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Renters say reforms to strengthen tenants’ rights will need to be backed up by proper enforcement if they are to tackle the housing crisis for those locked out of home ownership.
The Andrews government on Wednesday ignored the Greens’ calls to introduce a rent cap or freeze, arguing that could reduce supply and worsen vacancy rates that are already at record lows of 1 per cent in Melbourne.
Instead, the government’s housing statement commits to banning all rental bidding and announced a simplified process to resolve disputes. Tenants will be able to claim repairs or money owed through a new body, rather than the already clogged Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
A scheme to allow a tenant’s bond to carry over from one property to the next will be introduced, real estate agents and property managers will need to undergo new training, and notices to vacate or increase rent will be extended from a minimum of 60 days to 90.
Landlords will also be barred from increasing rent for new tenants if they evict the previous occupants after a 12-month fixed-term lease to stop them churning through tenants to raise rents.
Chadstone renter Scott Hudson welcomed the reforms, but said they were cold comfort after he was evicted following a long fight with his landlord to repair his mouldy rental.
Melbourne renters Sammi Clarke and Scott Hudson say Victoria’s housing reforms could have gone further.
“Nothing in this document would have stopped my situation from happening,” he said. “We may get extra time before we’re evicted, but we still get evicted. We get extra notice of a rent increase, but we still get a rent increase.”
Hudson was angry his preferred solution – rental caps – were dismissed and said he wanted to see the state government do more about enforcing minimum property standards.
Renters have long complained that minimum standards introduced in 2021 – requiring homes to be free from mould caused by structural defects and have a working toilet, for example – were not properly enforced.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday rejected that claim, but conceded there was more to do.
Daniel Andrews releases his long-awaited housing policy.Credit: Elke Meitzel
“Can there be more? Of course, and that’s why this statement speaks to not only new rules, but a really concerted effort to resolve disputes before they become really intractable,” he said.
Sammi Clarke, 47, has been looking for a rental in Melbourne since she was given a notice to vacate in June. She said some of the reforms would help, but that the package needed to go further.
“One of the biggest things that is disadvantaging people is the real estate [agents] are taking months and months [of rent] in advance,” said Clarke, who is now staying with a friend.
Better Renting director Joel Dignam said that Andrews had shown leadership, but questioned how the government would enforce the ban on landlords increasing rent after evicting tenants.
“This isn’t the space where you put words on the paper and cross your fingers. You do need to pay attention,” Dignam said.
The proportion of renters in Australia has steadily grown from 26 per cent at the turn of the century to about a third of households at the 2021 census.
Kos Samaras, a pollster from Redbridge and former Victorian Labor Party official, said renters were becoming a powerful voting bloc.
“They’re no longer invisible Australians because they don’t own property,” Samaras said.
“Landlords and those who have relied on renters’ lack of political power are going to have to get used to the new world where renters have as much political power as those living in mortgage-belt electorates.”
Dignam said supply shortages needed to be relieved to give tenants leverage to defend their rights.
The government’s housing statement aims to put an extra 70,000 rental properties onto the market in the next decade. That is based on an assumption from census data that of the 250,000 extra homes the government homes plans to build under, about 28 per cent will trickle onto the rental market.
Labor will need the support of the opposition or the Greens, plus two crossbenchers, to pass legislative changes in the upper house.
Greens leader Samantha Ratnam criticised Labor for declining to introduce rent freezes or caps – something her party has been calling on for months.
“The premier has effectively abandoned thousands of Victorian renters who are, right now, choosing between food on the table or a roof over their heads,” she said.
Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he wanted to ensure “nothing drives landlords out of the sector”.
“We need people to be investing,” he said. “That’s ultimately what we want to encourage.”
Tenants Victoria spokeswoman Farah Farouque said the rental crisis would not disappear overnight, but that the combination of new measures would help. “It’s not just the letter of the law, it’s the implementation of the law and the resources to enforce the law,” she said.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Quentin Kilian said he supported mandatory professional development and an end to rent bidding. But he said restrictions on rent increases and notices to vacate needed to consider property owners’ rising costs and market fluctuations.
“We look forward to seeing more detail on the proposed portable rent bond and dispute resolution service,” he said.
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