We're working hard to get Victoria's rental laws updated, including getting minimum efficiency standards in place for rental homes. We hope we'll get a result in 2018, but in the meantime here's the low down on what the law currently says about efficiency and improvements, to help you work out where you stand legally with making the place you rent more sustainable.
The law in Victoria on making changes to your rental property says you are not allowed to install “fixtures” or make “alterations” without your landlord’s permission.
The law doesn’t clearly define what a fixture or fitting is. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which hears disputes between landlords and tenants, makes this interpretation on a case by case basis.
For example, you can change a light globe without permission. However, if you install a showerhead without your landlord’s permission and if they take you to the tribunal, whether you get in trouble or not would depend on the tribunal’s interpretation of the law – is a showerhead a fixture or not? Is it an alteration? It’s a change to the property, but so is changing a light globe…
A lot of minor changes like installing an efficient showerhead or weather stripping most landlords wouldn’t be bothered by, might well support, and in fact are unlikely to even notice. If you have a friendly and supportive landlord, the best bet is to ask permission before making any changes. Get the permission in writing and keep it somewhere safe.
If you don’t have a friendly and supportive landlord, you could make your own judgment on how your landlord or real estate agent might respond and how the law will be interpreted by the tribunal. However you need to be aware that you are taking a risk.
Legally, you’re required to restore the property back to the condition it was when you moved in, with the exception of reasonable wear and tear. So, even if you have permission to make changes, ask the landlord to include in your written agreement that you will not be expected to undo those changes when you move out.
If you don’t get permission, but undo any changes you make before moving out – leaving the property how you found it – you’re less likely to have problems. However if you do any damage to the property you could be made to pay for it, so you need to be careful with things like installing water saving showerheads yourself, in case you damage the shower fittings. If you make any permanent changes without permission, you are taking a bigger risk.
If your landlord needs to replace any “fixture, fitting or appliance” which uses or supplies water, they are obliged to replace it with one which is water efficient. This covers things like taps, toilets and hot water services, as well as any appliances they own, for example the washing machine, if it came with the property. If the replacement isn’t water efficient, the water and sewage charges become the landlord’s responsibility until an efficient one is put in. For more information contact the Tenants Union.
Unfortunately there is nothing in the law about the energy rating of replacement heaters, hot water systems, or coolers, which are all big energy guzzlers in your house. Right now, the only standard Victorian rental homes need to meet is to have a smoke alarm. That’s it. There doesn’t need to be a heater, the windows don’t need to open, and you can forget about insulation or draught-sealing. That’s why we are campaigning for all rental homes to be required to meet minimum standards for health, safety and efficiency before they can be leased. Add your voice to the call for standards.
In the meantime, there is nothing to stop you suggesting they install a more efficient solar, gas or heat pump hot water system and get a rebate and tax write off from the government. See the section on approaching your landlord or real estate agent for more.
If you feel confident reading legal jargon, you might like to know that the information above is based on the Residential Tenancies Act, which governs rental properties in Victoria. The Act is available on the Tenants Union website and the most relevant bit is section 64:
64. Tenant must not install fixtures etc. without consent
(1) A tenant must not, without the landlord’s consent—
(a) install any fixtures on the rented premises; or
(b) make any alteration, renovation or addition to the rented premises.
(2) Before a tenancy agreement terminates, a tenant who has installed fixtures on or renovated, altered
or added to the rented premises (whether or not with the landlord’s written consent) must—
(a) restore the premises to the condition they were in immediately before the installation, renovation or addition, fair wear and tear excepted; or
(b) pay the landlord an amount equal to the reasonable cost of restoring the premises to that condition.
(3) Subsection (2) does not apply if—
(a) the tenancy agreement otherwise provides; or
(b) the landlord and the tenant otherwise agree.
What is defined as a fixture (as opposed to a moveable object) is decided on a case by case basis, and depends on “the intention with which it has been placed within or attached to the premises”.
Contact the Tenants Union of Victoria on 03) 9416 2577, or check out their many fact sheets on renters’ rights at www.tuv.org.au.