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Changes coming into effect on August 25

Cooling now an urgent repair

Repairs to air-conditioning or other cooling appliances must now be treated as urgent. Previously, the law covered heating, cooking, laundry and hot water, but not cooling appliances. Landlords are required to complete urgent repairs as soon as necessary after being notified of their need by the tenant.

This change does not impose an obligation on landlords to install air conditioning in rental properties where there is not currently air conditioning.

Ability to create minimum standards for residential tenancies

The new laws also empower the ACT Government to create minimum standards for existing and new rental properties in relation to:

  • physical accessibility;
  • energy efficiency;
  • safety and security;
  • Sanitation; and
  • amenity of a rental property.

Minimum standards are common across Australia. However, the ACT Government has not yet set any minimum standards as further discussion with the ACT Community is required about what these standards should be. Stakeholders will be made aware when discussions regarding minimum standards progress.

More rights for tenants when a rental property is being sold

Further changes have been made to protect tenants’ rights when their rental property is being sold. Landlords retain the right to sell their rental property at any time, however, the law now contains greater protections for the tenant’s rights to privacy and ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their home when the property is being sold.

There are two changes to the law that are intended to reduce the burden of the sale of a rental property on its tenants.

Firstly, limits on the landlord’s right of access to the property for inspections have been tightened.

  • Landlords must now give 48 hours’ notice to tenants before inspections by prospective buyers.
  • Inspections are capped at a maximum of two inspections per week, 
  • Inspections must take place at mutually agreed times, having reasonable regard to the working and other commitments of the landlord and tenants.

Previously, landlords were permitted to schedule inspections at 24 hours’ notice, at a time determined by them, and with no limit on the number of inspections per week.

Secondly, tenants in a fixed term lease will now have a right to terminate the lease early if the sale process takes too long or if they were not told about the sale before they signed the lease. This right will arise if the landlord wishes to sell the property:

  • within the first 6 months of the lease, and did not disclose the sale to the tenant before the lease was signed (whether or not the landlord knew of their intention to sell at that time), or
  • at any time during the lease, if the sale process requires access to the property for inspections for more than 8 weeks. (i.e. in these circumstances, a tenant can issue a notice to vacate any time after the 8 week period from when the first buyer inspection request occurred).

If a tenant wants to exercise this right, they must give the landlord 14 days’ notice, but there is no requirement to pay any compensation for ending the lease.  Any rent arrears or property damage debt that arose during the course of the tenancy will still be a debt payable by the tenant at the end of the tenancy.

In this way, the landlord’s right to sell the property remains protected, but the tenant now has the freedom to move on and find a new home in circumstances where the sale may be considered unduly disruptive.

Protections for landlords if rental properties are used illegally

The law in the ACT is clear that tenants cannot use (or allow others to use) their rental home for any illegal purpose. Previously, in order to terminate a tenancy on the basis of illegal use the law required landlords to prove that their interest in the property was detrimentally impacted. This requirement was unnecessarily onerous, especially as the negative impact of illegal use on a property may be subtle or intangible.

The law now permits the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) to terminate a lease without the landlord being required to show detriment to their interest in the property. Tenants are still protected from being unreasonably evicted, as the Tribunal must be satisfied that the illegal use of the property justifies the termination of the lease, having regard to matters such as the seriousness of the illegality and the tenant’s history in that property.

Stronger dispute resolution processes

The Tribunal helps tenants and landlords to resolve disputes about rental laws in a quick, informal and inexpensive way. A range of minor changes to the law have been made to support the Tribunal’s operations.

  • Referral of a bond dispute from the ACT Revenue Office is now automatically treated as an application to the Tribunal, making it faster to resolve bond disputes.
  • The suite of orders that the Tribunal can make to resolve tenancy disputes has been broadened, so the Tribunal can make any order necessary to deal effectively with issues raised by the parties.
  • The Tribunal’s powers to assist tenants experiencing family violence have been improved. In particular, the Tribunal can now suspend its orders for up to three weeks, so the parties have time to make new tenancy arrangements. The law has also been clarified to ensure that the Tribunal can take into account the interests of all people affected when it is making orders (including the person against whom a protection order has been made and all children of the parties).
  • In certain limited circumstances the Tribunal can now make payment orders to require the payment of future rent, even when a tenant has no outstanding arrears. This may be appropriate where a tenant has repeatedly fallen into arrears before. This gives landlords a smoother pathway to take action if the tenant falls into arrears again.
  • The Tribunal has a clearer and fairer power to correct defective notices. Notices given by a landlord or tenant can only be corrected for minor errors where this would not disadvantage the person receiving the notice.