Amanda, her husband and their three young children had been renting a small Bendigo unit for six years when their landlord conducted a regular property inspection. Amanda’s landlord always attended the property inspections in person, which she found ‘nerve-racking’, as the landlord always ‘expected things a certain way’.
During the inspection, the landlord complained that one wheel of the family’s car was partially parked on the grass in their driveway. Amanda’s husband denied that the car was damaging the grass.
Following the inspection, Amanda’s family was issued with a rent increase notice that raised the rent from $250 to $270 per week. Their unit was identical to the one next door, except that their neighbour’s unit had recently been repainted and carpeted. And it cost only $245 per week. The increase came soon after Amanda’s husband had lost his job. It placed an additional burden on the young family, which had to cut back on essentials.
‘Like trying to make food last longer … for the kids’ lunches for school and stuff like that. It was tough. It was really, really hard.’
The rent increase and its effect on her family worried Amanda and worsened a pre-existing medical condition. She thought the increase was unfair and had been issued in retaliation for her husband standing up for himself. She asked Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) to inspect the unit to determine a fair market rent. CAV duly deemed the rent increase excessive and on this basis Amanda challenged the increase.
Three days later, her landlord issued the family with a 120-day ‘no reason’ notice to vacate. CAV referred Amanda to Housing Justice for assistance. Rights and responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act are complex and like many of our clients, Amanda found the process daunting.
‘It’s just stuff I didn’t understand … because I’ve never done it before. And because I had no idea what exactly I was supposed to do.’
Housing Justice helped Amanda to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and supported her at the hearing. VCAT found that the 120-day notice to vacate was retaliatory and the rent increase excessive.
It ordered that Amanda’s excess rental payments be refunded. Since Amanda’s experience, the Victorian Government has banned 120-day ‘no reason’ notices to vacate, which have been used by landlords like Amanda’s for years to evict tenants who challenge rent increases or request repairs.
This change in legislation follows the advocacy of many Victorian housing services, like Housing Justice, that have long argued for legislative reform. Amanda is now more confident about her rights. She now knows she has the right to challenge unfair rent increases. Amanda urges other tenants, when faced with similar circumstances, to stand up for themselves and seek support.
‘I would tell them to contact Consumer Affairs and Housing Justice to see what they can do to help. Because, I mean, they can. [The Housing Justice worker] was wonderful … I can’t sing her praises enough, really.’