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Adjournment: Rental payment systems

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
28 October 2021

My adjournment matter tonight is for the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and my ask is that the minister bans the use of third-party platforms for rental payments in Victoria.

Renters across Victoria are increasingly being asked by their property managers to sign onto third-party property management software. The third-party platforms are pitched as a property management tool for the real estate industry and are supposedly designed to make it easier for renters and their property managers to manage all aspects of a tenancy.

Renters are rightly concerned that their personal data, including bank details, are being provided to an unknown third party through the use of these platforms.

In many cases renters are also told that signing up to the new systems is mandatory and are left with no choice but to hand over their personal and financial data to a third party.

There has also been an increase in third-party companies that process rental payments themselves, which most often involve hidden fees and charges. Some can add up to as much as an extra week’s worth of rent a year.

While I understand that the Residential Tenancies Act requires that a rental provider must offer at least one rent payment method without fees or charges, and that it is reasonably available, it’s concerning that even the fee-free payment methods are now being processed through third-party platforms.

Where renters previously arranged their own Bpay or other rental payments, they are now being directed through the platform and in many cases offered only one fee-free option alongside a number of payment options with attached fees.

It’s also likely that many renters will find themselves pushed into adopting the payment methods through the platforms that do have extra charges attached to them.

I’ve been hearing from renters that the real estate industry is already pushing the limits of what ‘reasonably available’ payment methods allow. For example, some renters are being asked to travel to the real estate agency to pay rent in person as their fee-free, reasonably available method of payment; others are being asked to pay with cheques or in cash.

Pushing renters to sign up to and go through a third-party software company to pay their rent, which may lead many to incur extra fees, also appears to be on the limits of what is reasonable.

I ask the minister to ban the use of third-party platforms for rental payments in Victoria.

Answered: 3 December 2021

I thank the Member for Northern Metropolitan for the matter she has raised.

Up until March 28, 2021, renters had to accept the method of payment specified in their rental agreement. The rental reforms introduced by the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2018 (RTAA) created a new requirement that a rent payment method that incurs no additional cost be made reasonably available to the renter. This change was introduced so that renters could avoid incurring fees when paying their rent.

We are also seeing more and more business functions being conducted online. More real estate agents are using third-party online platforms to manage their businesses. These platforms can cover rental applications, maintenance, and other aspects of managing a rental property including processing rental payments.

While these platforms can provide a seamless tool for managing a rental agreement, they cannot involve hidden fees and charges. Changes brought in through the RTAA included a requirement that the rental provider must give the renter information about all costs, including electronic payment facilitation fees, before the renter agrees to the payment method. The RTAA also clarified that renters cannot be charged fees for the establishment or use of direct debit facilities or any other electronic payment facility relied on by a rental provider for processing rental payments.

I have asked Consumer Affairs Victoria to look into the issue.

The rental reforms enacted by the government were extensive and the changes to rent payments were only one of over 130 reforms from the Government’s Fairer, Safer, Housing Review. With the changes having been in operation for eight months, the government will continue to monitor their implementation and whether the intended policy outcomes are being achieved.

 

The Hon Melissa Horne MP

Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
28 October 2021
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