As far as rights go, Australian tenants are left in the dust by many OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.
Of the 34 OECD countries, Australia
is one of the few that allows “no
grounds” evictions. Plus, renters
are forced to accept short leases and
very few restrictions on rent increases.
Property owners in Australia can limit
a lease to any length and let renters
know it won’t be renewed any time
they want. It’s probably no coincidence, then,
that Australians move house more
than any other OECD citizens
Martin Barker, a tenant advocate at
Sydney’s Inner West Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service, characterises
Australia’s lack of tenant support as an
“international anachronism”, especially
compared with the enlightened rental
regimes of countries such as Germany
and the Netherlands.
Easy eviction has meant living in a state of stressful uncertainly for many tenants, according to Barker. “It really removes renting as a reasonable long-term option, despite the fact that many people are forced to rent anyway.” Tenants in NSW, for example, can be evicted “for no reason at all” once their fixed term is up, Barker points out, and many landlords in the Sydney area are currently leaning towards terms of six months, or 12 months “at best”.
This is a prime piece of evidence
that the system is skewed in favour of
property owners, but there are subtler
inequities as well. If a tenant in Victoria,
WA or NSW needs to break their lease
for any reason, they can be required to
continue paying until the rental agent or
landlord fills the property or the fixed
terms ends. Lease breakers in these
states can also be liable for maintenance
and the rental agent’s advertising costs.
Compare this with Germany, where
leases effectively confer permanent
occupancy; a tenant need only give
three months’ notice with no further
obligations. And, in the limited
circumstances under which a tenant
can be evicted, landlords must give six
months’ notice if the tenant has been
there five to eight years, and nine
months if they've been there longer.
In NSW, revisions to the Residential
Tenancies Act in 2010 further undercut
long-term rental security, argues Barker.
In a compromise with the landlord
lobby, the notification time frame for
eviction of month-to-month renters
was increased from 60 to 90 days.
The trade-off was that the Consumer,
Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT)
lost its discretionary power to overturn
“Now, if the landlord issues you an eviction
notice, you’re gone,” says Barker. (The CTTT can still
adjudicate in cases where the landlord
wants to evict a tenant on the grounds
they’ve breached the terms of the lease.)
Then again, a win at the NSW CTTT
for a tenant in a no-grounds case did little to improve
rental security, according
to Barker. Tenants could previously
challenge a no-grounds eviction if they
believed it was issued in retaliation for
making a complaint, but “even if they
did win they would certainly have been
on their landlord’s bad side and, at best,
would have only had another year. It
made people very reluctant to stand
up for their rights”.