Dodgy landlord blacklist and ban on rental bidding set to ease renters' woes

Victoria's dodgiest landlords and real estate agents will be publicly named and shamed on a blacklist available to tenants as early as next year, the state government has pledged.

The Andrews government is promising renters a fairer deal, with a ban on the "scourge" of rental bidding including new apps used for this purpose.

"All of my friends have had problems," says Chelsea Hickman. Photo: Joe Armao

"All of my friends have had problems," says Chelsea Hickman. Photo: Joe Armao

The real estate industry has long used dreaded "tenancy databases", which charge a fee for the rental histories of prospective tenants. 

But Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Gil King was scathing of the idea of a landlord blacklist.

"A tenant cannot be on a tenancy blacklist unless they owe more than the equivalent of one month's rent and even then they have the right to challenge the listing at VCAT," Mr King said.

"[A landlords'] blacklist is open to being abused given disgruntled tenants will be able to unfairly place agents on a blacklist." 

The institute also warned the government on Friday about its wider reform package, saying "any imbalance in the market has the ability to cause a rental crisis".

The tenants union, Tenants Victoria, said it would support the key reforms.

If you’ve ever thought your rent costs could fund a mortgage, you might actually be right. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

If you’ve ever thought your rent costs could fund a mortgage, you might actually be right. Photo: Glen McCurtayne

Labor also plans to crack down on misleading and deceptive conduct by private landlords and their agents and force the disclosure of any serious defects or plans to sell the property.

Renters will have to be told about asbestos or other property hazards before they sign a lease.

The Andrews' government will launch the first tranche of its reforms to be announced in the coming days as it fights a difficult by-election in the inner-north seat of Northcote, an area with a high proportion of renters.

Share-house tenant Chelsea Hickman will not be voting in Northcote but she believes a better deal for Victorian tenants is long overdue.

The RMIT fashion student has lived in three rentals since moving to Melbourne from Tasmania in 2013 and says she and many of her friends have horror stories to tell.

One stay in a run-down share house with serious electrical and other problems ended in a nasty spat with her landlord and rental manager, Ms Hickman said.

"All of my friends have had problems," she said.

Some had been evicted for seemingly arbitrary reasons while others had legal disputes over minor damage such as small carpet stains.

Ms Hickman, who now shares a three-bedroom rental in Hawthorn, said there was a major power imbalance between landlords and tenants, particularly young people who were often unaware of their legal rights. 

The number of tenants and residents taking disputes to VCAT has surged in the past 12 months, the tribunal confirmed on Friday, with more than 5000 cases lodged in 2016-2017, a 27 per cent increase on the previous year, although almost all of the cases are still brought by landlords and agents seeking unpaid rent or compensation for damage.

The government's rental reform package follows a review of the Residential Tenancies Act, running since 2015, and Labor is expected to announce further initiatives in the coming days.

Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz​, said the law needed to be updated to reflect the growing number of Victorians renting for the medium to long term.

"These changes will ban rental bidding, give renters better protections, and will hold landlords and agents to account for their actions," the minister said on Friday.