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Residential renters and disasters

If you are a renter and your house is unfit to live in, has been destroyed totally, or has been damaged to such an extent that it is unsafe (for example, there is a structural defect or a risk of injury), you do not have to keep living there. If you leave the house permanently, you will need to end the lease. There are two ways to do this:

  • Get an agreement from your residential rental provider or agent that your house is unfit for habitation. It is best to get this in writing. If you get an agreement, you do not have to give notice.
  • Give your residential rental provider an immediate notice of intention to vacate, move out, and return the keys. You can use the 'Notice of intention to vacate rented premises by renter' form from the Consumer Affairs Victoria website.

For more information, see Ending your lease on the Tenants Victoria website.

If you are renting and your house has been damaged by a disaster, but not to the extent that you cannot live there anymore, you need to contact your residential rental provider or agent immediately. You will need to give them full details of the damage. You also need to determine if the repair needed to fix the damage is urgent. Urgent repairs include things like a gas leak, burst water service, dangerous electrical faults, or anything that makes the property unsafe or insecure. See Repairs on Tenants Victoria for a list of urgent repairs.

Your residential rental provider should attend to urgent repairs without delay, even if they have not yet got their insurance payout from the insurer. If repairs are not done as soon as possible, you can apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for an order that the repairs be carried out. Your residential rental provider may have to cover some costs you incurred because the repairs were not done urgently, such as having to stay in a hotel.

If you cannot contact your residential rental provider or property manager, you can get the urgent repairs done by a professional up to the cost of $2500 (including GST). If you cannot afford to pay for this, or the repairs are over $2500, you can apply to VCAT. VCAT must hear any application for urgent repairs within two business days and can order the residential rental provider to pay for or reimburse the repairs.

If the damage is not urgent, you can give a written notice to the residential rental provider for the repairs to be carried out within 14 days. If the rental provider has not completed the repairs within 14 days, you can either ask Consumer Affairs Victoria to make a report on what repairs are needed or apply to VCAT for an order that the repairs are be carried out. If you have applied for a report from Consumer Affairs Victoria, you must wait until you get this report before applying to VCAT.

If you do not know what state your home is in because you have been denied access, you do not yet have a reason to terminate your lease. In this situation, you can:

  • contact the residential rental provider to attempt to end the tenancy by consent. Be careful not to give up any rights to compensation
  • apply to VCAT for a reduction of your lease term, if you are on a fixed-term tenancy. In this scenario, VCAT may order you to pay compensation to the residential rental provider, and you will also have to wait until the VCAT hearing
  • if you are on a periodic lease (month-to-month or similar), provide 28-days written notice of your intention to vacate to the residential rental provider. If you were denied access to the home, you could potentially claim the rent paid for that period as compensation. You can apply to
    VCAT for such compensation orders.

Residential landlords and disasters

If you are a residential rental provider (you own the property) and the home is unfit to live in, has been destroyed totally, or has been damaged to such an extent that it is unsafe, you can end the lease by giving the renter an official 'Notice to vacate to renter/s of rented premises'. This form is available from the Consumer Affairs Victoria website.

You can give the renter an immediate termination date – that is, the same date that you issue the Notice to Vacate. Alternatively, you may want to try to work out an agreement with the renter. You do not have to help the renter find another place to live in, but your help might be appreciated.

You are also allowed to inspect an unfit property, but you must let the renter know in advance that you are doing this if they still live there.

Both renters and residential rental providers can challenge a notice to vacate.

Residential bonds

If you are renting, you should be able to get your bond back (minus any amounts owing, such as rent) if your home can no longer be lived in and your lease has been terminated. Your bond should have been lodged by the residential rental provider with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority (RTBA). You can claim back your bond through the online form on the RTBA website. Payments are usually made directly into the renter’s bank account within one business day of the refund being approved.

If a rental provide cannot use RTBA’s online platform, a paper claim form can be used. To start this process, you will need to generate a unique claim form online. You can then print off the form, ensure it is signed, and then post the form to the RTBA.

Residential rental providers can only get bond money back at the end of a lease if rent is still owing or if repairs or cleaning were needed because of the renter. This does not apply to bushfire or disaster damage. If the landlord and renter disagree about the bond, they must apply to VCAT to settle the dispute.

For more information, see Bond payments, transfers and refunds on Tenants Victoria.

Damaged goods in a rented residential property

Your residential rental provider may be liable to compensate you if your goods were damaged in a disaster and the damage was caused by a failure to maintain the property properly and keep them in good repair. Your residential rental provider may not have to compensate you if the damage was for reasons beyond their control. You should seek urgent legal advice on this point. The residential rental provider's insurance may not cover a renter's goods. Renters will need to insure their own goods in the property.

For more information, see our page on Insurance.

Residential rent increases

If you are in a periodic tenancy, rental providers must give you at least 60 days’ notice if they want to increase your rent, and there are limits on how frequently they can increase it. If you think the rent increase is excessive, you can apply to Consumer Affairs Victoria within 30 days of getting the notice of rent increase and ask them to prepare a report on whether the proposed increase is excessive. If you get this report and it indicates that the proposed increase is excessive, and the rental provider still hasn’t lowered the amount, you can apply to VCAT and ask for orders that the rent increase be lowered.

If you have a fixed-term lease, the rent can only be increased if it says so in the lease. For more information, visit Rent Increases on the Tenants Victoria website.

Commercial properties

Renters and rental providers (landlords) should check their lease to see if it covers what will happen in the event the property is damaged.

A rental provider and the renter may agree to terminate the lease if the property is damaged or destroyed. Unless the renter has caused the damage, they are not liable to pay rent, outgoings, or other charges in any period during which the property cannot be used under the lease, or in which the property is inaccessible due to the damage.

If the property has been damaged but is still able to be used, even in a reduced capacity, the renter may have to pay a portion of the rent, outgoings, or other charges. The reduction in charge will be attributable to any period during which the use of the property is reduced. This will not apply where the renter has caused the damage.

The Retail Leases Act 2003 (Vic) states that:

  1. If the rental provider reasonably considers that the extent of damage makes its repair impracticable or undesirable, and notifies the renter in writing of that, the rental provider or renter may terminate the lease by giving not less than seven days' written notice of termination to the other party
  2. If the residential rental provider fails to repair the damage within a reasonable time after the renter asks the residential rental provider in writing to do so, the renter may terminate the lease by giving not less than seven days' written notice of termination to the residential rental provider.

If the lease is made under the Retail Leases Act 2003 (Vic), the rental provider must maintain the property in the same condition that it was originally leased in. This includes the structure, fixtures, equipment, appliances, and fittings. If you are a rental provider, you do not have to fix any problems caused by your renters misusing the property or equipment. The lease does not cover any equipment that the renter must remove at the end of their tenancy.

If you are a renter, and the repairs are urgent and needed so you can continue your business, you can arrange for them to be done if you cannot contact your rental provider. Your rental provider can reimburse you later. You must take all reasonable steps to contact the rental provider or the rental provider's agent before carrying out repairs. You must give the rental provider written notice within 14 days of the urgent repairs being carried out, but your right to reimbursement does not depend on this notice. The rental provider is only liable to reimburse you for the reasonable cost of such repairs.

If a small business and rental provider of a retail premises are in a dispute about a property, either party can apply to the Victorian Small Business Commission for mediation of the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved at mediation, it may need to be dealt with through VCAT.

Insurance and commercial properties

Depending on the terms of the lease, the renter may need to insure the rental property. If the renter was supposed to do this under the lease but did not, the renter may have to pay the rental provider for damage done to the property by a disaster. Depending on what the lease states, if the renter has insurance but it does not cover the costs of rebuilding the property to what it was like before the disaster, the renter may have to pay the difference in cost.

Where to get help

For legal information and referrals, call Disaster Legal Help Victoria on 1800 113 432 (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm). You can also contact your closest community legal centre to get advice from a local lawyer.

For more support options, see Other organisations that can help or find Other ways to contact us.

Residential Tenancy Bond Authority

The Residential Tenancy Bond Authority (RTBA) is a statutory authority that holds all Victorian residential tenancy bonds, including for long-term caravans and rooming houses. Claims for bond refunds can be organised through the website.

Call 1300 137 164, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm (closed public holidays).

Tenancy Plus Support Program

Tenancy Plus aims to prevent homelessness and supports renters, including community housing renters, to stay in housing. Visit the Tenancy Plus website for more information about the program.

Tenants Victoria

Tenants Victoria is a specialist community legal centre that promotes and protects the rights of tenants in Victoria. They provide advice and information about tenancy laws.

Call their general advice line on (03) 9416 2577, Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 1.30 pm (closed public holidays).

Social housing tenants can call 1800 068 860, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm (closed public holidays).