“VCAT’s vision is to be ‘an innovative, flexible and accountable organisation which is accessible and delivers a fair and efficient dispute resolution service. Since its inception, VCAT’s purpose has been to provide Victorians with a low-cost, accessible, efficient and independent tribunal delivering high quality dispute resolution”.
If VCAT’s vision is to be fair and efficient and its purpose is to deliver high quality dispute resolution, why can almost any property manager in the State with more than 6 month’s experience relate horror stories highlighting that most decisions are not fair (although one could argue they are efficient) and the dispute resolution is not of a high quality.
With VCAT’s inception in July 1998, the major adversary in a large number of cases for most property managers was the Tenants Union, however with each successive State Government reducing funding in this area, it appears that the Tribunal Members have taken up the cudgel for this role at the direct expense of investment property owners.
A very recent case in point when a new tenant in a 4-year-old property that had been immaculately maintained by the former tenant, complained that the gas cook-top’s auto-ignition system was not working. The owner agreed to have the cook-top repaired but the tradespeople who inspected it advised that repairs were not possible, without significant expense. The owner agreed to provide the tenant with two (2) battery operated gas lighters as the cook-top was in excellent condition with all four (4) burners working well. The tenant was not happy with this and took the matter to VCAT where the Tribunal Member ruled that the entire cook-top had to be replaced.
When tenants don’t pay their rent, the system outlined in the Residential Tenancy legislation sounds simple – but left to the discretionary powers of the Tribunal Members it is anything but! If a tenant is 15 days in arrears the Landlord/Agent can serve a Notice to Vacate upon the tenant providing them with another 14 days to pay rent or vacate. During this period it is best practice to make an Application to VCAT for a Hearing in case they do neither. If the tenant attends the Hearing. they will be given an opportunity to pay, usually ratified with an Order for a Payment Plan which can be for a period of up to one year. If they still don’t pay or meet the requirement of the payment plan, the matter can be re-heard at VCAT. The tenant will be given more time – and the circus continues. On several occasions during the past twelve months, Warrants of Possession already with the Police Department have been overturned by VCAT pending an Application by the Tenant for a review, further extending the Property Owner’s loss. In one such case it took four months to evict the tenants using this common ploy.
In Queensland, the tenancy legislation has recently been amended so that QCAT tenancy disputes can be held at QCAT in front of an independent Justice of the Peace. They will not necessarily have the benefit of the VCAT structure and training which has been a cornerstone of the Victorian legislation. However, it will be significantly cheaper for the State Government to deal with an ever-increasing number of tenancy disputes
Is this the way of the future for Victoria? As over 90% of the tenancy disputes heard at VCAT are brought by property owners or their managing agents against tenants who are in arrears with their rent and it would appear obvious (to politicians and public servants not directly involved in tenancy matters) that their resolution should be one of high-speed and low-cost.
Let us hope not.
True Property Management