Victoria’s new tenancy laws are set to come into effect next year and there’s still time to have your say. The state government has invited public comment on the reforms, but you’ll need to share your thoughts before public consultation concludes on December 18. Kay & Burton is across the new reforms, so we’re breaking down some of them, how they might impact you, and how you can ensure your voice is heard.

Name change

This one is simple and straightforward: under the new legislation, landlords will be referred to as ‘rental providers’ and tenants will be referred to as ‘renters’. This change has been introduced as the term ‘landlord’ is considered old-fashioned, implying an outdated air of superiority.

Safety-related changes

These relate to a property’s safety. Rental providers will be responsible for making sure gas and electricity safety checks are conducted every two years, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order and pool fences are well maintained, to name a few.

It’s difficult to argue against measures that help ensure the safety of occupants, and best practice would be to conduct these anyway. Common law duty of care of landlords already exists regardless of these reforms, but a proposed regime of checks and balances will remove doubt as to minimum standards, and aims to reduce disputes. Smoke alarm services cost just $99 per year, and for roughly double that, a gas safety check can be arranged, so embracing these changes will give peace of mind at an affordable cost, which is entirely tax deductible.

Minimum housing standards

Rental providers will have a duty to ensure their rental property meets minimum standards. This includes providing things such as heating, working locks, functioning hot and cold water in the bathroom, and more. From July 2020, there must be a fixed heater in the main living area with a minimum energy efficiency standard in Class 1 rental properties, and as of July 1 2023, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) fuelled gas heaters will be phased out of in Class 1 rental properties. Again, this is reasonable legislation, as renters are entitled to a safe and comfortable home. The minimum efficiency requirements will mean heating is financially accessible, while also providing environmental benefits associated with renewable energy sources.

Compensation for sales inspections

A proposed regulation will require rental providers who are selling an occupied property to provide renters with half a day’s rent compensation each time the residence is made available for an inspection. This reform is currently open to comment.

Inspections can often be an area of dispute, as renters sometimes resent the uncertainty of their tenancy term and the disruption that sales inspections impose. Though there hasn’t been a standard form of compensation in the past, many rental providers choose to offer some compensation as a gesture of good will, which can help foster the renter’s cooperation and ensure best results through ready access to a well-presented property.

As the current reform stands, it’s unclear whether the onus is on the renter or the rental provider to initiate the payment of compensation. Kay & Burton believes it would be fair that this right to compensation should be balanced with an obligation for the tenant to take reasonable steps to present the property to an appropriate standard.

Mandatory disclosure prior to rental agreement

Rental providers will be obliged to disclose certain information to an intended renter. This includes whether a homicide has taken place the premises in the past five years, if the residence has been the site of the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs, or has been previously been assessed to have friable or non-friable asbestos on the premises, amongst other things.

Existing consumer protection laws already provide obligations to disclose matters that could affect the premises, but this proposal very specifically defines those matters in order to remove any doubt about what should be shared. This transparency will ensure that tenants are informed before entering into agreements. However, it’s important to note that the obligation only applies if the rental provider has prior knowledge of such incidents taking place.

Renters’ rights to make modifications to rented premises

The new reforms include a proposal that a rental provider cannot reasonably refuse a renter’s request to carry out modifications to a property, such as installing LED lighting, planting a vegetable garden or installing picture hooks. Renters would pay for these modifications themselves. While this issue will need to be carefully managed, these reforms are already largely negotiated by landlords who prefer having comfortable and settled renters, in the hope that they remain long term to maximise returns. It also appears that the reforms allow for a rental provider to refuse consent if they have a valid reason (but only for certain modifications) and that renters may need to restore any modifications made.

These are just some of the tenancy reforms. To familiarise yourself with all of them and submit your own feedback, visit this page before December 18. The team at Kay & Burton is also providing their own submission on the impact of these regulations. If you’d like to discuss this submission or have your comments added to it, please email your thoughts to cpurnellwebb@kayburton.com.au.


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