Below is a brief history of Tenants Victoria, from its grassroots beginnings in the mid 1970s to our ongoing work today.

In 1974 a group of disgruntled tenants in Royal Court in Parkville formed a tenants association to do something about their landlord. Rents were continually rising, despite the landlord’s failure to carry out repairs. The tenants at Royal Court soon realised that the basic problem was the archaic tenancy laws that still existed in Victoria at that time.

Prior to 1981, landlord and tenant relations were principally governed by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1958 and common law. The Landlord and Tenant Act was an arcane piece of legislation that had as much to say about standing corn and barley as the rights of contemporary tenants in an urban context.

At about this time, there was also a growing awareness of poverty in Australia. The Henderson Inquiry into Poverty
of 1972-1975 established that tenants were among the most likely to experience poverty.

The Royal Court tenants took their story to the media and in the process raised the issue of tenancy law reform in Victoria. Support and momentum steadily grew, leading to the formation of the Tenants Union of Victoria (renamed Tenants Victoria in 2017). The first informal legal advice service for tenants was established by Michael Salvaris at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in October 1974.
In these formative years, small grants funded the establishment of several smaller Tenants Union of Victoria branches across the state.

tenants as consumers

Of course there had been other attempts to organise tenants and change tenancy law but none of these had been sustained. The rights of tenants were continually frustrated by the property rights of owners. One factor that was crucial
to the success of this attempt was the marriage of tenants’ rights to the broader consumer rights movement. By the mid 1970s, consumer rights had gained acceptance and the idea that tenants, as consumers, are entitled to basic consumer protection became easier to support in public policy.

Once formed, the Tenants Union of Victoria —with a number of other community organisations—was instrumental in having the Community Committee on Tenancy Law Reform established, which ultimately led to the Residential Tenancies Act of 1980.

three decades of law reform

Since its inception Tenants Victoria has worked continuously to provide advice to as many individual tenants as possible while working towards long-term change for the benefit of all tenants. We successfully campaigned to have caravan park residents included in the 1987 legislation and rooming house residents covered in 1990. After a protracted campaign of more than ten years, an independent Residential Tenancies Bond Authority was established in 1997.

Since that first informal advice service of 30 years ago, we have assisted more than half a million individual tenants.
The need for basic advice and advocacy for residential tenants is as strong as ever and we are now assisting more than 30,000 public and private tenants each year.

While we have made some major steps forward, there are still significant issues to address. Private tenants are still more likely to experience poverty. General affordability for most tenants has declined over the last ten years as the amount of low cost housing has diminished. Public housing is in decline and cannot cope with the demand. There are still no real minimum standards for rental housing.

housing as a human right

While the consumer rights movement was very beneficial in providing a framework for action, what is needed now is greater recognition of rental housing as a basic human need. Ironically, Victorians probably have more rights attached to their toaster or second hand car than their rental housing.

A major challenge for the next few years is to continue to raise awareness and understanding of tenants’ needs amongst government and policy makers.

From that small dispute at Royal Court bigger things continue to grow.

that was then, this is now

To provide a snapshot of the last 40 years, the table below compares housing data in Victoria at the time of the 1971 Census with data from the Censuses in 2001 and 2011.

1971 2001 2011 change 1971-2011
Total population 3,502,351 4,644,950 5,354,042 +53%
Number of households 1,015,616 1,667,687 1,944,687 +91%
Average household size 3.3 2.6 2.6 -0.7%
Number of private rental households 211,171 328,176 424,316 +101%
Number of public housing tenants/households 45,820 (tenants) 62,355* (households) 62,779* (households) n/a
Number of people on public housing waiting lists not available 41,958 44,204 n/a
Average gross weekly earnings $86.20** $714.60 (Nov 2002) $1,033.30 (Nov 2011) 12-fold increase
Median weekly rent $23 $185 $277 12-fold increase
Average house price $16,476† $267,000†† $475 000††† 28-fold increase
Average weekly mortgage repayment $18.11† $200.08*** $392.31*** 21-fold increase

 Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
* according the Office of Housing.
** calculated by ABS as total male employees plus 53% of female employees.
*** ABS, 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Time Series Profile for Victoria, Table T02.
**** ABS, 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Time Series Profile for Victoria, Table T28.  Figure is calculated as the percentage of aggregate full-time and part-time workers.
†  ‘A review of the Private Rental Housing Market in Victoria and Implications for Tenancy Law Reform’ Volume 2 Working Papers October 1983, Care Consultants Pty Ltd, Wilson Sayer Pty Ltd, Terry Burke, Gim Teh.
†† AMP Home Loan Affordability Report, March Quarter, 2001.
††† AMP The Great Australian Dream – Just a Dream? Housing affordability trends for Australia and our largest 25 cities (July 2011) 


Tenants Victoria acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.