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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02.Rental stress

I’m very reluctant to bring up anything because, among other things, I’m concerned about getting a good reference for another rental

Renting can be stressful no matter where you live. However, over the years, CHOICE has heard from a number of families living on Sydney’s northern beaches where competition for rentals can be cut-throat and the renting life can mean moving house every year and having to send your kids to different schools. None of the renters we spoke to had been able to secure more than a 12-month lease over the past decade or so; and none had any certainty about whether the rent would be affordable if they were given a chance to renew for a second year. 

The northern beaches rental market is notorious for one especially rapacious practice: some property owners make sure any fixed lease ends before Christmas so the property can be turned over to holiday renters. At Christmas time, properties in the general vicinity of the ocean can command as much per day as regular tenants pay per week. Since landlords only have to give renters 30 days’ notice that they won’t be renewing a fixed-term lease when it’s coming to an end, renters may only find out in November that they’ll be out the door by December.

Fear of complaining 

It’s no better for first-time renters, some of whom have learned to put up with poor, yet pricey, living conditions. “I’m very reluctant to bring up anything because, among other things, I’m concerned about getting a good reference for another rental,” says CHOICE staffer, Madison Cartwright. “Things that are wrong with the place were obviously that way when we moved in. I know a lot of first-time renters are in the same situation. There’s an unspoken understanding that you don’t complain out of fear you’ll be evicted.” With Cartwright’s fixed lease period behind him, his status has automatically reverted to month-to-month, a state of limbo that the landlord can prolong indefinitely. “Now I don’t want to say or do anything for fear that the rent will go up.”

Another 20-something month-to-month renter we spoke with, who lives in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, is well acquainted with the dangers of complaining. “The house has been falling apart for a while now; no money has been put into it whatsoever,” says Elise C. “We finally sent six or seven emails to the rental agent over a few weeks. A little while later we got a letter saying the rent would be going up by $110 a week, starting in a month. I’d say there’s definitely a connection between our complaints and the rent increase.”

Elise’s story was echoed by many of the responses we received to our social media call-out asking whether worries about rent increases or eviction made renters reluctant to complain. Senior policy officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW, Chris Martin, tells CHOICE the advocacy service “gives advice to tenants about getting repairs done all the time – and concerns about whether raising these issues with their landlords will adversely affect their tenancy is a common theme. It absolutely has an effect on their willingness to assert their legal rights.” 

However, this isn’t to say there aren’t also conscientious property owners out there having put up with unscrupulous renters. Merryl E asked us to “spare a thought for the landlord who sees her property deteriorate with bad tenants; where extra people and animals come for a ‘short stay’; where the rent is constantly in arrears; the water and council rates, insurance and repair costs keep going up; and the rent nowhere near matches the mortgage interest and costs”. 

 

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