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What is a residential tenancy?

Information to explain what a residential tenancy is.

A tenancy is an agreement between a renter (formerly called 'tenant') and a residential rental provider or rental provider (formerly called 'landlord') for some kind of real estate. A residential tenancy (now called a 'residential rental agreement') is where a rental provider makes an agreement between one or more renters that give them the right to exclusive possession of a home to live in. Exclusive possession means that they can refuse permission for others to enter their home, even the owner. This right to exclusive possession indicates that a lease exists.

The Residential Tenancy Act 1997 (Vic) defines the rights and duties of:

  • rental providers and renters
  • rooming house operators and residents
  • caravan park operators and residents
  • residents in specialist disability accommodation (SDA) under the NDIS and SDA providers, and
  • residential site park operators under Part 4A and site park residents.

The Act also provides a rooming house register, a centralised system for bonds and establishes the Residential Tenancies Bond Authority.

Further, the Act also provides for an inexpensive and quick resolution of disputes. VCAT handles most of the disputes, with the exception of matters that are a question of law, which are heard in the Supreme Court.

See ss. 1, 3A—Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Renter or boarder?

The agreement between a rental provider and a renter is called a residential rental agreement, also known as a 'lease' or a 'tenancy agreement'. In most cases this is a written document, but it need not be made in writing. If the agreement is not in writing then the circumstances of the arrangement have to be investigated to determine whether the person is a renter, or whether they are a boarder. This hinges largely on whether the person has been granted exclusive possession, the right to exclude all others. If the rental provider has the right to access the property whenever they choose, this indicates that the person has a licence (a personal interest) rather than a property right. This distinction is important because boarders are not protected under the Residential Tenancies Act.

For more about boarders see Share housing.

Rental situations not covered

The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 excludes:

  • properties that are connected to a business
  • farms
  • rental situations connected to a contract of employment
  • holiday rentals
  • hotels and motels
  • rental agreements made between parties in the context of a sale or mortgage of the property (such as if the seller rents the place to the new owners in the period between signing the contract and settlement)
  • housing connected to education facilities
  • temporary crisis accommodation (of up to 6 months)
  • health or residential services.

The regulations may exclude other types of tenancy agreements or premises.

See s. 3, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 23—Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)(opens in a new window) and r. 6—Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

More information


Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)

  • s. 1—sets out the purposes of the Act
  • s. 3A—objectives of the Act
  • s. 7—the Act applies to tenancy agreement if the premises are used primarily for residential purposes even if a business, trade profession is carried out by the renter
  • s. 8—premises connected to premises used for trade or business
  • s. 10—premises used for holidays
  • s. 11—premises used for farming and grazing
  • s. 12—contracts of employment
  • s. 13—contracts of sale or mortgage
  • s. 14—potential to prescribe other kinds of premises or tenancy agreements that are not included in the Act.
  • s. 20—hotels and motels
  • s. 21—education institutions
  • s. 22—temporary or crisis accommodation
  • s. 23—health or residential services

See Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021 (Vic)

  • r. 6—prescribes the period for temporary crisis accommodation as being not more than 6 months

See Residential Tenancies Regulations 2021 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Tenants Victoria

Tenants Victoria is a free community legal service that specialises in helping renters. The website has fact sheets for renters and more detailed resources for renter advocates.

See Tenants Victoria(opens in a new window).

Consumer Affairs Victoria

The CAV site has information and links to forms. Their site also has information designed to inform renters about their rights and responsibilities. The site includes information about the changes to the Act that commenced on 29 March 2021.