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Renters, landlords in limbo after COVID crashes dispute tribunal

“They need their money back in order to help them find somewhere else to live,” Ms Beveridge said.

Kelly Chan has been waiting for her dispute over her bond to be heard in VCAT for 10 months.

Kelly Chan has been waiting for her dispute over her bond to be heard in VCAT for 10 months.Credit:Joe Armao

This was the case for Kelly Chan, a PhD student from Hong Kong who is studying in Melbourne.

Ms Chan gave her landlord notice that she could not afford her rent and needed to break her lease after her part-time job as a research assistant was made redundant last year.

Her landlord refused to release her $2200 bond then claimed thousands in compensation against her for the time it took to find another tenant.

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“I understand they [the landlord] also suffers, but I really don’t have any money,” she said.

Ms Chan could only afford to move due to the kindness of her new housemate covering her share of the bond.

It has been 10 months since Ms Chan applied to VCAT, and the 38-year-old’s case is listed for a hearing next week.

Ms Calnan said all parties, from renters to landlords, were frustrated.

“There has been some consideration for cases where there’s been severe hardship or substantial rent arrears, but unfortunately, you go into the system and it’s a matter of waiting,” she said.

The caseload has also been difficult for the tribunal’s staff. About 10 per cent of the about 200 members resigned during the pandemic and weren’t replaced. Staff are also reporting far more calls from abusive and distressed Victorians desperate to have their cases heard.

“It’s evident that more funding is needed to build both the capacity of VCAT and the legal assistance sector,” Ms Beveridge said, adding a dispute resolution service for tenants and landlords should be re-introduced.

A VCAT spokesperson said the tribunal was amid of a redesign that will make it paperless, which will improve access.

A government spokesperson said more than $83 million in funding had been invested in VCAT over the past two years and two new facilities opened in Frankston and Bundoora this year.

“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.”

Liberal shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue said the delays were unacceptable and a direct result of an Andrews’ government failure to address a funding crisis that “sees VCAT utilising 1980s technology and systems”.

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