coronavirus (COVID-19) guide for renters - Tenants Victoria

    coronavirus (COVID-19) guide for renters

    New Victorian laws¹ temporarily change how the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 operates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These laws will apply for 6 months from 29 March 2020.

    key changes

    The changes introduced by the new laws include:

    • changes to evictions, including a ban on notices to vacate
    • a ban on rent increases
    • changes to when tenants can move out
    • changes to tenants’ obligations, if related to COVID-19
    • restrictions on tenant database listing, if related to COVID-19
    • new protections for victim-survivors of family violence
    • a new dispute resolution process for tenants and landlords.

    [1] Chapter 4 of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic) introduces temporary amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic).
    More details about how the new laws work are provided in the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Emergency Measures) Regulations 2020 (Vic).

    Check back for updates. We continuously update this guide on COVID-19 laws and regulations with the latest information, advice, practical tips and resources for renters.

     

    latest news

    public housing lockdowns

    10 July 2020: Detention Directions which ordered the hard lockdowns at nine public housing estates were revoked for all addresses at 11.59pm Thursday 9 July 2020.

    The new Directions residents must follow are:

    Also see: New COVID-19 rules for public housing in Flemington and North Melbourne [IMCL website]

     

    9 July 2020: Stage 3 restrictions for Flemington and North Melbourne estates

    Residents at one address must isolate for 14 days in total:

    • 33 Alfred Street North Melbourne

    The highest number of cases have been found at 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne, with at least 53 confirmed cases. This represents around 11 per cent of residents. Given such a high number of positive cases and the unknown source of much of the transmission, our health experts have advised that, just as with an aged care facility, all residents of 33 Alfred Street will be classed as close contacts who must isolate for 14 days in total.

    Residents at two addresses move to Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions at 5.00pm Thursday 9 July 2020:

    • 159 Melrose Street North Melbourne
    • 9 Pampas Street North Melbourne

    Happily, testing has shown no cases.

    Residents at six addresses move to Stage 3 ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions at 11.59pm Thursday 9 July 2020:

    • 12 Sutton Street North Melbourne
    • 76 Canning Street North Melbourne
    • 12 Holland Court Flemington
    • 120 Racecourse Road Flemington
    • 126 Racecourse Road Flemington
    • 130 Racecourse Road Flemington

     

    5 July 2020: Extra Support For Housing Estates And Hotspot Postcodes

    • two weeks of rent relief for all tenants in locked down towers.
    • $750 hardship payment will be provided to affected households. Those who get tested will have their payments fast tracked.
    • $1500 payments to support workers who are required to self-isolate because they are diagnosed with coronavirus or they are a close contact of a confirmed case but can’t rely on sick leave when missing work.

     

    4 July 2020: Statement From The Minister For Housing Richard Wynne

    • Now, we move to making sure we provide wraparound support for people who live at these estates. That includes medical care, mental health supports as well as the basics like food and essentials. Already, we have support staff and social workers onsite to make sure no one is lacking those basic necessities.

     

    4 July 2020: Statement From The Premier Daniel Andrews

    • nine public housing estates will be closed and contained effective immediately for at least the next five days. Residents will be required to stay inside their homes. The only people coming in and out will be those providing essential services. Residents will be supported with onsite clinical care, as well as food delivery and care packages.

     

    4 July 2020: Directions issued by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer (see: Detention Directions)

    There is a separate Direction in place for each address. As each Direction may be updated at different times, please read the Directions for your address.

    • The purpose of these directions is to address the serious public health risk posed to Victoria by Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). These directions require everyone who ordinarily resides in a Detention Location to limit their interactions with others by restricting the circumstances in which they may leave the premises where they ordinarily reside.
    • You will be detained for 14 days from 3:30pm 4 July 2020 to 3:30pm 18 July 2020
    • You will be detained for a further period of 10 days if you refuse to be tested for COVID-19
    • Your detention will be reviewed at least once every 24 hours to determine whether it continues to be reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health.

    payments for lockdown tenants

    To provide immediate financial relief to households, the Victorian Government is making three Public Housing Restrictions Relief Payments.

    These payments are:

    1. rent relief for two weeks. This payment will be applied as a rental credit so that no rent payment is required for the next two weeks for all households;
    2. a one-off $750 hardship payment per household in your estate in recognition of the disruption and inconvenience that these restrictions have caused.
    3. a one-off additional $750 employment supplement per household where a resident in your household earns income from employment. Households that have previously advised DHHS that a member is employed are eligible. This will be determined through the Department’s existing records.

    Payments will be deposited directly into the tenants’ bank account. This will be the same bank account used by Services Australia to make Centrelink payments. The $750 hardship payment and $750 employment supplement is expected to be distributed to households on Friday 10 July 2020.

    To identify the payment, check your bank account and look for a deposit from “Vic_Housing” called “Housing Hardship”.

    Where households have multiple tenants on the tenancy agreement payments will be split equally between multiple tenants of a single household.

    For more information about these payments please see the Public Housing Restrictions Relief Payments Pamphlet (Word).

    If you miss work because of these restrictions, a one-off $1,500 Worker support payment may be available to you.

    information and support for tenants

    housing call centre: 1800 961 054 24 hours

    translator service: 131 450 24 hours

    Help with food and supplies, access to health care, family and mental health support, as well as alcohol and other drugs support will also be made available.

    Support will be provided on site by a dedicated community engagement and support team, which will work with health professionals, translators, community organisations and leaders, cultural support groups and police to provide support.

    information

    Public housing restrictions: information and support [DHHS website]

    Coronavirus information in your language [SBS website]: News and information in 63 languages.

    Auslan update – 10 July 2020

    Auslan update – 10 July 2020National news: • From midday today Queensland will open it’s borders to all states except Victoria. • You will be allowed to cross the border into Queensland if you haven’t been in Victoria for at least 14 days. • You will not be allowed to cross the border into Queensland if you have been in Victoria in the last 14 days, even if you live in another state. • The exception is for Queenslanders who have been in Victoria in the last 14 days. They can enter Queensland but must hotel quarantine for 14 days, which they will have to pay for themselves. • Every single person crossing the border must complete a Queensland border declaration form, including children.• Today Scott Morrison reminded Australians that while COVID-19 cases are low in many states, we still need to continue to social distance. • He stated that hugging and shaking hands is still not safe. • Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth today urged Melbournians, if you are in an environment where you cannot socially distance 1.5m, wear a face mask • He did stress that the safest thing is to remain at least 1.5m apart from others, but when this is not possible, then a mask could help stop the spread of the virus.Victorian news: • At midnight last night residents of 8 of the 9 public housing buildings in North Melbourne and Flemington were allowed to leave their homes for the first time since Saturday • These buildings are now under the same Stage 3 lock down rules as the rest of metropolitan Melbourne, meaning they can go out for the same 4 reasons. • As of yesterday 2,515 tests had been done through all 9 towers, and 159 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19.• At least 53 of the confirmed cases were found in one building, which is still under strict lock down. • Residents of this building will remain under strict lockdown for another 9 days, so that they have all been isolated for 14 days altogether.• Today Victoria’s Treasurer Tim Pallas said Victoria’s unemployment rate could peak at 11%. • The Victorian Government has announced their $534 million support package for businesses to help during this second lock down • 800,000 businesses will be eligible for a $5,000 grant • $30 million fund for hospitality businesses • $20 million for small businesses in Melbourne's CBD · Pallas also said the Victorian Government is waiting to hear if the federal government will be extending JobKeeper, saying more information was likely to come out on July 23rd.Sources:https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-10/coronavirus-queensland-border-reopen-except-to-victorians/12438210 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-09/melbourne-public-housing-towers-one-to-remain-under-lockdown/12439866 https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-10/coronavirus-lockdown-melbourne-financial-support-businesses/12441634 https://www.theaustralian.com.au/science/masks-needed-to-limit-covid19-spread/news-story/a1047016c5cce37d6a86899852c42d8f https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=203473977667193

    Posted by Expression Australia on Friday, 10 July 2020

     

    legal help for public housing tenants

     


    advice

    eviction
    rent increases
    rent reductions
    rent relief grants
    financial help

    moving out
    people coming into your rented home
    protection from violence
    restraining orders

    tenants’ responsibilities and “COVID-19 reasons”
    tenant databases or ‘blacklists’ restrictions
    VCAT applications and the Dispute Resolution Scheme
    travel bans

    other renting law changes postponed
    translations/other languages
    find out more

    related pages:
    rights of entry and COVID-19
    applying for a restraining order: COVID-19 update
    VCAT hearings and COVID-19

     

    share your story to help other renters

    did you try to get a rent reduction due to COVID-19?

    What was it like? What did you do? What helped? Any problems?

    We are looking for your honest feedback about your experience with:

    • the real estate agent
    • the landlord
    • Tenants Victoria
    • Consumer Affairs Victoria
    • mediation services
    • rent relief grants

    We will use your answers to campaign for better laws. Do the rent reduction survey.

    your experience renting during COVID-19

    Are you renting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) health emergency? Are you having any other difficulties to do with your rented home due to the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19)?

    We want to find out about anything that is negatively impacting tenants during this health emergency so we can try and change it: share your COVID-19 story (to help change the law).

    Sharing your story can make a real difference for all renters.

     

    eviction

    can I be evicted for falling behind in my rent because of COVID-19?

    No, you cannot be evicted between 29 March and 29 September 2020 for rent arrears caused by the impacts of COVID-19.

    It is important to know that if you could pay rent without it causing you hardship, VCAT may make you pay the rent, and if you refuse you could still be evicted.

    what if I get a notice to vacate?

    If you get a Notice to vacate on or after 29 March 2020, and before 29 September 2020, the notice is of no effect. This means you do not have to leave.

    what if I got a notice to vacate?

    If you got a Notice to vacate before 29 March 2020 with a termination date on or after 29 March 2020 the notice is of no effect. This means you do not have to leave.

    can I still be made to move out?

    Under the new laws, if the landlord wants you to leave they will have to apply to VCAT for a Termination Order.

    As part of the new Dispute Resolution Scheme, all disputes must go to Consumer Affairs Victoria before they can go to VCAT. Consumer Affairs Victoria decides if the dispute goes to alternative dispute resolution or to VCAT for a decision. Either way, you should have the chance to give your side of the story.

    For more information, see: VCAT applications and the Dispute Resolution Scheme.

    If the landlord lives interstate, there are constitutional limitations that prevent VCAT from helping you. You should seek legal advice from your local legal service or contact us.

    what if the case goes to VCAT?

    VCAT cannot make a Termination Order if the tenant’s failure to comply with their obligations, between 29 March 2020 and 29 September 2020, including paying rent, was due to a “COVID-19 reason”.

    See tenants’ responsibilities and “COVID-19 reasons”

    Before VCAT can make a Termination Order to end the tenancy, they must consider if it is “reasonable and proportionate”. This includes considering:

    1. the nature, frequency, duration and conduct that led to the application, including recurrent breaches of obligations
    2. whether it was trivial
    3. whether it was caused by someone other than the tenant
    4. any family violence or personal violence intervention orders or related matters
    5. whether it has been, or can be, remedied
    6. the effect of the conduct on other tenants
    7. the behaviour of the landlord or their agent
    8. whether VCAT could take any other action instead of making the order, and
    9. anything else VCAT thinks is relevant.

     

    VCAT will also need to be satisfied about a number of things. These include:

    if the tenant:

    • caused damage
    • caused danger
    • was threatening or intimidating
    • was violent, on certain properties
    • didn’t comply with an existing VCAT compliance or compensation order
    • has failed to comply with their obligations under their agreement, including not paying rent when they could have without experiencing severe hardship
    • assigned/sublet without consent
    • kept a pet after VCAT had made an order for it to be excluded (removed)
    • used the property for an illegal purpose

    if the property:

    • is destroyed or unfit to live in

    if the landlord:

    • is selling
    • needs to move (or their family)

    and for public housing properties:

    • eligibility for public housing
    • drug offences e.g. trafficking, supplying, cultivating etc
    • indictable offences
    • repairs, renovations, rebuilding that can’t be done with a tenant in the property, or if the property needs to be demolished
    • is needed for a public purpose.

    what if VCAT makes a termination order?

    If VCAT makes a Termination Order, it must include a date when the tenancy ends.

    If you do not leave by the date in the Termination Order, the landlord cannot evict you unless VCAT has made a Possession Order.

    If VCAT made a Possession Order before 29 March 2020, the landlord cannot use this to evict you unless VCAT could have made the same order under the new laws. If your landlord has a possession order that was made before 29 March 2020 and is threatening to evict you, you should seek legal advice from your local legal service or contact us.

    minimum number of days until the tenancy ends

    The number of days until the tenancy ends depends on the reason for the Termination Order. There is a minimum number of days for each reason. It will be up to VCAT to decide when your tenancy should end, but it cannot be earlier than the minimum number of days required.

    If you need more than the minimum number of days you should ask for this at the hearing, and give evidence to show reasons why you need more time, before any final Order is made.

     

    The end date (termination date) can be the same date that VCAT makes the order for these reasons:

    a tenant

    • caused damage
    • caused danger
    • was violent, on certain properties

    the property

    • is destroyed or unfit to live in.

     

    The end date (termination date) must be at least 14 days (or more) after the date VCAT makes the order for these reasons:

    a tenant

    • was threatening or intimidating
    • didn’t comply with an existing VCAT compensation or compliance order
    • assigned/sublet without consent
    • used the property for an illegal purpose
    • indictable offences (for public housing tenants)
    • drug offences e.g. trafficking, supplying, cultivating etc (for public housing tenants)
    • misled the landlord about their eligibility for public housing (for public housing tenants)

     

    The end date (termination date) must be at least 28 days (or more) after the date VCAT makes the order for these reasons:

    a tenant

    • has failed to comply with their obligations under their agreement, including not paying rent when they could have without experiencing severe hardship
    • kept a pet after VCAT had made an order for it to be excluded (removed)

     

    The end date (termination date) must be at least 30 days (or more) after the date VCAT makes the order for this reason:

    • a tenant in a public housing property, provided as transitional housing, has refused to seek, or refused to accept an offer for, alternative accommodation if the landlord has published requirements for this

     

    The end date (termination date) must be at least 60 days (or more) after the date VCAT makes the order for these reasons:

    the landlord

    • is selling
    • needs to move in (or their family)

    for public housing properties

    • repairs, renovations, rebuilding that can’t be done with a tenant in the property, or if the property needs to be demolished.
    • the property is needed for a public purpose

     

    The end date (termination date) must be at least 90 days (or more) after the date VCAT makes the order for this reason:

    • no longer eligible for public housing

     

    illegal evictions

    If the landlord or agent does not follow all the steps in the law, if they threaten to evict you or if they attempt to illegally evict you, you can write a letter to the landlord to refrain from breaching your rights.

    You can use one of the example letters below and fill in details about your specific situation:

    6 month ban on rent increases

    can my rent be increased?

    No, the landlord is not allowed to increase the rent for six months from 29 March 2020.

    If you get a Notice of rent increase, or a rent increase starts, on or after 29 March 2020, it is not valid.

    The landlord can increase the rent after the COVID-19 laws end, but only within the terms of your lease and the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. If the landlord gives you a Notice of Rent Increase after the COVID-19 laws end, and you think the increase is not reasonable, you can challenge the rent increase with Consumer Affairs Victoria (see rent increases).

    rent reductions

    The Regulations accompanying the new COVID-19 laws about rent reductions have now been released and include details of a Dispute Resolution Scheme that tenants will be able to access if they cannot get a reduction from the landlord.

    how do I get a rent reduction?

    The first step is to contact your landlord and try to make an agreement about rent reduction.

    rent reduction letters

    If you need help to write to the landlord or agent to reduce your rent, try one of our example letters.

    Letter to the real estate agent:

    Letter to the landlord:

    Or see:

    rent reduction agreement

    It is really important that you get any agreement about rent reduction in writing. So you may also want to include a rent reduction agreement with your letter.

    For an example agreement, see: temporary rent reduction agreement [doc, 53kb].

    All you need to do is fill in the details so it’s ready for the landlord to sign. And make sure you keep a copy for yourself before you send it to the landlord or agent.

    if I get an agreement to reduce the rent, what do I do next?

    The next step is to register the agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

    This will help secure your agreement, and will also allow you to apply for a rent relief grant (if you are eligible), and the landlord to apply for any land tax discounts available to them.

    what if I can’t get an agreement?

    If you cannot reach an agreement with the landlord, you can register with Consumer Affairs Victoria who will help you reach an agreement or refer you and the landlord to mediation by the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria.

    For more information see: guide to the process for rent reduction [CAV website].

    what happens if I’m referred to mediation?

    If you and the landlord cannot reach an agreement with help from Consumer Affairs Victoria, they will refer you to mediation (conciliation) by the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV).

    If the DSCV accepts the dispute as suitable for mediation, they will send you an email with the time and date for the mediation and other important information about the process. This may include an example of the type of agreement that could be made during the mediation and guide to conciliations:

    Before the mediation a Dispute Assessment Officer will contact you to make sure you are ready for the mediation and to talk about what to expect. They may ask you to provide extra information that will assist at the mediation, for example, details and evidence of your financial situation.

    TIP: Before the mediation you should put together a realistic budget of all of your expenses, debts, etc., work out how much rent you can afford and the amount you want the rent reduced.

    how does the mediation work?

    The mediation will be a phone conference. You will be able to talk to the mediator and the landlord at the same time. And you will have an opportunity to ask the landlord questions. You will also have the opportunity to talk privately with the mediator, without the landlord on the line, if needed. The phone conference can be put on hold for you to consider any agreements being offered before you decide whether to accept or reject them.

    TIP: Make sure you have all your paperwork and your budget in front of you during the mediation, along with a calculator in case you need to make some calculations on any offers made by the landlord.

    If you and the landlord reach an agreement, the mediator will put it in writing during the mediation and give a copy to you and the landlord.

    You can then register the agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria to allow you to apply for a rent relief grant (if you are eligible).

    For more information, see:

    will I be allowed to have a lawyer or support person at my mediation?

    Consumer Affairs Victoria has published some information for tenants about having a support person help you to negotiate a rent reduction [CAV website, 19 May 2020]:

    The service is designed to be simple and easily accessible to most tenants. You do not need a lawyer or other advisor to get a positive outcome, and the process is designed to be fair for all parties.

    We recognise that you may need additional support to represent your interests or communicate details about the hardship you face as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19), and that person may be with you or represent you at any stage. You should make sure you both understand what they are authorised to say or agree to on your behalf.

    Examples where this may be appropriate include:

    ~You need a translator – please call the free translation service on 1300 405 282 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday – except public holidays.)

    ~A financial counsellor is working with you on a number of financial matters, including your ability to pay rent

    ~A tenancy agency is helping you

    ~You have sought advice from a community legal centre due to the complexity of your situation.

    what if I can’t get an agreement after mediation?

    If you still cannot come to an agreement after mediation, under the Dispute Resolution Scheme your rental dispute will be sent to the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer who will decide:

    • whether to make an order for a rent reduction, or
    • if you can apply to VCAT for orders to reduce the rent and/or enter into a payment plan.

    For more information, see: Binding dispute resolution orders [CAV website].

    will I have to pay the rest later?

    If you make an agreement for a rent reduction you only need to pay the reduced amount for the time of the agreement. At the end of the agreement, you will pay your full rent, but you should not have to pay any more than that.

    If you make an agreement to delay or defer rent payments, you may pay a reduced amount or no rent for the time of the agreement. Then you will need to pay the deferred amount back when the agreement is over.

    Tenants experiencing hardship should NOT accept rent deferrals.

    what if the landlord will only agree to defer, but not reduce, my rent?

    Important: You do not have to agree to have your rent delayed/deferred instead of reduced if this does not suit your financial circumstances. It is important that you do not end up with a rent debt that you later may not be able to repay.

    You also do not have to agree that your rights will be reduced in exchange for a rent reduction, for example: if the landlord only agrees to a reduction in exchange for you not asking for repairs.

    If you cannot come to an agreement that suits your financial circumstances, or your landlord will only agree if you agree to your rights being reduced, or it’s taking too long to get an agreement, you should apply to Consumer Affair Victoria to start the dispute resolution process.

    This process is designed to help you.

    rent relief grants

    The Victorian Government has established a rent relief grant for Victorians experiencing rental hardship due to COVID-19.

    The rent relief grant itself is not part of the new laws, but it is related to them. To be able to access the grant you will first need to follow the steps of the rent reduction process, and have your agreement registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

    how is it paid?

    The rent relief grant can only be used to pay for rent. If you are assessed as eligible, the grant will be paid directly to the landlord or agent.

    how much is paid?

    The maximum grant is $2,000 over 6 months, but not everyone will be eligible for the full amount. The grant is designed to reduce your rent down to 30% of your income (before tax) where possible, but nothing more.

    example – full grant payable

    • Alex had his income reduced from $1,000 a week to $750.00 a week due to COVID-19.
    • He and the landlord agreed the rent, which was $380 a week, would be reduced to $320 a week for 6 months.
    • But even with this reduction Alex is paying more than 30% of his income in rent. To be paying 30% of his income, Alex’s rent needs to be $225 per week ($95 less than the amount he and the landlord agreed on).
    • The maximum grant available for Alex is $2,000, which over 6 months is $77 a week.
    • Alex is eligible for the entire $2,000, but no more. The grant will be paid directly to the landlord and will cover $77 of Alex’s rent, but he will have to pay the rest himself, even if it is still more than 30% of his income.

    example – part grant payable

    • Sally has the same weekly income as Alex, reduced to $750 a week because of COVID-19.
    • Her rent was $320 a week, but she and the landlord came to an agreement that this would be reduced to $270 a week for 6 months.
    • $270 a week a still more than 30% of Sally’s income. To be paying 30% of her income, Sally’s rent needs to be $225 per week ($45 less than the amount she and the landlord agreed on).
    • Sally is eligible for a grant, but not the full $2,000. The amount Sally will receive is the amount needed to bring her rent down to 30% of her income.  The grant paid to her landlord on her behalf will be $1170 to cover $45 towards her rent every week for 6 months.

    am I eligible?

    To be eligible for a rent relief grant you must have all of these:

    1. have registered a reduced rent agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria
      Note: You are not eligible for a grant if the landlord only defers your rent (to be paid back later) instead of reducing it.
    2. have had your work hours/pay/turnover reduced by 20% or more due to COVID-19
      Note: This must have happened on or after 11 March 2020 and you must have been at or over 16 years of age.
    3. have income less than $1,903.85 per week or $99,000 per year (before tax)
      Note: The only income excluded is the one-off Economic Support payment of $750 and early access to superannuation under COVID-19 arrangements. All other income is included, for example: wages/JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other Centrelink benefits, payments and allowances, income from assets/investments and interest on savings.
    4. pay more than 30% of your income (before tax) in rent
      Note: For this calculation you must use the reduced rent in your agreement registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.
    5. have less than $5,000 in cash and savings (excluding superannuation and fixed-term deposits)

    what if I have a partner or live in a share-house?

    Singles: If you rent with others, each single person whose name is on the lease, can receive one grant each (up to $2000 per person). To work out if you are eligible you only need to count your share of the rent, your own savings, your own income, and the reduction in your own work/pay/turnover. This means you may be eligible for a grant for your share of the rent even if your housemates aren’t experiencing rental hardship and don’t need to apply for a grant.

    Couples: If you are a couple, you can receive only one grant (up to $2000 per couple) not one each. So to work out if you are eligible you need to count your combined rent, combined income and combined savings. However you can still apply for a grant if only one of you has a reduction in work/pay/turnover due to COVID-19, and/or only one of you has their name on the lease or the reduced rent agreement registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

    what if I’m not a citizen or permanent resident?

    You do not have to be an Australian citizen or permanent resident to be able to apply.

    Anyone can apply. This includes casual workers on holiday and working visas, skilled visas, seasonal workers, New Zealand citizens and all refugee and temporary protection visas.

    find out more

    To check if you are eligible and to apply, go to: Rent Relief Grant [DHHS website]
    For more information see: Coronavirus (COVID-19) rent relief grant [HOUSING.vic.gov.au].
    For the nitty gritty see: COVID-19 Rental Relief Grants Operational Guidelines [FAC website]

    financial help

    accessing your super

    Landlords and real estate agents should not be asking tenants to access their superannuation to pay rent.

    Have you received a letter or email from the real estate agent advising you to access your super? Financial advice must only be provided by qualified and licensed financial advisers, or financial counsellors.

    3 April 2020: ASIC has written a letter to the real estate institutes in each state outlining concerns about some real estate agents who are advising tenants to apply for early release of their superannuation. ASIC letter – Unlicensed financial advice by real estate agents to tenants.

    If you are thinking about accessing your superannuation, we strongly recommend you get financial advice first. You are not required to access your superannuation to pay your rent.

    If you are having trouble paying your rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you cannot get the landlord or agent to agree to reduce your rent, you can register with Consumer Affairs Victoria to get a rent reduction and then you can apply for a rent relief grant.

    financial help

    For help, see Moneysmart (COVID-19) [Gov website].
    You can talk to a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

    For payments, see: financial help [Centrelink website]
    You may be able to apply for a one-off crisis payment [Centrelink website].
    Also see: Financial help for private renters [HOUSING.vic.gov.au]
    or: Discount, loans and concessions for public tenants [HOUSING.vic.gov.au]

    For no-interest no-fee loans, see Household relief [website]
    For concessions on energy bills, see Energy [DHHS website]
    For concessions due to unexpected hardship, see Hardship [DHHS website]

    Private Rental Brokerage Program (PRAP) provides financial and practical assistance to establish and maintain private rental tenancies for people who are homeless or those who are at risk of homelessness, who are able to maintain private rental, or who are in private rental and need targeted time limited assistance to maintain their private rental.

    Housing Establishment Funds (HEF) helps individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness to access emergency or alternative housing options, such as registered rooming houses, hotels/motels and caravan parks.

    People experiencing or at risk of homelessness can call the toll free homelessness hotline on 1800 825 955. This number will direct the call to the closest homelessness entry point, or if the call is outside business hours, it will be directed to the After Hours service.

    moving out

    can I move house during Stay at Home orders?

    Yes. See: Stay at home: Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire (moving)

    can I move out?

    The new laws, which will apply for six months from 29 March 2020, previously contained an error preventing many tenants from giving a notice of intention to vacate to move out of their homes.

    This error has now been fixed with the introduction of the Regulations, on 12 May 2020, which reinstates the usual rights tenants have under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to give a notice of intention to vacate.

    This means you have the right give a notice of intention to vacate with no less than 28 days’ notice, if the vacate date in your notice is on or after the end date in your lease (end of the fixed-term).

    It also means you have the right to give a notice of intention to vacate with a reduced notice period of no less than 14 days to end your lease for these reasons:

    • you need special care
    • you have received and accepted an offer of public housing or housing from a registered housing agency
    • you need to move into temporary crisis accommodation
    • you live in special disability accommodation and the landlord’s registration to provide this accommodation has been revoked.

    The new laws also add two more reasons that you can give a notice of intention to vacate with a reduced notice period of no less than 14 days to end your lease:

    • you are suffering severe hardship
      for example: severe hardship due to family violence/personal violence
      for example: severe financial hardship
      or
    • the landlord has made an application to VCAT to terminate the tenancy.

    Even though you have the right to leave early if the landlord applies for a termination order, it’s important to note that you are not required to move out. VCAT must consider if it is reasonable and proportionate before they can make an order to terminate the tenancy. For more information see eviction.

    what is a notice of intention to vacate?

    A notice of intention to vacate is simply a letter or email to the landlord that states the date you will be leaving. The notice must be in writing and must include the date you’ll be moving out.

    While the COVID-19 Emergency laws are in place if you are leaving for any of the six reasons with a reduced notice period (14 days) it’s a good idea to use this form: Notice to landlord of rented premises [CAV website].

    When you get to: 10. Reason for notice (in the form):

    • choose one of the six options below,
    • copy and paste it (including the numbers) into the box for number 10, and
    • fill in the date you will be leaving.

     

    545 –intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 39)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because I am suffering severe hardship.

    OR

    545 –intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 39)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because you have given me notice of an application to terminate my tenancy agreement.

    OR

    237(1)–intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 34)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because I require special or personal care and need to vacate the premises to obtain this care.

    OR

    237(1)–intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 34)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because I have been offered and accepted accommodation from the Director of public housing or a registered housing agency.

    OR

    237(1)–intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 34)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because I require temporary crisis accommodation and need to vacate the premises in order to obtain that accommodation.

    OR

    237(1)–intention to vacate (as amended by Regulation 34)

    I am giving you at least 14 days notice that I intend to vacate the premises on _ / _ / _ because I am a special disability accommodation resident and your registration to provide this accommodation has been revoked.

    can I leave on the end date of my lease?

    If you intend to move out on the date that the fixed term ends, you still have to give written notice. This is because when a fixed-term agreement expires, it automatically continues as a periodic agreement (month to month) until either you give notice or VCAT makes a termination order.

    can I leave before the end of my lease?

    If you need to leave for any of the reasons listed for 14-day notices, you have the right to give a notice of intention to vacate with the reduced notice period of 14 days at any time before the end of your lease.

    do I have to pay to leave early?

    A landlord cannot claim compensation or ask you to pay lease-break fees if you give a notice of intention to vacate for any of the reasons listed for 14-day notices (and in cases involving family violence or personal violence intervention orders).

    is there a way to reduce my fixed-term lease?

    If you are in a fixed-term lease and you are not sure your situation would allow you to give a 14-day notice of intention to vacate, you can apply to VCAT to ask that your tenancy agreement be reduced.

    Before making a decision VCAT will need to be satisfied that you would suffer severe hardship if the agreement isn’t reduced. VCAT will take into account both the hardship you may suffer if the agreement cannot be reduced and the hardship the landlord may suffer if it is reduced.

    If your fixed term agreement is reduced by VCAT, you will not be liable for any lease breaking costs.

    For more information see:

    people coming into your rented home


    protection from violence

    can I leave during Stay at Home orders?

    Yes. See: Stay at home: Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire (safety)

    new family violence and personal violence protections

    Victim-survivors of family violence and personal violence will be able to apply to VCAT to get a lease in their name (excluding a perpetrator) or remove themselves from a lease and also protect themselves from the debt created by the perpetrator due to damage to the property or unpaid rent.

    Applications by victim-survivors will be heard within 3 days to help protect them.

    intervention orders

    An intervention order is a court order to protect a person, their children and their property from another person’s behaviour.

    If you experience violence from a family member, partner or ex-partner, you can apply for a:

    Specialist family violence services remain open during the outbreak of COVID-19. There are also additional resources available online to support people during this time. See:

    If you experience violence from the landlord or any other person, you can apply for a:

    restraining orders

    A Restraining Order made by VCAT can prohibit or restrict the landlord or agent from entering the premises or contacting you and it can be enforced by the police. It is an offence for the landlord or agent to breach a Restraining Order and they can be prosecuted. See:

    tenants’ responsibilities and “COVID-19 reasons”

    what if I can’t fulfil my usual responsibilities because of COVID-19?

    While the COVID-19 pandemic continues there may be circumstances where you cannot, or it’s not reasonably practical for you to, comply with all of your usual obligations and responsibilities under your lease or the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. These include:

    • if you are ill (whether or not due to COVID-19)
    • complying with laws, directions and recommendations relating to COVID-19, and the control of COVID-19
    • you will suffer severe hardship if you do comply, or
    • there is an exceptional circumstance relating to COVID that makes it not possible, or practical, to comply.

    If you are unable to comply because of a “COVID-19” reason between 29 March 2020 and 26 September 2020 you will not be in breach of your agreement or your duties under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

    Note: This change also applies to landlords, and their duties under the agreement and the Act.

    tenant databases or ‘blacklists’ restrictions

    can the landlord blacklist me if I can’t pay my rent?

    No, you cannot be ‘blacklisted’ for rent arrears caused by the impacts of COVID-19. If the landlord lists you on a tenant database for this reason, you can get the listing removed. See: tenant databases and ‘blacklists’.

    VCAT applications and the Dispute Resolution Scheme

    changes to applying to VCAT – the Dispute Resolution Scheme

    The Regulations accompanying the new COVID-19 laws have now been released and include details of a Dispute Resolution Scheme which changes the way you apply to VCAT.

    how does the Dispute Resolution Scheme work?

    If you have a dispute with the landlord, before you apply to VCAT, you need to register with Consumer Affairs Victoria. This applies for all disputes, not just rent reductions or terminations.

    Consumer Affairs Victoria must assess all disputes and applications to VCAT and decide if they should be referred to:

    To apply to VCAT, you need a reference number from Consumer Affairs Victoria.

    how do I get a reference number for my VCAT application?

    The first step is to register the details of your dispute with Consumer Affairs Victoria:

    If Consumer Affairs Victoria decide that the dispute can go to VCAT, they will give you a reference number to include in your VCAT application.

    TIP: You should include the reference number from Consumer Affairs Victoria in your VCAT application and in any emails or letters you send to VCAT about your application.

    what if it’s urgent?

    If you need to make an urgent application to VCAT, for example:

    • you are experiencing family violence and need urgent termination or creation orders for your lease (section 233A of the Act)
    • you need an urgent hearing and orders to allow you to end a fixed term tenancy early due to severe hardship (section 543 of the Act)

    you should fill in this form: Rental dispute initial assessment [CAV website] to alert Consumer Affairs Victoria that your dispute is urgent. You will need to select the appropriate option for your dispute and enter your details and the landlord’s details.

    If Consumer Affairs Victoria requires further information they will contact you, but if no further information is needed you should be given a reference number to include in your VCAT application so you can apply to VCAT straight away.

    For other urgent applications to VCAT, for example:

    • you are being threatened with illegal eviction and need a restraining order
    • your rights are being interfered with and you need an urgent restraining order
    • urgent repairs are required at the property
    • you need an urgent hearing for a dispute relating to a different type of accommodation, such as a caravan park or rooming house

    you will need to fill in this form: Coronavirus (COVID-19) rental agreement or dispute [CAV website]. Consumer Affairs Victoria may need to assess your dispute in more detail before issuing a reference number. In these circumstances Tenants Victoria recommends you call Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 558 181 and request they give you a reference number over the phone to allow you to make an urgent application.

    TIP: We recommend you have your VCAT application ready so you can lodge it with VCAT as soon as Consumer Affairs Victoria gives you a reference number.

    what is alternative dispute resolution?

    Alternative dispute resolution includes:

    • mediation or conciliation to come to an agreement, or agree to have orders made, or
    • making binding orders, if fair and reasonable, either with or without mediation or conciliation.

    For more information about what’s involved, see:

    what disputes go to alternative dispute resolution?

    All payment-related disputes must be referred for alternative dispute resolution for further assessment, for example: a dispute about a rent reduction where the tenant and landlord can’t come to an agreement, or an application for termination for rent arrears where the arrears are due to COVID-19.

    what disputes go to VCAT?

    If a dispute is not payment related, and suitable for VCAT to hear, Consumer Affairs Victoria will provide a reference number and VCAT will be able to hear the dispute.

    This will happen if Consumer Affairs Victoria assesses:

    • a dispute is not suitable for alternative dispute resolution, or later found to be no longer be suitable, or
    • it’s not appropriate for an order to be made through the dispute resolution process, or
    • an order is made, but is later breached.

    what if a termination application for rent arrears goes to VCAT without alternative dispute resolution?

    In limited cases, where a tenant could clearly pay rent and has not, rent arrears disputes may go straight to VCAT without first going through alternative dispute resolution.

    However, all disputes have to be assessed by Consumer Affairs Victoria to obtain a referral number.

    Tenants Victoria believe that it is not appropriate for VCAT to make orders about rent arrears until the dispute goes through alternative dispute resolution.

    If the landlord’s application for termination due to rent arrears goes straight to VCAT without alternative dispute resolution, and you believe it would cause you severe hardship to pay the full rent or rent arrears, then we suggest you:

    • contact VCAT before the hearing to ask for the dispute be referred to Consumer Affairs Victoria for alternative dispute resolution before it can be heard by VCAT, or
    • attend the hearing and ask for the landlord’s application to be “struck out” and for the dispute to be referred to Consumer Affairs Victoria for alternative dispute resolution
    • register a dispute with Consumer Affairs Victoria for a rent reduction and/or an application to VCAT under section 540 of the Act for orders for a rent reduction by completing this form: Coronavirus (COVID-19) rental agreement or dispute [CAV website]. Note: you should contact Consumer Affairs Victoria and let them know your application is urgent and that the landlord has applied for a termination order for rent arrears.
    • see: rent reduction.

    If VCAT does not refer the dispute for alternative dispute resolution, you should:

    If VCAT does not adjourn (postpone) the hearing, you should:

    • ask VCAT to order a payment plan (one that you can afford) instead of terminating your lease. For more information see rent arrears.

    evidence for the hearing

    You will need to provide evidence of your financial circumstances for the VCAT hearing. VCAT sets out the information they require if you apply for a rent reduction under section 540 of the Act, and this is a good indication of the type of evidence VCAT may require for any applications and hearings about rent arrears: Financial circumstances statement in support of a rent reduction application [VCAT website].

    termination orders

    The Dispute Resolution Scheme has been established to help tenants and landlords come to workable solutions on rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic where tenants may be experiencing severe hardship and unable to pay their rent. However, if you have stopped paying your rent, but you could pay it without experiencing severe hardship, VCAT could make orders terminating your lease.

    changes to VCAT hearings

    Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has changed how it operates to comply with COVID-19 restrictions. All VCAT venues are closed to the public and and many non-urgent or non-critical cases may not be listed within the usual timeframes or may be adjourned (postponed).

    VCAT is still hearing some cases about rented homes (known as the Residential Tenancies List) by phone.

    For tips on phone hearings and sample emails, see:

    For the latest information from VCAT, see:

    For information about how this may affect any application or hearing that you are involved with, contact VCAT:

    travel bans

    See translated information on Consumer Affairs Victoria website:

     

    The coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused some tenants to be unable to freely travel or to fulfil their contractual obligations. It has also given rise to potential discrimination and exploitation of the situation for financial gain.

    Tenants Victoria is committed to supporting and advocating for all Tenants in the State of Victoria to have access to housing that is fair, safe and dignified, and to assist parties to resolve their dispute professional and efficiently.

    common situations arising from the coronavirus travel bans

    Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected people in varying ways, but people and families that have travelled to and from China since 1 February 2020 are especially affected, as there are numerous Quarantine procedures and protocols being implemented in Australia, China and abroad.

    These protocols mean that some tenants will need to return home and end or break their tenancy lease, while other who were expecting to be able start a new lease will not be able to. Tenants and potential tenants may be unfairly treated for various reasons because of misconceptions about the virus or its epidemiology.

    International students are a tenancy group that is expected to be significantly affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

    Below are a few common situations that students/tenants might may encounter:

     

    I signed up for a residential tenancy agreement in Victoria, but now I cannot travel to Australia

    Step 1: The first thing you need to work out is whether you have actually entered into a binding agreement.

    Step 2: Secondly, if you have entered into an agreement, you need to work out what sort of agreement have you entered into.

    If you have entered into a Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997 Agreement, then you need to choose from four main options:

    1) Terminate by lease by mutual agreement

    Try to terminate the lease by agreement. This may involve agreement to pay a lump sum of some amount of your discretion. If the landlord has any bond or rent money, they don’t have an automatic right just to keep this money, so you can challenge them by going to VCAT.

    2) Assignment (transferring your lease to someone else with consent of landlord or Order from VCAT)

    Do you know anyone in Australia that could take over the lease for you? You can request to transfer your lease to someone else with the written consent of the landlord. If they refuse, you can either apply to VCAT (section 82, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997), or raise this as a factor that the landlord has failed to mitigate loss if they allege you have broken the lease.

    3) Reduction of Fixed Term Tenancy

    You can write an email to the landlord telling them you intend to apply to VCAT to reduce your tenancy due to unforeseen circumstances. You will need to outline what has happened in your particular situation that means you need to end the lease. You should apply as soon as possible as time is of the essence to reduce your liability. We would recommend that you apply to VCAT and send an email at the same time.

    4) Break your lease

    The final option is simple to write a letter indicating the reasons you are breaking your lease. You should confirm that you no longer wish to proceed with the lease and that you do not intend to collect the keys. You should clearly remind the landlord that they should relet the premises as soon as possible.

     

    I am in a fixed term lease, but need to unexpectedly return home for family reasons.

    This is similar to any other lease breaking situation where something unforeseen has happened.

     

    I am an international student and have paid a deposit but haven’t signed the contract

    It is important to recognise that you can enter a lease agreement in many ways. This can be done orally (which can be harder prove), by click wrap (accepting terms and conditions on a website or app), by email exchange back and forth, or by entering into a written agreement.

    The general principle an agreement is made of is a clear offer and clear acceptance. An offer must include all essential terms and be clearly accepted without further condition by the other party. If this does not occur then this is not a “true meeting of the minds” and parties are still in negotiations. Any money paid in the course of negotiations in good faith in an effort to secure the right to negotiate, is then a hold or application deposit, and subject to section 50, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997.

    It is common for people to respond to ads, and in many cases agents will indicate that your application “has been accepted’, but a lease has still not been entered into.

    Sometimes, the question of whether you have entered into the lease or not is unclear, and will have to be determined by VCAT. Generally, a tenant will allege the money is a holding deposit, and the landlord will allege the tenant has broken their lease. This will be a matter for VCAT to determine.

    What to do to get a holding deposit back?

    To apply for any money back (other than bonds), all you need to do is apply to VCAT under section 210, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997, using this application:

     

    The burden to prove if a contract has been entered into or not, will be based on the person that applies to the Tribunal.

    In other words, if you apply to VCAT seeking your holding deposit, you will need to prove that no agreement was reached. Equally, if the landlord is seeking to make you pay more money for breaking the lease, they will need to prove a contract was entered into.

     

    I am an international student currently in student housing, but needs to break my lease

    Firstly, it is important to determine if you are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997. The main exemption that relates to student housing is section 21, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997: Educational institutions. While many providers claim not to be covered by the Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997, the requirements to be exempt from the Act are onerous. Generally, the accommodation must be part of a specific learning institution or have formal affiliations with a particular institution, and are used primarily to accommodate students of that institution. Formal affiliations requires a written agreement between the accommodation provider

    Even if the exemption under section 21 applies, the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 still applies, and in fact, this may have some benefits.

    Breaking a lease in student accommodation can have more economic risks that breaking an ordinary lease. There are three main reasons for this; Firstly, student housing generally can only be let to enrolled students; Secondly, once semester has started, there is less movement or demand for students moving into mid-way through semester, meaning there is less demand; Thirdly, in some student accommodation where there are high vacancies. The law is unclear whether the landlord needs to let out your vacant room as a priority, or whether they are legally entitled to rent out other vacant rooms first.

    The processes available for breaking the lease as the same as any other lease breaking situations. However, where you need to lease the rented premises, it is strongly advisable to consider making an application for reduction of fixed term tenancy as compared to simply breaking your lease.

     

    I live in a share house and one of my housemates has had to leave

    When people are on a lease together, this is called being co-tenants. Co-tenants are jointly and severally liable. This continues even if someone leaves. If co-tenants wants to change who is a tenant, this process is called assignment. See section 81-84, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997.

    For more information see Shared Households and Assignment.

    Note: Tenants Victoria does not advise in relation to co-tenant disputes.

    However, if one co-tenant needs to leave due to family needs or other health reasons, it may be in everyone’s interest to determine if the household needs to end the lease, or whether the tenant’s interest can be assigned.

    Assignment can be done in two ways; it can be done to reduce the number of people (and the remaining rent obligations are increased amongst the co-tenants), or a substitute tenants can be found. The latter being the best options but this is not always easy with respect to time. It is possible to reduce the number and then later do another assignment when the new tenant is found. This is likely the neatest option if someone is not immediately available. It is up to the co-tenants to decide.

    It is important that the affected tenant is involved in the assignment, because without releasing the person, it will be very difficult to do future assignments, and it is unlikely the person will contribute to pay the rent anyway.

    If they are not released and no one covers this share of rent, or the exiting person refuses to continue to pay their share, rent arrears will accrue. If more than 14 days worth arrears accrues, the landlord can give you a Notice to Vacate (see Avoiding Eviction for Rent Arrears).

    What if I have been discriminated against because of my race, nationality or disability?

    If you believe that you have been treated unfairly because of your nationality or a disability you have, you can raise this complaint with the Victoria Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (VHREOC).

    This is a free service that can facilitate conciliation and assist parties to reach their own agreements. If the conciliation is unsuccessful or parties wish to, they can apply to VCAT under the Equal Opportunity list [VCAT website].

    What if I paid a bond, does it still have to be lodged with the RTBA?

    All monies paid as bonds, must be lodged with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA), even if tenancy did not commence (section 406, Residential Tenancies Act (Vic) 1997 ). In others words, if you paid a bond and had to cancel the lease (unless the money is immediately refunded to you), the landlord must lodge the money with the RTBA.

    It is unlawful for a landlord to simple take a bond in lieu of any debt without lodging it, regardless of whether you have broken your lease or are alleged to owe them money. If you landlord is refusing to lodge a bond, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria immediately.

    If you don’t know if you bond has been lodged, you can call the RTBA on 1300 137 164 and provide you name and the proposed rental address.

    other renting law changes postponed

    Most of the other, pending changes to the Victorian laws on renting: Residential Tenancies Act 1997, which were set to begin on 1 July 2020, will now be delayed until 1 January 2021 (this includes minimum standards, mandatory pre-disclosure, safety standards, and more). See: law changes.

    Family violence protections will not be deferred. For details on new family violence protections, see: protection from violence.

    translations/other languages

    find out more

    Legal advice:

    Financial support:

    Crisis accommodation:

    • If you are at risk of homelessness as a result of being evicted, there are many services which may be able to assist. See Getting help [DHHS website]

    For the latest information on the state of emergency in Victoria, see:

    For the latest information on coronavirus (COVID-19), see:

    If you are feeling unwell, see:

    For employment changes, see:

    For travel restrictions, see:

    For news on legal rights and support for renters, see:

    This information is a guide only and should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.

    need more help?

    contact us


    Tenants Victoria | Published: February 2020 | Modified: July 2020
    Tenants advice line 03 9416 2577 | tenantsvic.org.au
    Tenants Victoria acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

    Tenants Victoria acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.