Residential Tenancies Amendment (Long-term Tenancy Agreements) Bill 2017

Ms HUTCHINS (Minister for Local Government) — I am very pleased to rise to speak to the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Long-term Tenancy Agreements) Bill 2017, and I acknowledge the work that was done by the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, who has done a power of work in going out to the community to canvass ideas on Victoria’s tenancy laws with the aim of improving the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

Responses came in from all corners of the state, including 331 written submissions to the Fairer Safer Housing discussion paper and over 3000 contributions from participants at forums and through surveys. There were a few consistent themes that came through from this consultation, and I have got to say that they were very much in line with what I hear from people in my own electorate. Victorians are calling for more secure, more affordable housing —

Mr Katos — Acting Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the house.

Quorum formed.

Ms HUTCHINS — Now that my fan club is here to listen to my contribution on this very important tenancy bill I just want to make the point that more than 25 per cent of Victorians currently live in rental accommodation and this government believes they should have longer term leases and more security.

As a young child growing up, by the time I left home at the age of 19 I had actually moved house 20 times in 19 years. My mum and I actually sat down and counted up all the houses we had lived in during that time. I was very familiar with what the laws and regulations were around renting at probably the tender age of about 10 or 11 because we faced very short-term leases and very much insecure housing as I was growing up because my parents were very young when they had me. They were 18 and 19 years old and they had three children by the time they were 23 and 24. They had never had the opportunity to buy a house in all of those years together. They instead were forced into the rental market and on many occasions were forced to move on even before the leases were up due to the nature of where we lived at the time, which was predominantly around the Moonee Ponds area and that was year by year becoming more gentrified.

Many of the houses that we rented would be sold or renovated and we were moved on, which was one of the primary reasons that we moved house so much. I am not sure if the member for Essendon is here, but we lived in the three consecutive streets in a row in Essendon: Byron Street, Browning Street and Chaucer Street, all named after the great poets. I will never forget the memories of walking our belongings down the laneway between those streets as we moved house during that time.

With that experience under my belt, I am very pleased to talk about the long-term rental opportunities that this government has committed to through this bill. No-one takes it easy when they move house. Moving house is extremely stressful. For many families who are forced to move from house to house every year or every few years, their children’s education gets disrupted. Their relationships, their friendships and their sense of community become very unsettled. Quite often people are forced to even change jobs if they are forced to change their housing and move to the other side of town or in fact to regional Victoria in order to find affordable housing.

What this bill delivers is looking at how we can offer both landlords and renters those securities, if they do seek those arrangements, where they can have a long-term tenancy agreement. This amendment actually paves the way for that. Currently the act does not provide for tenancy agreements greater than five years. Under this reform the rights, duties and protections of the existing act will remain in all fixed-term tenancy agreements going forward. This bill just amends the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to cover leases of longer than five years, which will provide greater security for both tenants and landlords, provide stability for renting families and provide a more steady income source for property owners.

Research conducted as part of the Fairer Safer Housing review found that approximately 50 per cent of landlords and 25 per cent of tenants indicate interest in longer fixed-term tenancy arrangements. Security of tenure was identified by tenants as a high-priority issue, and almost 20 per cent of tenancies have now been ongoing for more than five years. Rental applicants who have maintained a tenancy for five years or more may also find that their future applications will be strengthened by their consistent rental record.

My own brother recently left a rental property after seven years of being there, and he said it gave him the edge in applying for other properties when he went forward. In fact he got multiple offers because he had been in the same place for seven years. That arrangement had been locked in for a four-year arrangement to start with and then year to year after that. So it is a better situation for landlords and tenants to know that those who look after their homes and have more stable agreements with their landlords will be rewarded with either secure long-term leases or more consistent rental records to show on their next rental application.

The Consumer Affairs Victoria review of residential tenancy agreements also found that 30 per cent of tenants preferred a tenancy longer than two years, which at the moment in practice is almost discouraged by the current act. The existing laws do not provide certainty, so in practice landlords and tenants are not discussing these types of leases even where there is benefit to both parties. These changes will mean greater security for the 884 000 Victorians who rent or own a rental property — both tenants and property owners — providing stability for renting families and a more steady income source for property owners.

We also know that the requirements to pay a higher bond amount at the start of the tenancy will not be something that increases under this regime. We know there will be flexibility during the term on behalf of the landlords. Aside from the legal protections of rental bonds, we also know that the risk of occurrence of damage in long-term tenancies of more than five years is significantly lower than in tenancies of less than five years. The safeguards that currently reign under the act will certainly be in place for both the landlords and tenants. Of course this is all being undertaken with quite a substantial investment by the Andrews government, as well as new technology underpinning this, which includes a matching website that will look at matching up tenants and property owners who both want to secure long-term leases.

Consumer Affairs Victoria, the Tenants Union of Victoria, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria, the director of housing in the Department of Health and Human Services and of course the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation have all made huge contributions to the development of this bill, and what has come out of that work is a very positive bill with great benefits to property owners and renters across Victoria. We need to make it easier for Victorians to put a roof over their heads. This bill, in concert with the government’s housing affordability strategy, will deliver this. We have committed to a $1 billion Social Housing Growth Fund and 100 000 new lots in 17 new suburbs, and we have welcomed changes to stamp duty and first home owner grants. This is a great initiative, and I commend the bill to the house.