The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is reaching capacity, sending thousands of landlords and renters into limbo as tribunal hearings cannot be scheduled due to massive demand following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bodies representing tenants and real estate agents say VCAT requires immediate funding improvements and staff as the organisation wrestles with moving its entire operations online. Further hampering the tribunal’s work is the current COVID-19 situation in Victoria, where a positive case closed the court almost entirely last week.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan spoke to The Age and explained that “[The tribunal] is under-resourced and needs immediate attention by the state government because it’s adversely affecting all participants – owners, tenants and property managers.”
Numbers from the Justice Department show that the caseload has increased to 130 per cent when held against pre-pandemic levels.
The worst-hit is the residential tenancy list, which hears on average 50,000 cases per year. It currently has a turnover rate of around 60 per cent.
Bodies representing both real estate agents and tenants say that disputes over bonds and various compensation matters number at least 10,000 currently and can take months to receive a hearing date, if they recieve one at all.
One woman struggling with the current VCAT situation explained that when she lost her job last year and could not afford her rent, she had her landlord refuse to return the bond when she attempted to break the lease. The same landlord subsequently claimed thousands in compensation against her for costs associated with reletting the property. The tenant has been waiting ten months for a hearing date and is yet to receive a time and day for her hearing.
The Andrews Government has assured users that more than $80 million in funding was invested into VCAT over the last two years, but admitted that “the sheer scale of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the high volume of cases VCAT deals with means that it will take some time for things to get back to normal.”