Tenant News

Moratorium extended, payments increased

Many renters breathed a sigh of relief a few weeks ago when the NSW Government announced an extension of the eviction moratorium until 11 November, alongside an increase to the Residential Tenancy Support Payment to $4,500. Once the moratorium lifts, transitional protections will also ensure renters can negotiate a reasonable payment plan, and are protected from eviction for debt built up over the moratorium.

However we remain concerned about landlords using 'no grounds' evictions to get around moratorium protections, and other impacted tenants who've felt forced to leave when their landlord hasn't agreed to reduce rent. Also, some landlords are currently failing to apply for the support package and pass this on as a rent reduction even where they have eligible tenants. The announcement of transitional protections to follow the moratorium period should make clear to landlords that if their tenant is impacted they will need to apply for the available support payment and apply this as a rent reduction. It's the right thing to do, and also a requirement of 'good faith' negotiations. 

More info:

Not all lockdowns are created equal

Like the COVID outbreak itself, the effects of lockdown are proving worse for people who are already disadvantaged. And housing is a key factor in this growing inequality. While overseas travellers isolate in hotels, and some people own homes spacious enough to be able to follow official guidelines on separate bedrooms and bathrooms, others face very different circumstances. Many renters are in overcrowded housing (Fairfield Champion) or temporary and unstable accommodation (ABC News) because that's all that's affordable in this rental market – this makes it much harder to protect against infection, and follow the lockdown rules. 

Similarly, housing which is dark, noisy, or in disrepair, has been shown to increase anxiety, depression and loneliness during lockdowns – COVID-19 exposes Australia's stark health inequalities and threatens to entrench them further, and poor housing has direct impact on mental health during lockdown (ABC News). And while many repairs are on hold, property inspections continue, exposing renters to stress and danger of infection.

"Some are in a dinghy and others in a yacht"

A 17-year-old from Mt Druitt, who is trying to do his HSC lessons remotely while supervising his kindergarten brother and acting as a translator for his Egyptian-born parents, told the Herald "It’s funny how the government is saying we’re all in the same boat. We’re in the same storm, but we’re in different boats. Some are in a dinghy and others in a yacht." – A tale of two Sydneys (Sydney Morning Herald)

Aboriginal communities in major battle

The COVID outbreak in western NSW has once again shown the strength and resilience of Aboriginal communities, even in the face of dangerous disregard by government. More than one-in-six residents in Wilcannia have now been infected after the virus spread rapidly in overcrowded homes (SBS NTIV). Aunty Monica Kerwin told a parliamentary inquiry she raised the potential issue a year ago, as part of her role on the local emergency management committee: "I felt at the time that nobody listened, nobody really cared what our opinion was" – Aboriginal elders warned of COVID dangers a year ago (ABC News). The NSW Government has admitted they could have responded earlier to the community's housing concerns (ABC News). There has been too much police involvement, and not enough housing & healthcare (The Conversation).
Louise Austin's children were relieved to get their COVID-19 vaccines (ABC News)
In the face of the COVID danger, the Aboriginal community is stepping up with a massive vaccination effort led by Aboriginal health workers and community leaders, both in regional areas (ABC News) and inner-Sydney (SBS NITV). 

Social housing overpoliced

During this lockdown, it has been disappointing to see the times when authorities have chosen harsh policing over support and collaboration with the community. Helicopters overhead, troops on the streets, and $1,000 fines for vulnerable people who are genuinely confused, are not the best strategies for dealing with this crisis – A need for greater police caution in response to COVID-19 public health order breaches (Redfern Legal Centre). 

Earlier this month, a sudden and poorly communicated hard lockdown of Common Ground community housing in Camperdown left residents confused and distressed. Common Ground, managed by Mission Australia, is home to many vulnerable residents who have poor mental health and disabilities. There was a significant police presence, and unlawful searches of residents’ deliveries and seizure of personal items. Alcohol was very tightly policed. Personal items were distributed to the wrong recipients.

The residents organised a protest – Police enforcing strict lock-in a ‘worst nightmare’ for vulnerable Sydney social housing residents (Guardian) Residents hung banners and put forward demands, supporters waved flags in solidarity while exercising below. 

Legal and human rights groups, including the Tenants' Union, published an open letter condemning the inappropriate policing and unlawful searches imposed on residents. We stand in solidarity with the residents, and reiterate the ongoing calls of many other organisations that public health responses should be led by community and health organisations, not by police. We call on all relevant authorities to communicate proactively, clearly, frequently, and respectfully with residents in any subsequent lockdowns, to respond to any reasonable demands from residents and to work with communities to ensure that the lockdown is carried out appropriately.

We hope that the emerging COVID outbreak at a public housing building in Waterloo will be handled more appropriately – ‘Scared as hell’: COVID-19 cluster emerges in Sydney’s public housing towers (Sydney Morning Herald)

New laws for pets in strata

New laws relating to pets in strata came into effect on 25 August 2021.
A by-law can only prohibit pets where the keeping of an animal would unreasonably interfere or impact on other occupants. The updated Strata Schemes Management Regulation specifies the range of circumstances considered 'unreasonable interference.'
Blanket up-front bans on keeping animals are not able to be imposed.
Our guide to Renting with pets in NSW, and our factsheet for Strata scheme tenants have both been updated accordingly.
The new laws follow a Supreme Court decision in October last year, and a public consultation earlier this year. The changes are a step forward, however pet owners may still face additional costs and restrictions, and renters continue to face the additional key barrier of the landlord.
More info:

Discrimination rife in private rental sector

Since long before COVID, some renters have faced an uneven pandemic of discrimination. Certain landlords and agents abuse their power and indulge their prejudices in multiple ways – from selecting tenants, to evictions, to absurd spice bansLandlords Banning Renters From Cooking With Spices Isn’t Just Illegal, It’s Racist (Junkee).
This month, researchers from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute published a major research report: Understanding discrimination effects in private rental housing. The report looks at discrimination across age, gender, race and Indigeneity, with a focus on informal tenancies and the role of digital technologies. The Tenants' Union contributed significantly to the project. There will be a free webinar to present the findings on 29/9/21.

The report finds that:
  • Discrimination in the private rental sector occurs throughout the system, from searching for and getting a property, to eviction.
  • The power imbalance between landlords and tenants in Australia is profound, and it drives discrimination.
  • Critical policy areas requiring immediate action include: evictions, housing supply, social security, increasing social housing, reducing incentives for investment properties, and minimum property standards.
Read more

High risks faced by international students

International students are a group of renters who face massive hardship, despite the huge contribution they make to the economy and the community. Professor Alan Morris and colleagues have recently published research on International students struggling in the private rental sector in Australia prior to and during the pandemic. The research draws on two large surveys and forty in-depth interviews conducted over 2019 and 2020. Paul van Reyk, Senior Project Officer with the Tenant’s Union, took the opportunity to interview Alan about the findings and implications of the research. 
Read more

Community language factsheets updated

The Tenants' Union factsheets in community languages have recently been re-written and re-translated. We would appreciate your help in distributing this information to renters who speak these languages – perhaps you can display the poster? There are longer factsheets available in Arabic and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), and introductory material available in Assyrian, Farsi/Dari/Persian, Japanese, Korean, Kurdish Kurmanji, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese

Housing crisis continues across NSW

Alongside the specific issues of COVID, the broader housing crisis continues. Aggressive rent increases are making housing unaffordable for essential workers across Sydney (Domain) and in the regions (Business Insider). In regional NSW, the housing crisis is being felt particularly by renters. Recently the Tenants’ Union provided a submission to the NSW Regional Housing Taskforce. In our submission we provide data on the record low vacancy rates and the sharp increases in rents across regional NSW. 

There are no easy or quick solutions. What is required is a longer-term strategy and a significant commitment of resources. While the planning system must be part of the response, increasing housing supply will not alone address the housing crisis. A much broader response and commitments across government are required to deliver on the secure, affordable, and liveable housing that the NSW Government has committed to delivering. Our recommendations to the taskforce include a significant increase to social and affordable housing in regional NSW, and reform of NSW tenancy law. 
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The missing key: social housing

Public and community housing could be part of the answer to solving the housing crisis, but instead its ongoing decline is making things worse. We know that the number of social housing dwellings is already woefully insufficient to address the massive numbers of people on the waitlist. A new report predicts that Australia will face a shortfall of nearly 200,000 social housing properties by 2031 – Stark warning over Australia's social housing timebomb (Canberra Times). Similarly in NSW, new research by the Centre for Social Impact confirms that both total expenditure on social housing per capita and social housing as a proportion of total housing stock are in decline.

Questioning rent in 'affordable housing'

'Affordable housing' is different to 'social housing'. In social housing, tenants generally receive a rent subsidy and are only required to pay 25-30% of their income towards rent. Meanwhile, 'affordable housing' rents are mostly set at 75-80% of ‘market level’. Affordable housing often houses key workers and other people in employment.

In a new piece on the Tenants' Union blog, Robert Mowbray (Tenants' Union Project Officer – Older Renters) investigates the issues around rent-setting in affordable housing. He calls for all community housing providers to spell out what happens when a tenant in affordable housing retires. The question is not only whether the tenant remains eligible and can stay – it's also whether or not the provider will change how the rent is set.
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When renters organise, we can win!

Have you heard? We're relaunching the Make Renting Fair campaign! If you're not already getting campaign email updates, you can update your preferences here and tick the box for Make Renting Fair updates. 
To begin with, we want to explore alongside our community: what can we do to build a fairer renting system? What can we learn from successes overseas about how we can organise renters and win?
We'd like to invite you to our first an online event. In April this year, Germany’s federal court struck down Berlin’s hard-won rent-cap. Fortunately, a campaign to expropriate the largest corporate landlords was already well underway. Come along and hear from campaign organisers about how they’ve organised renters in their communities, built power, and earned incredible success. And share your ideas about how we can do the same in NSW!
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New resources for land lease residents

We recently published Outasite – our annual print publication for land lease community residents. This issue includes articles on electricity in land lease communities, the Review of the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act, Local Government regulations' impact on home owners, site fee increase methods, and much more. We also have a new factsheet on natural disasters for home owners in land lease communities. This complements our existing disaster damage factsheet for tenants.
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Community Lawyer of the Year!

Congratulations to Lehana De Silva (Tenants' Union Solicitor – Aboriginal Support), who has been announced as the Community Lawyer of the Year in the 2021 NSW Women Lawyers Achievement Awards. We are so proud! As well as public interest litigation, and supporting and advising Aboriginal Tenant Advocates, Lehana has been a key part of our COVID-19 response, keeping our renter's guide up-to-date and always looking for new ways to push forward. This recognition is well-deserved indeed! 

Job opportunity: Data & Research Officer

Can you (or someone you know) be our first dedicated data collector, keeper, analyser and storyteller? The Tenants' Union is looking for someone to generate insights and tell stories by bringing together multiple data sources, including our own, to push for a better housing system. We're looking for someone who can take what we already do and bring it to the next level, and explore what else is possible. This is a 3-day per week position until the end of June 2022 (with the potential for extension and permanency, pending funding) at $46.63-$53.19 per hour not including superannuation.
Read more

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The Tenants’ Union recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are the First Nations of Australia. Our office is on the Country of the Gadigal of the Eora Nation. We are committed to respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, cultures, lands, and histories as we battle for tenants’ rights.