Advice is general in nature, consult a legal practitioner for your specific circumstances.

Rent arrears

Rent is usually paid in advance. In most cases rent is paid on the same date each month to cover the month ahead. If you do not pay rent on time, then each day after the due date is counted as one day overdue or in ‘arrears’.

COVID-19 update

If you can’t pay your rent due to the impacts of COVID-19 (for example you have lost your job, or your pay has been cut) the landlord cannot ask you to leave. See: Eviction (COVID-19 guide for renters).

Ways to avoid getting into rent arrears

If you are on a low income or a pension or benefit, it can be easier to pay your rent on time if you pay in fortnightly instalments whenever you receive your income. However, many tenancy agreements require that the rent be paid monthly. If you want to pay your rent every two weeks instead of monthly, you should try to get approval from the landlord or real estate agent.

If you receive a pension or benefit you may be able to have your rent deducted and paid directly using Centrepay, which is administered by Centrelink. For more information about Centrepay you should contact Centrelink.

If you have your rent paid by Centrepay then it is up to you to cancel the payments when you move out. You also need to make sure that you adjust the amount of the final rent payment if you are moving out before the next payment is due.

Rent receipts should include the period for which the rent is paid. This should tell you what date the rent is paid up to. You should ask for a rent receipt whenever you pay your rent. If you are not sure when your rent is paid up to you should contact the landlord or real estate agent and ask for a copy of your rent payment record (often called a rent ledger).

During the COVID-19 emergency measures, until March 2021, if your circumstances have been affected by the pandemic you can ask the landlord or agent for a rent reduction. You may also be eligible for a government Rent Relief Grant. See our step by step guide.

What to do if you get into rent arrears

If you get into rent arrears and you are unable to make a payment, contact the landlord or real estate agent as soon as possible and tell them when you will be paying.

If you cannot pay the arrears in one payment, you should offer to pay them off over time (e.g. an extra $20 per week). Don’t offer to pay more than you can afford. Make the offer in writing and keep a copy—even if the landlord or agent doesn’t accept your offer, you can use your letter as evidence that you tried to resolve the problem.

If you need help to write a letter to the landlord, see:
Dear Landlord: Self-help tools for private renters who have fallen behind in rent or are worried they might miss a payment. [Justice Connect website]

If you need help to make a payment plan you can talk to a financial counsellor by calling the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.

There are also housing services that may be able to give you financial assistance if you are in rent arrears. You can find these services on 1800 825 955 (24 hours toll free).

Note that if you can’t pay your rent due to the impacts of COVID-19, for example you have lost your job or your pay has been cut, the landlord cannot ask you to leave.

See our  Eviction (COVID-19 guide for renters) page.

What to do if you get a notice to vacate

The Victorian Government has temporarily banned notices to vacate if you are behind in rent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, until 28 March 2021. See our  Eviction (COVID-19 guide for renters) page.

If you are 14 days in arrears, the landlord can give you a 14-day Notice to Vacate. The 14 days in arrears could be consecutive days, or the 14 days could have gradually added up over time if you have short paid your rent over a number of weeks or months.  Whichever way the arrears have added up, you must be 14 full days behind in your rent before the landlord can give you a Notice to Vacate.

You can only be given a Notice to Vacate for rent that is overdue. You cannot be given a Notice to Vacate for not paying your rent in advance. If you are not 14 days in rent arrears at the time that you receive the Notice to Vacate then the notice is invalid.

Eviction procedure for rent arrears

If the landlord or agent rejects your offer or you are unable to make any payments, the landlord must follow the proper legal procedure if they want to evict you.

The Victorian Government has temporarily banned some evictions until 28 March 2021. See our  Eviction (COVID-19 guide for renters) page.

It is illegal for the landlord or agent to personally attempt to evict you. Only the police can evict you and even then, they must have a valid Possession Order and a Warrant of Possession from VCAT.

You can only be evicted if you have been given a valid Notice to Vacate, there has been a hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), the Tribunal has granted the landlord a Possession Order, the landlord has purchased a Warrant of Possession and the police come to execute that warrant.

If you get a notice from VCAT

If you receive a Notice of Hearing from VCAT, and you do not want to be evicted, you must attend the VCAT hearing.

If the landlord or agent tells you that you do not need to go to the hearing because you have paid off the arrears (or for any other reason), you should contact the VCAT on 1300 01 8228 (1300 01 VCAT) to check that the application has been withdrawn. If it hasn’t been withdrawn you should go to the hearing.

At the hearing, the VCAT Member can make a Possession Order or they can decide to either dismiss or adjourn the landlord’s application for a Possession Order. The Member may adjourn the application if:

  • you can show that a repayment plan has been agreed upon; or
  • you can show the Tribunal how you can pay off the arrears; and
  • the landlord will not suffer any financial loss as a result

Many tenants are successful at asking VCAT not to grant a Possession Order if they have a reasonable plan to pay back the rent arrears.

You should take as much evidence as you can to the VCAT hearing to show how you got into rent arrears and that you can pay the arrears. Evidence should include a statement from a financial counsellor that outlines your income and expenditure or some kind of similar documentation (such as your pay slips, Centrelink payment statements or proof of rental payments). You can also ask anyone who can support your case to give evidence at the hearing.

If VCAT adjourns the application it will be for a set period of time, usually 3-6 months. In this case, ‘adjourn’ means that the eviction is put on hold and you are given a second chance. If you repay the arrears according to the VCAT order, on the set date VCAT will consider the application to be withdrawn and the matter will be closed.

However, if you do not follow the VCAT order (e.g. you are late in making a payment), the landlord can ‘renew’ the application and you will receive a Notice of Hearing. If this happens, you must go to the second hearing and give a good reason for not following the order, or there is a chance that you will be evicted.

If VCAT refuses to adjourn the hearing and grants a Possession Order, you can ask the VCAT Member to postpone the issue of the Warrant of Possession.  This delays the time that the police can execute the warrant and evict you.  VCAT can postpone the warrant for up to 30 days.  When deciding whether to postpone the warrant the VCAT Member will take into account your hardship and the landlord’s hardship if the warrant is postponed.  You should make sure that you bring evidence of your hardship to the hearing (such as proof that you have applied for other rental properties, medical certificates, letters from support workers).

Note: if the landlord is taking action to evict you for rent arrears we recommend you also read the information on our eviction page in case the landlord uses an alternative method to apply to VCAT for a Possession Order.

For more information contact us, your local TAAP service, Tenancy Plus provider, or Community Legal Centre.

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