LANDLORDS will be able to deter tenants having pets, despite new legislation aimed at strengthening tenant rights.
The Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2018 passed through parliament last week, with Western Victoria Upper House member James Purcell a crucial vote in getting it approved.
"It was a tough bill, one where we needed to get the balance right," he said.
"There are some issues with landlords not treating tenants right and some issues with tenants not treating landlords right.
"This is as good a balance as we're going to get. There are still issues around tenants and pets."
Mr Purcell said tenants now had the right to have pets, but landlords could increase bonds.
Landlords can also appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal within 21 days of being told a tenant had pets but have to provide specific reasons to object.
Tenants Victoria chief executive officer and Make Renting Fair Campaign spokesman Mark O’Brien welcomed the new legislation, saying it was a significant improvement for the more than 1.5 million Victorian renters, including the 169,750 people – one in four households – in western Victoria who rent their homes.
The changes included in the legislation are seen as helping reduce the cost of living pressure on families by limiting to one rental increase a year, and crack down on unfair rent price advertising and soliciting rental bids.
This is particularly welcome news for western Victorian renters, whose median weekly rent has increased 61 per cent since 2006 alone, he said.
Mr O’Brien said landlords could still choose tenants, but bonds for about 80 per cent of rentals would be four weeks’ rent.
"Landlords can still exercise control at the point of selection based on whether a tenant has pets," he said.
"It's important to note that there's nothing to prevent tenants getting pets after they move in."
Mr O'Brien said there were people on both sides – tenants and landlords – who might want to do the wrong thing but that was now more likely to end poorly.
"There's now better protection for tenants and landlords," he said.
"The act stops the blanket ban on pets, stops the unilateral and unfair approach.”
Under the changes, families will now be able to put down roots in their community, with greater security over leases thanks to the abolishment of ‘no reason’ evictions, Mr O’Brien said.
Rental properties would be required to meet minimum health, safety and energy efficiency standards such as heating, deadbolts on all external doors and compliance with regular gas appliance safety checks.
Landlords will also be required to fix damp, mould and air conditioning as urgent repairs.
There will also be new provisions to protect victims of family violence. A woman who escapes a violent partner will have the right to move the lease into her own name and change the locks when she does.
She will also be able to refuse photography of her possessions and undertake certain safety modifications such as installing CCTV.
Mr O’Brien said the reforms made sense at a time when housing affordability was forcing more people to rent for longer into their lives than ever before.
“This bill is a landmark step forward for legitimising renters as deserving of safety, stability and privacy in their homes,” he said.
“The changes included in this Bill will provide greater certainty to the one-quarter of Western Victorian households who rent their homes.
"Most importantly, they will give all Victorians the security they need to set down roots and build ties with their local communities which will, in turn, have positive benefits to the economy and society.”
Belinda Lo, CEO of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, said all Victorians deserved a safe and secure place to call home.
"Community legal centres welcome this significant reform to make renting fair,” she said.
Mr O’Brien said the more than 70 organisations and thousands of individual supporters comprising the Make Renting Fair Coalition would like to acknowledge the Victorian Government’s leadership and the support of James Purcell, the Greens, Fiona Patten, Dr Rachel Carling-Jenkins in supporting the rental reforms.
“We look forward to working with the state government to develop the forthcoming regulations," he said.
More than 1.5 million Victorians rent their homes.
The fastest growing group of renters are the elderly, followed closely by families with dependent children.
One in four households in Western Victoria are rented – that’s 65,287.
In Warrnambool council there are 3878 rented households – an increase of 497 since 2006 and the median weekly rent is $250, an increase of 61.3 per cent since 2006.
There are 1958 low-income households, 1473 families with children, 1228 elderly renters, 688 student renters and 334 Indigenous renters.