Rental rights

When it comes to residential rental rights and protections, why is it that Australian tenants are far worse off than those in similar countries?
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01.Tenants' rights


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 except Icelanders.

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. 

Tenancy issues

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 no-grounds evictions. “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”.



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