Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2012

Mr Wynne (Richmond) – I rise to make a contribution to debate on the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2012. In doing so I acknowledge the excellent and thorough contribution made by my colleague the Member for Mill Park. As always, she made a professional and thorough presentation to debate on the bill on behalf of the Opposition.

 The Member for Mill Park indicated at the start of her contribution that the Opposition does not oppose this bill, but in doing so she raised a couple of quite important issues upon which Opposition members seek clarification from the Government. We hope that the Minister will come into the House to summarise on the bill, or while it is between Houses, provide clarification on the two clauses the Member for Mill Park has drawn attention to. They are specifically clause 19, which inserts new section 411B(3)
into the act, and clause 22. We hope the Minister will do this because we
have rarely — at least in my experience in this House — had any major
disputation or departure across the chamber when it comes to addressing
residential tenancy matters.

I think we have a very appropriate and robust residential tenancy framework in Victoria. In my previous time as the Minister for Housing — although residential tenancy matters now come under the responsibility of the Minister for Consumer Affairs — my sense of this issue and the feedback I received was that we have one of the most robust frameworks of any state in Australia and, I submit also, one of the fairest. It is most important that the
framework is robust, fair and independent and that there is a process through
VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) by which parties, either
tenant or landlord, can seek a remedy in relation to tenancy matters so that
they can be addressed in essentially a non‑legalistic environment where both
parties can, if the need arises, be in a position where they can present their
respective grievances before an independent tribunal and have the matter
addressed.

As the Member for Mill Park rightly indicated, in one respect these are relatively straightforward amendments, which I understand have been driven by the department, which has picked up a range of anomalies it seeks to have addressed through this bill. The first of these anomalies relates to potential breaches of duty, whether they be by the landlord or the tenant. In that context we note that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has interpreted the existing legislation as requiring the service and expiry of a
third breach of duty notice before — I repeat before — a notice to
vacate or a notice of intention to vacate can be served.

I do not think this was ever the intent of the legislation, and in the second‑reading speech the Government indicates that the amendment we are debating here, which we do not oppose and which is introduced in the bill, makes it clear that a notice to vacate or a notice of intention to vacate may be served by a person who is owed a duty, provided the person has served a breach of duty notice for a breach of the same duty on two previous occasions. I think that sets a level of clarity for VCAT and, as I indicated, for both the tenant and the landlord on what the ground rules are. From now on the circumstances under which action on a breach can be implemented will be very clear to VCAT.

The second amendment goes to the question of bonds. It is in
that context, as my colleague the Member for Mill Park indicated in her very
comprehensive review of the bill, that this amendment is again clearing up a
range of essentially technical matters, but matters which are quite important
in the day‑to‑day operation of the rental market. As many Members would know,
whilst the private rental market has come off a little from what have been
historically low vacancy rates of less than 1 per cent — and
that is a historically low vacancy rate — and has eased off a bit over the
last 12 months, if you are a low‑income person your capacity to garner a
property in the private rental market remains an extraordinary challenge.

I invite Members if they have the opportunity and are interested to have a look at a report by Anglicare, which was published in the last four to six weeks. Anglicare did a summary of available rental properties across Australia but significantly in the Sydney and Melbourne private rental market. It reviewed in the order of 20 000 properties
that were available. It was a snapshot of those two markets. The extraordinary
outcome of Anglicare’s work was that in those two major metropolises there were
quite literally less than 100 private rental units that would be potentially accessible to low‑income people. This is the stark reality of what people are confronting in the two major conurbations of the Sydney and Melbourne private rental markets.

It is a very sobering report by Anglicare, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested because it sets out what is an extraordinary challenge ahead for governments, both federal and state. There is, as we know, an interplay between the two — the Commonwealth through rent assistance and the State through the provision of public and social housing, and the provisions of the framework of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, and the
proposed amendments which we are debating here today.

I note that the breach of duty provisions relate to rooming houses, and again as the Member for Mill Park so eloquently and kindly indicated, there were a range of initiatives implemented by the previous Government in relation to minimum standards for rooming houses.

I acknowledge the fantastic work that was undertaken by the Member for Albert Park, who really led much of that reform work. I indicate that it is very disappointing that this Government has now been in power for coming up to two years. The Foley review of minimum standards for rooming houses was completed in late 2009, and it was adopted by the then Government. It was only in March of this year that this Government completed a regulatory impact statement on minimum standards for rooming houses. It has gazetted a range of conditions of minimum standards that rooming house operators will have to comply with in the future, but they will not be implemented before March 2013. That will be in excess of four years since the rooming house standards task force did its work and the then Government agreed to those minimum standards.

We are not talking about major reforms; we are talking about the most basic conditions that one would expect in a civil society. The minimum standards include that for residents’ rooms: any door used for entry to or exit from a resident’s room must be fitted with a lock that is operated by a key; a resident’s room must have at least two working power outlets; residents’ windows must have a covering — a blind that can be open and shut.

The conditions for bathrooms include that: a shared bathroom or toilet must be fitted with a privacy latch, so that no‑one can burst in on you.

They are the most basic things that we would expect in this community, and it will be March 2013 — more than four years after the former Government agreed to the task force recommendations — before this Government will implement those most basic conditions.

The fundamental thing is that this Government has failed in the most important recommendation, which was to register rooming house businesses under the Business Licensing Authority — and shame on it for that!