Lengthy delays and procedural changes at VCAT are adding another layer of frustration for Property Managers, already dealing with the impact of a host of pandemic-imposed rules and new legislation. Tania Smith, Manager, Property Management Hawthorn explains.
Marshall White Property Management is feeling the frustration of Residential Rental Providers (RRPs) who are being forced to wait long times for VCAT (Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal) hearings to deal with matters such as rent arrears, bond and compensation resulting from the ban on evictions.
Last year, as part of the Victorian Government’s response to the pandemic, a moratorium was put on all evictions, which has resulted in a backlog of rental arrears that could take months to be finalised. During the moratorium, many Renters accrued arrears, in some cases in excess of $100K, yet VCAT would not provide a Termination Order despite many attempts due to the eviction ban in place from the Victorian Government.
This caused great distress for both the RRP and the Property Manager, whose hands were quite literally tied because in order to register these debts with a debt collection or credit reference association, there needs to be a determination from VCAT.
With the moratorium no longer in place, we can now issue notice if a Renter is in arrears, the RRP wants to move in or the property is sold, but with the constant lockdowns it’s difficult for Renters to find alternate accommodation, and quite often they are simply not in the position to move when the notice period is up.
Property Management are also seeing an increase in RRPs applying to VCAT to claim from a rental bond at the end of a tenancy. For most of the past year, Property Managers have had to conduct virtual routine inspections instead of in-person because of the long lockdowns and restrictions on inspections. With most people working from, and confined to home, the general wear and tear on properties has increased. While a property is to be returned in the same condition, taking into account fair wear and tear, we have noticed a rise in claims for damage that falls outside fair wear and tear.
Like most organisations adapting under COVID restrictions, VCAT have had to change the way they operate. They are not permitted to have face-to-face hearings, so have switched to ‘tele-hearings’, ‘tele-mediation’ and in some instances ‘on paper’ determinations, making decisions based on viewing documentation only.
VCAT are very quick to strike out hearings if the application is not detailed enough or if the new evidence requirements are not met for the specific type of application. Evidence requirements came into effect with the new legislation in March this year. During the moratorium hearing outcomes were determined by VCAT Members using a ‘reasonable and proportionate’ method essentially weighing the need of the Renters against that of the RRP and taking the eviction ban very seriously. The ‘reasonable and proportionate’ method has continued as the new standard for VCAT determinations so following the correct procedure is very important to give the application the best chance of being successful.
VCAT are currently prioritising hearings in order of urgency for matters such as possession, lease termination and rent arrears. However, any hearings for bond and compensation are still not being scheduled and it will likely be another 6 months or more to see any of these come through.
Due to the length of time for a hearing it is in the RRPs, Renters and Property Managers’ best interests to work together and resolve independently where possible. It is always best to have an honest and upfront conversation with your Property Manager who will be able to independently assess likely outcomes based on previous similar hearings.
Should you require advice on any aspect of leasing your property, contact our Marshall White Property Management Team for assistance.
For more information contact us on (03) 9822 8711.