The state has warned it will issue fines of up to $11,000 for individual property managers and $57,000 for real estate companies caught doing “the wrong thing”. 

The ‘wrong thing’ includes false advertising, renting out properties that don’t meet minimum standards, and not lodging rental bonds.

“Most rental providers and estate agents do the right thing – today’s announcement is about sending a clear message to those trying to get away with rental offences,” Victorian minister for consumer affairs Gabrielle Williams said.

The minimum standards for a rental property in the state include a workable kitchen, lockable external doors, and being structurally sound and waterproof.

The move could prove controversial, however, with landlords in the state already facing a recently-introduced Covid debt levy.

Propertology head of research Simon Pressley labelled the taskforce an “act of disrespect”, telling it “will be the final straw for thousands of existing landlords”:

“The taskforce is the latest chapter in a vicious attack on the very people that the state government should be supporting and encouraging: suppliers of rental accommodation."

“Victorian tenants should brace themselves for an even more shallow rental pool.”

The new rental taskforce will operate as part of Consumer Affairs Victoria, employing additional intelligence analysts, inspectors, investigators, and lawyers.

Renters will also be able to report issues to the taskforce through the Consumer Affairs Victoria website. 

Rental advocate Jordie van den Berg, who goes by purplepingers on social media, said the new taskforce takes the onus enforcing rental standards off individuals, instead putting it on the government.  

@purplepingers Some renting news for victoria #shitrentals ♬ original sound - Jordie van den Berg

The Victorian Greens have dubbed the taskforce 'toothless'.

“Hiring more people to address dodgy rental providers is important, but it will do next to nothing until this government addresses its own role in the worsening housing crisis,"  Victorian Greens renters’ rights spokesperson Gabrielle de Vietri said.

The party is calling for a ban on unlimited rent rises and no grounds evictions. 

Mr Pressley, meanwhile, blames state government policies implemented over the last nine or so years for the state’s current rental crisis.

Melbourne recorded a rental vacancy rate of 0.8% in February, according to Domain data. 

That was just above the national level, with a record low of just 0.7% of rental properties across the nation available to rent last month. 

“It’s not rocket science to understand why the total volume of properties available for Victorian tenants [as per rental advertisements] has shrunk from 11,500 this time five years ago to a piddly 6,700 now,” Mr Pressley said.

“It really should be around 20,000 properties.”

According to 1,000 renters surveyed by InfoChoice, Victoria houses the most stressed tenants, with only 19% reporting they aren't stressed due to their rent.

Renters in the state were also the most likely to believe their landlord hadn't been fair with their rent, though less than a third blamed landlords for rent rises.

Cate Bakos, Victorian buyers agent and Property Investment Professionals of Australia (PIPA) board member, told she would like to see a crackdown on dodgy renters.

"I’ve personally experienced and seen situations where badly behaved renters have done the wrong thing and had very soft treatment, if any treatment at all," she said.

"Pet damage, poor renter behaviour, and late rental payments are just some of the issues that rental providers face, and I would argue that the system is relatively forgiving on them.

"While at the same time, with higher mortgage repayments, higher taxes and more excessive compliance checks, there isn’t much relief for rental providers who find themselves in financial distress because of a non-paying renter."

She said there are now fewer incentives for property investors to keep assets in Victoria, largely due to increased regulation and land tax.

Victoria isn’t the only state cracking down on landlords and property managers; the Queensland Government revealed a suite of rental reforms earlier this year.

That saw the Sunshine State put a ban on rent bidding and float the idea of a rental sector code of conduct. 

“Rental properties play a critical role, and stronger rules for rental property investors and managers will be developed, with penalties for those who don’t comply, so Queensland renters feel secure and protected,” said Meaghan Scanlon, Queensland minister for housing, local government, and planning and minister for public works.

Underquoting crackdown: A useful use case?

Victoria's new rental taskforce is backed by a $4 million investment and will operate like the state’s existing underquoting taskforce. 

Victorian real estate agents must provide an estimated selling price for properties and must update that estimate if it changes over the course of a selling campaign. 

If they don’t, or their estimate falls short of the ultimate sale price, they may face the wrath of the underquoting taskforce. 

The state government recently revealed the underquoting taskforce has handed out more than $1.1 million of fines and monitored over 700 auctions since its introduction in 2022.

Image by Urlaubstracker on Unsplash

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