Crop Law

Gain insight into the tribunal that is so important to the Victorian rental market

While we all hope for the smoothest possible property experience, whether you are an investor or a renter, sometimes this simply doesn’t happen. If you are involved in a dispute with your renters or have a non-responsive landlord, the situation can be difficult and time consuming when trying to come to a resolution. If these issues can’t be resolved and require independent mediation, Victorian’s have access to The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Less formal than going to court, VCAT is a tribunal that hears and decides civil and administrative legal cases in Victoria. Formed in 1998, its main purpose is to provide an accessible, competent and low-cost tribunal that focuses on the handling and mediation of disputes.

In all, VCAT is a fantastic tool at the disposal of the Victorian people to ensure that their civil and administrative disputes are heard and considered fairly.

Another useful tool for consumers is the Consumer Affairs Victoria website, which informs about rights and responsibilities regarding things like housing, cars and other products or services available to consumers.

This site can be used to inform you as to whether you require the assistance of VCAT in your particular matter as it is a hub for information about your rights.

What to expect at VCAT?

There are four different divisions that operate within VCAT. They are the civil, administrative, human rights and residential tenancies divisions.

In regard to property investment and renting the tribunal can specifically oversee issues from the residential tenancies division about:

  • Residential tenants and landlords
  • Rooming house owners and residents
  • Caravan park owners and residents
  • Site tenants and site owners.

If there is an issue that you require support with, VCAT will help you by answering any questions about whether they can be of assistance to you regarding your dispute. You will also be provided with information regarding the processes that occur during the dispute resolution process and the implications of VCAT decisions.

For some, paperwork and administrative work can seem like more of a hassle than any ongoing dispute. Luckily, VCAT offer guidance and assistance on potential forms, fees and sources of further information that may apply to you. 

For those in need of assistance or just seeking further information, contacting VCAT’s customer support through their website or via phone is a simple step to take.

While using the services of VCAT, a person has the right to fair and timely mediation or hearing in a safe setting.

Depending on the nature of your dispute and willingness for resolution, a VCAT experience may be resolved through mediation rather than a hearing.

The mediation process involves confidential meetings where the parties involved in the dispute come up with ways that the issues may be resolved. This process will also involve guidance from an impartial mediator who is a qualified member of VCAT.

A hearing at VCAT will occur at a set time and place whereby both parties to the dispute are heard and a decision is made by the sitting member. A member is the person that hears and decides cases. 

Glasses Paperwork

Making an application

If you are a property investor or renter with a renting dispute you may be able to have your dispute heard at VCAT. VCAT is able to hear disputes that occur between renters and investors. They are not able to hear renter against renter disputes or those that occur between neighbours.

Disputes of this nature are settled through the Magistrates’ Court.

Before applying it is important to understand precisely how the law applies to your claim. VCAT requires that you quote the relevant section of the Residential Tenancies Act that can be applied to you

There are three ways that  an application can be made:

How much does it cost to go to VCAT?

When resolving a rental dispute at VCAT, the personal cost to those that make the application can vary.

There are three types of fees that you are subject to.

Application fees are not applied to cases regarding:

• Bond matters listed with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority
• Residential accommodation provided by a disability service provider
• Private supported residential services other than an order to vacate.

If you are seeking a monetary claim though, fees can range from $63.70 to $303.50 depending on whether you are a standard case or are corporate.

Hearing fees do not apply to:

• A claim under $15,001
• Bond matters listed with the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority
• Residential accommodation provided by a disability service provider
• Private supported residential services other than an order to vacate.

Hearing fees also are not applied to the first day of a hearing but can be if there are any following days.

• Day 2 to 4 – $354.10 for standard and $505.80 for corporate
• Day 5 to 9 – $708.10 for standard and $1011.50 for corporate
• Day 10 and after – $1062.10 for standard and $1517.30 for corporate.

If you are subject to a daily hearing fee it is important to pay it by 4:30pm the day before. If you don’t your hearing may be subject to delays.

You will be charged for the issue of a warrant of possession that is $111.30 for a standard hearing or $159 for corporate.

There are no fees charged for an application to reopen an order or an application for costs after an order is made.

You can also be subject to fees for the following services:

• Issuing a summons
• Inspecting a file
• Copies of documents
• Certificates
• Video conference bookings.

When paying any prospective VCAT fees; pay online, via post or in person at the following:

• 55 King St, Melbourne
• William Cooper Justice Centre, 223 William St, Melbourne.

If paying your fees will potentially cause you financial hardship, an application can be made for fee relief. If it is agreed to by VCAT your fees may be waived, reduced or postponed.

What happens at a VCAT hearing?

VCAT hearings are based out of the Victorian Magistrates' Court, with each individual dispute settled in a room in the courthouse. The Tribunal Member (the person that hears the issue) is seated at a bench, while the applicant (the person that has taken the application out against someone) and the respondent (the person the application has been made against) sit at the same table.

It is important to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your hearing to clear security and find the hearing room that you have been assigned to.

While VCAT hearings are less formal then a courtroom, dressing appropriately is still important. Ensuring that your mobile phone is turned off or on silent is another step you need to take.

During the hearing you can choose to represent yourself. Generally, a person does not need to use a lawyer. If you are representing yourself, bring any evidence that you wish to be heard during the hearing.

It is important to note that if you wish to have legal representation during the proceedings it is allowed. However, you need to ask for permission to be represented.

If the opposing party in your hearing is entitled to automatic representation you also gain the right to representation without the need to request it. However, this does not mean that VCAT will provide you with a lawyer. You will also be expected to pay your own costs.

There is a certain order of proceedings that occur at a VCAT hearing. 

Firstly, when the VCAT member enters the room you will need to stand. Keep standing until asked to sit by the member.

A formal promise to tell the truth may be requested. This generally occurs by making an oath or affirmation.  In order to complete this all parties may be guided through the process by a clerk or the member.

After this the member will hear from the applicant and respondent regarding their side of the story and may ask questions.

During the hearing process the applicant and respondent have the right to question each other regarding the dispute. This is called cross-examination.

Once all questioning has finished, the tribunal member will come to a decision regarding the dispute. Known as an order, the decision puts in place what was decided and the action that must follow. Both parties get a copy of the order.

While most hearings are resolved in a single sitting, sometimes a second hearing is required if the dispute is not resolved. 

Enforcing a VCAT order

VCAT decisions are binding on all parties to the dispute. When it comes to resolution, orders can be monetary or non-monetary based.

Enforcement of a monetary order ruled on by VCAT must be made either through the Magistrates, County or Supreme Court. This will depend on the jurisdiction. Enforcement of a non-monetary order happens through the Supreme Court. 

Implementing either type of order is done through filing a copy at the relevant court along with an affidavit describing the non-compliance. The next stages that must be done so that the order can be enforced depend on the individual court rules.

Appealing a VCAT decision

An appeal process does exist for decisions that have been made at VCAT. However, an appeal can only be made on a question of law. If you believe that VCAT made a mistake in the way the law was applied to your dispute, you can begin the appeals process.

In order to appeal, a person needs the permission of the court that would potentially hear the case. 

A time limit applies to the appeals process though. You have 28 days to make the application to appeal.

If you wish to seek leave to appeal, read more about the appeals process.

Contact Little Real Estate today and find out how our extensive knowledge and experience can help you, your investment property and your return on investment today.

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