As an owner, it’s easy to feel a bit on edge about your legal obligations, with constantly-changing tenancy laws and all the legal jargon that come along with them.
How do you really know whether your property is being compliant with state laws?
We’ve got you covered.
Consider this article your one-stop shop for all the things you need to know about the minimum standards for rental properties in Victoria. We’ve packed in all the vital info:
- An overview of state legislation
- An understanding of what makes your property uninhabitable
- A handy guide for staying compliant with the regulations around smoke alarms, pools, and utilities
This way, you’ll be able to steer clear of one-on-one time with the lawyers.
Minimum housing standards in VIC
Let’s dive right in… to the legislation.
There’s no two ways about it – if you’re an owner, you need to ensure your property has met the minimum standards by the time your tenants move in.
So, what exactly are rental property minimum standards in Victoria?
The legislation doesn’t leave you in the dark for long. It begins with a whole section defining what it means by minimum standards for rental properties. It’s a 14-section digest covering everything from locks, vermin-proof bins, bathrooms to structural soundness and more.
As you would guess, each category goes into detail about what is required. Washbasins and showers/baths for bathrooms, blinds or curtains for bedrooms, lockable windows and adequate ventilation for all rooms, and the like. We’d recommend checking out the Consumer Affairs website for the full rundown of each category so you know exactly what your obligations are regarding minimum housing standards VIC.
Trust us when we say that you don’t want to brush these requirements under the rug. However, if your property does fall short of these standards, it’s completely within your tenant’s right to:
- Request for repairs or changes before signing the lease/moving in
- Immediately end the agreement without fees, or move in any way and then make a request for urgent repairs if they have signed but not yet moved in
- Request for urgent repairs during the rental agreement
“There are penalties for failing to provide a property that meets minimum standards. There are also consequences for not carrying out requested repairs to bring a property up to minimum standards.”
What makes a property uninhabitable in VIC?
According to case law, a property is deemed unfit for human habitation:
“When it is dangerous or detrimental to life or health. The risk to the tenant’s health and safety must be more than mere inconvenience or aesthetic deficiencies.”
As you would imagine, this covers the obvious stuff:
- Dilapidation or disrepair of the property
- Unsanitary conditions that would likely cause sickness
But, a property can also be said to be unfit for habitation when the danger is far less obvious.
A small defect that turns the ordinary use of something on the property into a hazard can make it uninhabitable, too.
The oft-cited case of Summers v Salford, for example, showed how simply being unable to open the only window in a bedroom rendered the whole property uninhabitable. This is because the defect prevented adequate light and ventilation.
So be on the lookout for minor defects in drainage, plumbing, lighting and ventilation, to name a few. Better yet, consider the services of a property management firm in VIC, which can assist you in meeting the state's compliances.
Smoke Alarm Legislation VIC
As catchy as the 80s hit, Burning Down the House was (and still is), it’s not something you actually want to happen to your rental property.
Here’s your checklist for being in the legal green of Victorian smoke alarm legislation. Smoke alarms must:
- Be correctly installed and in working order
- Be tested according to the manufacturer’s instructions at least once every 12 months
- Have their batteries replaced as required
- Be repaired or replaced as an urgent repair
Be sure to provide your tenant written information about how each smoke alarm works and how to test them before they move in.
Also, if you're leasing a rooming house, battery-powered smoke alarms just won’t do – you’ll need to equip the property with hard-wired smoke alarms. The same goes for all buildings built after 1 August 1997 – hard-wired alarms are a must, with a backup battery as well.
And what if you get a call from your tenant that the smoke alarm is on the fritz? Well, smoke alarm legislation VIC classifies this as an urgent repair. So, don’t dilly dally – otherwise, your tenant can authorise a qualified person to fix the alarm, which can cost you up to $2500.
Pool Legislation in VIC
If your rental is sporting a snazzy pool, chances are your tenants will love you for it when summer rolls around. On your end, you just need to make sure you’ve done your due diligence in complying with the red tape.
In December 2019, the Victorian government put out some new laws to promote pool safety. For owners, this means you must:
- register the pool with the local council
- have the pool safety barrier inspected every four years
- lodge a certificate with the council, confirming compliance of the pool or spa barrier
And for those of you who have a large above-ground pool set or a sleek new swim spa, these rules also apply to you.
“The new laws apply to swimming pools and spas that are capable of holding more than 300mm (30cm) of water. This includes permanent pools, above ground pools, indoor pools, hot tubs, bathing or wading pools and some relocatable pools.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the Victorian government unveiled a slew of new requirements for owners who enter into a tenancy agreement after 29 March 2021. Those owners with a pool in their rental must now:
- maintain the swimming pool barrier so it is in good repair
- arrange for the repair of the pool or spa fence/barrier if it’s faulty (as this is now considered an urgent repair)
- provide the renter with a copy of the swimming pool barrier compliance (which is provided under the swimming pool registration scheme) on request
- ensure pool gates and doors are equipped with self-closing and self-latching devices
Utilities legislation in VIC
Getting to the bottom of who pays for what when it comes to electricity, gas, water and the like can be a bit difficult at times. So, here’s a simplified guide for you to know exactly who will be picking up the bill for those ongoing utilities.
Water and sewerage: Assuming your property is equipped with its own meter, your tenant will have to pay for the water they use, along with the sewage disposal charge (unless you agree to pay for that). Otherwise, if your property doesn’t have a meter, it’s you who has to pay.
Electricity, gas and oil: Owners have to settle the bill of having the electricity, oil or gas supply installed and connected. When it comes to usage costs, if the property has its own meter, the tenant will be required to pay for these things (unless the owner agrees to pay). But, again, if the property isn’t fitted with a meter, it’s the owner’s responsibility to cover the ongoing costs.
Phone and internet: Usage costs for phone and internet fall on the renter, unless the owner agrees otherwise. If it’s the case that the property has no line connection for internet/phone services, but the renter requests it, an owner can’t refuse without good reason. As for who picks up the cheque – it’s the owner who will have to pay the costs of the initial installation of fixed internet and phone line connections (including NBN).
Television: Because TV isn’t considered an essential service for rentals, owners don’t have to agree to install a digital TV antenna or coaxial points if the renter requests these items to be installed.
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