The freedom of Victorian tenants to choose where they live could be substantially restricted under new COVID-19 laws.
Legislation that cleared state parliament last week to combat effects of coronavirus on the state economy now requires renters on month-to-month leases to get a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal order if they want to move out.
At the tribunal, they would need to prove “severe hardship” if made to stay put.
The temporary law is a significant departure from the original one requiring the tenant to provide 28 days’ written notice before leaving – no reason needed.
Human rights organisation Liberty Victoria says the change is “unprecedented”.
“It puts so much more power in the hands of the landlord,” a Liberty spokeswoman said.
“Renters who are living in properties where the landlord routinely fails to do repairs will be unable to exercise their choice to leave.
“Renters who want to move in with lonely elderly family members in light of the lockdown laws will be unlikely to satisfy the very high bar of showing ‘severe hardship’ if they are forced to stay.”
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria says it’s also confused President Leah Calnan telling AAP her phone has been ringing non-stop with property managers unsure how to put the laws into practice.
“All our members are in limbo at the moment,” Ms Calnan said.
She said the restriction on periodic renters’ right to vacate was a “surprise” and didn’t seem balanced for the tenant or landlord.
REIV has sent questions about the laws to the government, including a request for a definition of “severe hardship” and time frames since the laws are backdated to March 29, and is yet to receive answers.
“It’s probably been put there to try and protect the landlord but it’s an interesting position for the government,” Ms Calnan said.
“Any tenant who has effectively given their notice after the 29th of March, are they now prohibited from vacating?”
Other than severe hardship, tenants are permitted to vacate if they can show they require special care, have an offer of public housing or need crisis accommodation.
Another law causing concern does away with the standard 60 to 90 days’ notice by a landlord to a tenant if they wish to sell their property.
Landlords must now go straight to VCAT to remove the tenant, but it is unclear how many days the tenant would have to vacate.
Ms Calnan said the REIV had been consulted in the drafting process of the emergency laws, while Liberty Victoria was not and are disappointed about being excluded.
The emergency laws are effective for six months.
The Victorian government is yet to respond to AAP’s request for comment.
Originally published as New COVID-19 laws could hurt Vic tenants