Victoria’s New Rental Laws Could Create Sharehouse Utopia

Less bond, more dogs, longer leases...and you can finally hang pictures on the wall.

by Katherine Gillespie
09 October 2017, 11:31pm

Happy housemates via Shutterstock

Experts have been predicting for some time that, due to escalating house prices, Australians are facing a future in which nearly everyone pays rent to rich baby boomer property investors. Now, in theory this isn't such a problem: renting is the norm, for example, in many European nations. But as many young people would know, Australia's outdated tenancy laws can make a renter's life extremely difficult. Leases are short term, bonds are expensive, and—maybe worst of all—landlords are allowed to ban pets.

Enter Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. On Sunday, the Andrews government announced a number of proposed changes to Victoria's Residential Tenancies Act that work in favour of renters rather than landlords. And yes, a major aspect of the reforms will be that landlords can no longer stop their tenants from owning pets.

But let's go through the deceptively boring changes first. Firstly, rental security will increase with the introduction of optional long-term five-year lease agreements, and landlords will find it more difficult to end leases when their tenants have renewed multiple times. The aim here is to encourage long-term renting. So tenants can actually buy nice non-Ikea furniture and settle into the house they're paying money to live in, rather than anticipating a move every six months.

The laws also require faster bond repayment, and a cap on the maximum amount of bond money paid: a maximum of one month's rent. On that topic, the reforms also crack down on unfair rent increases. Rent increases can now only occur on a yearly basis.

The changes also make it easier for tenants to add small modifications to their houses to make them more comfortable. Eg, someone's finally letting you hang those picture frames.

Now, to the pet thing. All tenants will have the right to keep pets, with the written permission of their landlord—who will not be able to unreasonably refuse the request. Obviously, tenants will still be responsible for their dogs chewing up carpet or whatever, but this is a huge win: one in six dogs and cats surrendered to the RSPCA in Victoria are the victims of their owners moving to new rental properties where pets aren't allowed.

If you're wondering why any of this matters, consider that a quarter of all Victorians rent. That number is only going to increase, too: last year, the author of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Report told VICE that Australia is on track for less than 50 percent of people over 18 being home owners, due to investor demand for properties pushing up prices.

So young Victorians will be renting forever, but at least we can hug our dogs when we are sad. Here's hoping that the changes, set to be introduced into state parliament next year, pass through the upper house. And that other state governments update their tenancy acts too.

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