Respond to an application – Residential tenancy disputes
When you get a notice (or message) from VCAT about a rental property dispute, find out what this means for you and what you need to do.
What the notice means
If you’ve received a notice of hearing or text message from us, someone has made an application against you to VCAT – the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This means they have a dispute with you and have applied to VCAT to have it resolved.
You are called the respondent. The person who made the application is the applicant.
What the dispute is about
The applicant explains the dispute in their application form. If you haven’t received a copy of the application form from the applicant, contact the applicant. If you’re still unsure, you can ask the member at the hearing.
Temporary changes to renting laws
On 25 April 2020, renting laws were changed through the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 For example:
- Landlords can’t increase the rent at any time during the six-month period from 29 March 2020.
- If you’re a tenant you can apply to Consumer Affairs Victoria for a rent reduction and a payment plan.
- Landlords and tenants can apply to VCAT for a reduction in the term of a fixed-term agreement if they are suffering severe hardship.
- If you’re a tenant you can’t be listed on a residential tenancy database (blacklist) for a failure to pay rent if it was due to COVID-19.
- Before making an application to VCAT, in most cases people must now get a referral from Consumer Affairs Victoria.
Get help and advice before you come to VCAT
These organisations may be able to help you.
Consumer Affairs Victoria
Information about your rights and sample notices
Advice, assistance and advocacy for renters and residents
Victoria Legal Aid
Free legal information over the phone
Why you should come to VCAT
It’s very important that you don’t ignore the application made against you. At VCAT, you can have your say and explore options to resolve the dispute.
For example, if you are facing eviction, you may be able to work out a payment plan with the landlord and stay in your rental property.
If you don’t come, we may make a decision that aﬀects you and can be enforced.
What happens next
1 You’ve received a notice of hearing or text message from VCAT
Go to next step.
2 Try to settle
Even if an application has been made against you, you can still try to resolve the dispute with the other party without going to VCAT, right up until the hearing.
3 Read and understand the documents
Carefully read and understand the notice of hearing and the application made against you. If you don’t understand it, ask one of the organisations that can help.
The applicant must send you the application and copies of any documents they plan to use at the hearing (for example, photos, receipts or correspondence).
Their contact details are in the application.
4 Give us more information if we need it
If your landlord has applied to VCAT for a termination or possession order because you are behind in your rent, we need to know:
- if payment of rent would cause you severe hardship
- if you didn’t pay rent because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
- if you are able to pay rent or if you’ll be able to soon.
If you want to talk about these issues at the hearing, you need to give us supporting evidence.
Use the Financial circumstances form
5 Decide if you want to make your own claim
If you believe you have a claim against the applicant yourself, you can make your own application to VCAT. For example, both the landlord and tenant may want to claim compensation from each other for alleged breaches of the tenancy agreement or the law.
If you want to make a claim after receiving an application from the other party, you need to make your own application (this is called a counterclaim) and you may have to pay a fee. We can arrange to have both claims heard together.
Note that if the landlord makes a claim for the bond, the tenant doesn’t need to make a separate application asking for the bond to be returned to them. The tenant instead needs to defend the landlord’s application at the hearing.
6 Send your documents to the applicant
You must send all documents that support your case to the other parties and to VCAT.
If you are attending by phone or videoconference, make sure you do this by email three business days before your hearing.
If it’s an urgent application, send them right away.
7 Prepare your case
It’s important to prepare for your hearing day. Work out what you want to say at the hearing. Make sure you have all your documents ready to give to the VCAT member so you’re ready to present the best case possible.
8 Check the hearing details
Check the time, date and location (if you are coming to VCAT in person). This is shown on the notice we send you.
If you are coming to VCAT in person, look at the location and plan how to get there.
You can find out the time for your hearing at Upcoming hearings after 4.30pm on the day before your hearing.
We schedule more than one case for the same time, so allow extra time for your hearing to finish. For example, if your hearing is scheduled for 2pm, it may not start until 3pm.
9 Ask for any support services you need
10 On the day
If you are attending by phone or video
If you are attending by phone or video make sure you’re ready at the time we give you. (It’s too late to ask to attend by phone on the day of the hearing.)
Find out how to join the videoconference.
If you are coming to VCAT in person
If you are coming to VCAT, find out about what to expect on the day – including how to behave, and how the hearing works.
Arrive at least 30 minutes early to allow time to get through the security screening (similar to security at the airport) and find your hearing room.
When you arrive:
- register at the customer service counter
- speak to a staff member if you have arranged security, disability support, an interpreter, or technology for your hearing.
While you’re waiting for your hearing to start, you can speak to the other parties about the dispute to see if you can reach an agreement before the hearing (for example, agree on a payment plan for unpaid rent). This means the member can make an order for the decision you’ve agreed on.
If you don’t reach an agreement, you and the other parties present their case to a VCAT member at the hearing. The member makes a decision based on the evidence presented and the law.
11 Get an outcome
If you come to a hearing, the VCAT member makes a decision and gives an order.
An order tells parties how the case has been decided and any action that they must take.
They will usually tell you what the decision is, and the reasons for it, at the end of the hearing.
All parties must follow VCAT's decision.
If you want the reasons for the decision in writing, ask the member at the hearing. The member may not agree to give you written reasons.
12 Enforce the order
If other parties don’t follow the order and you have tried to or can’t contact them, find out how you can enforce the order.
Help and support
Who can I bring to VCAT?
You can bring someone with you to your hearing for support. This support person could be anyone you choose, including a friend or family member. They can’t usually speak on your behalf, but they can help explain what you need (for example, ask for a break).
You can’t bring someone to translate for you.
If you need an interpreter you must ask us for a VCAT interpreter.
Support for people affected by family violence
If you are a protected person or responding to a case and under a family violence intervention order, you can choose to bring a support person to VCAT. The support person can be anyone you choose, including a lawyer, social worker, family member or friend.
Find out more about support for people affected by family violence at VCAT.
If you want someone to speak on your behalf, you must ask for it in writing.
Template of written authority for someone to represent you
Use this template to give someone authority to represent you. We call this person an ‘agent’.
I, <NAME> (or Your Company Pty Ltd, if a company), a party in the VCAT case reference number xxxxx/20xx wish to be represented at VCAT.
I give permission for <representative's name and occupation> (add 'employed by the company' if you're a company) to represent me.
The agent has sufficient knowledge of the issues in dispute and has my permission to bind me to any settlement.
Signed:______________ Name:______________ Position:______________
What happens if I miss my hearing?
What happens if you miss the hearing depends on if you’re the applicant or the respondent.
- If you’re the applicant and you don’t come to the hearing, the hearing can’t go ahead and your application may be dismissed or struck out
- If you’re a respondent and you don’t come, VCAT may make a decision that affects you and can be enforced by a court. For example, the member could make an order for costs against you.
If you have a good enough reason for not coming, and you didn’t have someone come for you, you may be able to apply for a review and rehearing (called ‘reopening an order’).
You need to make this application within 14 days of finding out about the order. There’s no guarantee that VCAT will agree.
Should I get a lawyer?
VCAT cannot give legal advice. If you do choose to get legal advice, you will need to pay any costs.
If you want to talk about what you should do, you can access free or low-cost legal advice or find a private lawyer.
If you want a lawyer or other professional representative to speak on your behalf at VCAT, let the other party know in writing before the hearing and ask permission when the hearing starts. You will need to explain why.
For some case types you have an automatic right to representation.
If the claim is for goods and services under $15,000, we generally don’t allow a lawyer or other professional representative to speak for you at VCAT.
If you do choose to get legal advice, you’ll need to pay any costs.
How does VCAT support Aboriginal people?
We offer support to ensure VCAT is culturally safe and inclusive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We can help you with:
- booking a Koori hearing room
- organising a Koori Engagement Officer to attend you hearing or mediation with you
- general information and advice about your case.
Call our Koori Helpline to speak to a Koori Engagement Officer on 0417 516 335, Monday to Friday, 8am-5pm.
Read more about Koori support at VCAT
How can I access documents for a residential tenancy case?
You can look at most VCAT files at our Melbourne office at 55 King Street, Melbourne if you arrange it with us. If you’re not part of the case then you pay a fee.
In residential tenancy cases you can access documents for free if you’re:
- a party in the case (applicant or respondent)
- representing a party at the hearing – for example, you are the renter’s representative or the rental provider’s estate agent
- advising or assisting a party who has given you permission to access documents on their behalf.