As the Victorian government currently undertakes a review of its residential tenancy laws, the state’s peak real estate body has called on all stakeholders to be involved in the process to ensure that any new legislation does not lean too heavily one way or another.
The state government's Plan for Fairer, Safer Housing program includes a review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (RTA), which involves submissions from those in the corner for both landlords and tenants.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) spokesperson Paul Bird said there is the possibility of major changes to legislation as a result of the review.
“This review could result in changes to the Residential Tenancies Act that could have serious impacts for landlords and how they lease out properties and interact with tenants,” REIV spokesperson Paul Bird said.
“There are some areas that do need to be addressed, but it’s important the laws don’t lean too heavily either way in favour of tenants or landlords. That’s why we want as many people to make themselves heard as possible,” Bird said.
The REIV’s call for submissions comes shortly after Victorian government released a list of common issues that have been raised in submissions it has recieved so far.
Those issues include possible areas of change to the RTA that would likely favour both landlords and tenants, including dealing with rental arrears, maintenance and lease length.
One issue released in the findings claimed that many tenants were reluctant to raise maintenance issues due to fears of repercussions such as a raise in their rent.
Leah Calnan, director of Metro Property Management, said she didn’t believe that was a widespread issue.
“I think the rights a very clear for tenants in regards to maintenance. In the event that they do have a maintenance issue, there is a very clear process for that,” Calnan said.
“In regards to [tenants] having a fear of a rent review or increase, ultimately that stems around market conditions. A rent increase has to be justified, it’s not just a property manager or an owner spinning a wheel and targeting a particular tenant, it does need to be in accordance with the market,” she said.
One of the major points the review is the possibility of increasing permissible lease length to five or 10 years, and while the government claims the majority of those that have made submissions are in favour of that, Calnan disagrees there is need for extended leases.
“I don’t think there is a need for long-term leases. When you go out and ask prospective tenants you get the occasional one and that might be one in 500 that is looking for a longer lease,” she said.
“People do want the flexibility of not being locked into the property for an extended period. We also need to be careful that when we look security of tenure, it’s not just the tenant that takes that five-year lease; it’s the landlord as well.
“The landlord’s then locked into potentially reducing their opportunity to sell the property if their circumstances change.”
Early submissions also point to people wanting changes to how rental arrears are resolved, with man believing current arrangements are too lenient, something Calnan agrees with.
“I think there is an opportunity for the rent arrears and failure to pay rent to come in line with some of the other states. Victoria has a 14-day period, which is really a grace period for tenants to pay the rent.
“There are other states that work on a 7-day notice period and I think that’s probably more reasonable than a 14-day one.”
Numerous submissions received so far also call for a need for better clarity regarding safety issues, such as responsibility for smoke alarms; something Calnan does believe needs to be addressed to benefit all parties.
“There’s definitely a need for the Victorian government to clarify responsibility on smoke alarms, carbon monoxide testing, servicing of gas furnaces and heaters and pool fences.
“All of that either needs to fall within the Building Act or the Residential Tenancies Act. As property managers it’s very difficult to enforce an owner to have a smoke alarm serviced when they say to us where is the legislation that says that?”
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