Renters and landlords now waiting 50 weeks for VCAT bond disputes

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The number of Victorian landlords and renters fighting over bond compensation matters has grown steadily over the past four years, highlighting the challenge the Allan government faces in setting up its new residential disputes authority.

More than 6800 bond and compensation matters were lodged with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal last financial year, the equivalent of 130 applications from renters or landlords every single day.

More than 6800 bond and compensation matters were lodged with VCAT last financial year, with the average wait time blowing out to 50 weeks.Credit: Peter Rae

VCAT received almost 6700 bond and compensation applications during the 2021-22 financial year, and more than 5600 for the 12 months ending June 2021. Those figures are up from the 5332 applications lodged in the 2019-20 financial year.

A tribunal spokesperson said the average wait time for such cases to be dealt with was currently 50 weeks, or just shy of one year.

“VCAT appreciates the wait many of our users are currently experiencing, and has implemented a number of initiatives to reduce these waiting times,” the spokesperson said.

In its long-awaited housing statement released last month, the state government promised a simpler process for resolving tenancy disputes. Specifically, Labor pledged to create a new dispute resolution body, citing VCAT’s high workload. The Victorian government has been contacted for comment.

Academic Kelly Chan decided to break her Seddon lease after she lost part-time work and couldn’t afford to pay the rent.Credit: Joe Armao

Melbourne renter Kelly Chan, who waited more than nine months for VCAT to hear her bond dispute, said the delay took a toll on her mentally and financially.

“Fifty weeks of waiting is an absolute pain,” she said. “The government needs to work on alternatives immediately.”

The VCAT figures come amid polling that shows less than a third of Victorian voters support the incoming tax on short-term rental properties, a key pillar of the Andrews-turned-Allan government’s signature housing reforms.

Among Labor voters, just 38 per cent want to fork out an extra $20 or so a night on holidays booked through platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz. The findings were contained in an exclusive survey of 1103 eligible Victorian voters conducted by Resolve Strategic for The Age during the months of September and October.

The 7.5 per cent consumer-facing charge – which will come into effect from 2025 and is expected to raise tens of millions of dollars a year – will be funnelled into Homes Victoria to help build more social and affordable housing.

However, 44 per cent of voters oppose the plan, according to the Resolve polling. The strongest opposition comes from Coalition voters – 59 per cent of whom are against the tax – while 30 per cent of Labor voters are also opposed. Opposition from all voters is as high as 48 per cent in marginal seats. Just 29 per cent of voters support the tax.

A statewide short-stay levy was the brainchild of Labor MPs who wanted to crack down on the number of properties not on the long-term rental market. Some of the party’s most marginal seats are in Melbourne’s south-east, which has a large concentration of properties listed on websites like Stayz and Airbnb.

Airbnb backs a statewide levy, but has previously said a 7.5 per cent charge is too high, and could have flow-on effects for tourism.

Victoria unveiled Australia’s first statewide Airbnb levy back in September. Credit: The Age

Airbnb Australia and New Zealand manager Susan Wheeldon said the Victorian government should reconsider the rate of the incoming charge.

“It’s no surprise the government’s proposed tourism tax is proving unpopular with Victorians who are struggling to make ends meet with the cost of living still stubbornly high,” she said.

An Oxford Economics report released earlier this month found that one in every 14 jobs generated by tourism in Australia is associated with Airbnb. Guests using the platform last year spent, on average, $1276 per trip – a figure that includes accommodation, transport and purchases from local businesses.

Labor frontbencher Melissa Horne on Sunday declined to be drawn on whether she and other ministers expected a voter backlash as a result of the incoming charge.

“We’re introducing this levy in order to address the significant housing shortages that we’re seeing, and to be able to increase rental stocks,” she said. “It’s a sensible and commensurate measure.”

The Coalition’s finance spokeswoman, Jess Wilson, accused Labor of planning to tax people’s summer getaways.

“Under no circumstances should we be taxing Victorians who want to take their family on a holiday that’s more affordable using a platform like Airbnb.”

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