Changes to residential tenancy laws during COVID-19

In March 2020 there were big changes made to the way disputes between tenants and landlords are dealt with. Find out what the changes mean for you.

On 25 April 2020, renting laws were changed through the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020

They last for six months.

Applying to VCAT

From 13 May 2020, tenants and landlords who have a rental dispute must get a referral from Consumer Affairs Victoria before their dispute can be considered at a VCAT hearing.

Consumer Affairs Victoria decides if they will refer you to VCAT or to the new Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution (RTDR) service. This service helps resolve payment-related disputes through mediation and is run by Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Get a referral from Consumer affairs

If Consumer Affairs Victoria refers you to VCAT, you get a referral number which you need for your VCAT hearing.

It’s a good idea to contact Consumer Affairs Victoria and get this referral number before you apply to VCAT and include it with your application. You must have the referral number by the date of the hearing.

Start referral

Section numbers

You make applications under section numbers in the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 Many section numbers have changed or been suspended. New sections have also been created.

To understand the VCAT applications you can now make, see Common disputes and section numbers.

VCAT applications under the temporary laws

Rent reductions

Tenants can apply to Consumer Affairs Victoria for a rent reduction and/or a payment plan.

This may then be referred to the Residential Tenancies Dispute Resolution (RTDR) service or to VCAT.

Reducing fixed term agreements

Landlords or tenants can apply to VCAT for a reduction in the term of a fixed-term agreement if suffering severe hardship.

If you’re a tenant, you don’t pay compensation or lease break fees for loss suffered as a result of an early termination if an order is made to reduce a fixed-term agreement.

Fixed term agreements can also be ended in other ways by both landlords and tenants. Consumer Affairs Victoria has more information.

Ending or creating a new tenancy for people affected by family violence

If you’re a tenant, or another person who is living in the rental property who isn’t named on the tenancy agreement, you can apply to VCAT if you’ve experienced personal or family violence from a tenant named on the agreement.

You can apply for an order to end the current tenancy, or to get a new tenancy agreement.

Grounds for a termination or possession order

The temporary laws limit the grounds for asking for a termination order (or a termination and possession order).

Even if a ground is established, we must consider whether it is reasonable and proportionate to make an order.

We can’t make a termination order if the ground for the termination order relates to a tenant’s failure to meet their obligation (for example, to pay rent) and the tenant is not able to meet that obligation because of a COVID-19 reason.

COVID-19 reasons

Before we make an order, we consider the reasons for not meeting an obligation, for example to pay rent.

A person is unable to comply with an obligation for a COVID-19 reason if they are unable to comply with, or it’s not reasonably practical to comply with, the obligation because:

  • the person is ill (whether or not the illness is COVID-19)
  • emergency or public health powers were exercised by the Chief Health Officer, under the Emergency Management Act 1986 or there was a publicly made State or Chief Health Officer recommendation about the COVID-19 pandemic
  • compliance would cause severe hardship
  • there was an exceptional circumstance relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

See section 537 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997

You can make an application for a termination order or a termination and possession order on the grounds set out below. When making a termination order, the earliest termination date that can be specified in the VCAT order varies for different grounds.

Earliest date a tenancy can be terminated

Earliest termination date Grounds
The day the order is made
  • The tenant or their visitor has caused serious damage.
  • The tenant or their visitor endangers the safety of the landlord, agent, employee, contractor or neighbour.
  • The tenant has been given a notice to leave managed premises.
  • The rented premises are unfit for human habitation or destroyed.
14 days from the date of the order
  • The tenant has made serious threats or intimidated the landlord, agent, employee or contractor.
  • The tenant has failed to comply with a VCAT order under section 212 of the Act.
  • The tenant has used the premises for illegal purposes.
  • The tenant has engaged in trafficking, cultivating or supplying drugs (DOH).
  • The tenant has committed an indictable offence (DOH).
  • The tenant has made a false statement as to eligibility for public or social housing.
  • The tenant has assigned or sublet without consent.
28 days from the date of the order
  • The tenant has failed to comply with their obligations (eg. by not paying rent), in circumstances where they could do so without suffering severe hardship.
  • The tenant has not complied with a VCAT order excluding a pet from the rented premises.
30 days from the date of the order
  • The tenant in transitional housing has refused alternative accommodation (DOH).
60 days from the date of the order
  • The landlord is selling.
  • The landlord is repairing, renovating, rebuilding or demolishing (DOH).
  • The landlord, a family member or dependant is moving in.
  • The premises are required for public purposes.
90 days from the date of the order
  • The tenant has ceased to meet eligibility criteria for public housing.

See section 549(3A) of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and Regulation 42 of the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Emergency Measures) Regulations 2020.

You can make these applications even if there’s a current fixed-term agreement. However, we may take the agreement into account when deciding whether it is reasonable and proportionate to make an order.

FAQ's for landlords

As a landlord can I now apply for possession after sending a notice to vacate?

It’s now not possible for a landlord to give a tenant notice to vacate rented premises.

If you’re a landlord and you apply for a possession order on or after 29 March 2020 based on a notice to vacate, we’ll reject your application.

As a landlord can I now apply for possession if the tenant gives a notice of intention to vacate but does not leave?

If a tenant has said they intend on leaving the property by sending a notice of intention to vacate, but they don’t leave, you can apply for a possession order.

What if I applied for a possession order prior to 29 March 2020?

If the notice to vacate does not have a termination date that is on or after 29 March 2020, your application is determined under the law that was in effect before 29 March 2020. You won’t be entitled to a warrant unless the possession order made is one that you could have got under the new temporary laws.

What if I have a possession order based on a notice to vacate and I now want to purchase a warrant?

You won’t be entitled to a warrant unless the possession order you have is one that you could have got under the new temporary laws. This applies if:

  • you have a possession order that was based on a notice to vacate
  • you want to purchase or extend a warrant of possession that was based on a possession order following a notice to vacate.

You must attend a hearing where we decide if you are entitled to the warrant.

What are the new laws for ending a tenancy?

You can apply to VCAT for a termination or a termination and possession order.

A termination order ends the tenancy on the date stated in the order. The tenant is expected to leave by this date, but there is no mechanism within the termination order to enforce the terms of the order.

You can, on the same application, apply for a possession order, which requires the tenant to vacate by a specified date.

What can I do if the tenant doesn’t leave?

If the tenant doesn’t leave, the possession order allows you to apply to the VCAT registrar for a warrant of possession. The warrant of possession authorises the police to forcibly remove the tenant within a given timeframe (usually 14 days).

If you get a termination order only and the tenant doesn’t leave by the date stated in the order, you can then make another application for a possession order.

More advice and information

Contact Consumer Affairs Victoria for more information about the new laws.