The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) sets out the rights and duties of landlords and tenants, including the residents of caravan parks and rooming houses. Strict limits are set on bonds. Landlords’ rights of entry are limited by law. Tenants can be evicted only by legal process, but being in arrears on rent can result in a 14-day Notice to Vacate.

When a property is sold, a 60-day notice must be given. Tenants must give 28 days notice to vacate. VCAT can rule on all tenancy disputes, but appeals to VCAT rulings are complex and may be uneconomic.


Ben Cording

Principal Solicitor, Tenants Victoria

Social housing

Last updated

30 October 2020

What is social housing?

‘Social housing’ is an overarching term that covers both public housing and community housing. Social housing is a type of rental housing provided/managed by government or non-government organisations.

Social housing often adopts policies that are in addition to the criteria of the RT Act. These polices are designed to regulate and protect the accessibility of financially supported housing.

In October 2017, the Victorian Ombudsman published their findings about the ‘investigation into the management of maintenance claims against public housing tenants’. The report made broad-ranging observations, numerous recommendations, and called for a cultural shift within public housing. Since then, many policies have been reviewed and amended. Most importantly, having an outstanding debt with the Director of Housing no longer stops a person from being placed on the public housing waiting list or from accepting a public housing property.

Tenants with extensive maintenance debts should seek legal advice (see Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help).

Housing policies

Housing policies may vary, but they generally serve to regulate the discretion of the social housing provider. For the purposes of the RT Act, unless clearly stated to the contrary, social housing providers are treated the same as any private landlord.

It is paramount to note that VCAT cannot consider policy based decisions, such as a social housing provider deciding to serve no reason Notice to Vacate, unless it could be shown to be retaliatory.

The fact such a decision may be contrary to a social housing’s purpose or constitution is either a matter for internal appeal, external intervention by an overseeing body such as the Housing Registrar, or in the case of a decision by public authorities such as the Office of Housing, a matter of judicial review. With respect to the latter, and similar to appeal, such a decision must have the qualities of an error of law. 

Many social housing providers copy the policies adopted by the Director of Housing.

Public housing policies are available online at:

  1. Housing website:
  2. Providers’ website:
  3. Victorian Housing Register website:

It is important to note that according to section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth), policy documents used for decision-making should be made available for inspection unless an exemption applies. Further, in section 9, if a policy is not made available where it should have been under section 8, then the ability of a public authority to rely on that policy, if not otherwise clearly stated in law, may be unlawful.

For community housing providers, policies are part of the terms of a tenancy agreement. If policies are not provided, parties should look at making an internal formal complaint, and then approaching the Housing Registrar or applying to VCAT.

Rental rebates

The most important policy for social housing tenants to understand is the rental rebate policy. You can get this on request from your social housing provider, or for tenants in public housing, find the relevant information on the providers’ website. If your community housing provider does not make the rebate policy readily available, you should complain to the Housing Registrar.

The rental rebate supposes a ‘market rent’. This is the amount the premises would be let at, if there was no subsidy. The total household income is then assessed in accordance with the Director of Housing or relevant rebate policy.

By applying the policy, the rent is then discounted or ‘rebated’. This calculation is usually based on the relevant landlord seeking to ensure that tenant pay no more than a particular percentage of their household income as rent. For details regarding what income is counted as assessable income for rebate purposes, parties should refer to policies available on the providers’ website.

It is important for parties to comply with the policy, as certain guests or licensees may be deemed to be ‘residents’ under the rebate policy for residing in the premises frequently. While they do not become tenants, the policy may count their income as part of the household income, causing the rent to increase.

As matter of practice, the policy can be retrospectively applied, to cause an increase or decrease in rent.

If parties disagree with a particular assessment, they may wish to lodge an internal appeal. If the application of a rebate policy appears in error after an internal appeal, parties should seek legal advice.

It is critical in relation to rent arrears matters to ensure the rebate has properly been assessed and is up to date, as this may dictate the validity of a Notice to Vacate for rent arrears.

For more information, see the ‘Rental Rebate’ chapter of the Public Housing Policy and Practice Manual on the providers’ website.

Temporary leave of absence

Generally, if a sole tenant is going to be absent for six weeks or longer, the tenant should let the Office of Housing know in writing, so the landlord doesn’t think the tenant has abandoned or sublet the premises. If a tenant is absent, they should provide up-to-date contact details, or an emergency contact number. In special circumstances, a sole tenant may be eligible for reduced rent for the duration of their absence (up to six months, generally).

During this period, rent is reduced to $15 a week. Recognised reasons that may entitle a party to reduced rent include being temporarily relocated to a nursing home, rehabilitation, respite or incarceration (remand or sentenced) facility. Tenants should discuss these policies and the relevant documentation with their social housing provider.

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