fittings are kept
  • Install child-safety gates on walls (other than brick walls) and child-safety locks on drawers and doors
  • Install security lights, alarm systems, wireless doorbells or security cameras that are easily removed and not hardwired into the premises
  • Install a lock on the letterbox

Some of these modifications will still require consent from the rental provider if the property is listed under the Heritage Act 2017 – which you would be made aware of within your rental agreement at the start of your tenancy. These modifications must also be easily reversible, and must be restored to their original condition (within reason, fair wear and tear is excepted) before the end of the rental agreement.

If you want to make any other modifications to the property that fall outside of these parameters (like painting walls or drilling holes), you’ll need to get permission from your rental provider first. According to the new laws, landlords may not unreasonably refuse consent for alterations or modifications. They may only refuse your request if the modification would significantly change the premises, if the modification would result in additional rental costs for the provider, or if reversing the modifications would not be reasonably practicable.

Repairs

Urgent repairs now include repairs or replacements of anything relating to safety devices, air conditioning or any fault which makes the property unsafe or insecure. This includes pest infestations, mould or damp related to the building structure. In addition, if a rental provider does not adequately and promptly respond to an urgent repair request, the renter may pay to have the repair performed, and the rental provider must pay the renter back within seven days of written notice.

Also, if the rental provider has not replaced water, gas and electrical appliances with ones that meet energy rating standards, they are actually liable for the cost of supplying that utility to the premises.

Further Reading:

Featured Image: Scott Webb on Unsplash

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