Tenant News

Moratorium extended

We welcomed the 6-month extension on moratorium measures for renters – the supports due to expire on 15 October now last to 26 March 2021.

Extending the emergency protections means impacted renters can continue to initiate negotiations with their landlord to reduce rent, and provides greater certainty for renting households who are needing to extend or renegotiate an earlier reduction.

However, we would also like to see the moratoriums’ framework around negotiations strengthened to ensure where negotiations have broken down or failed, the Tribunal can step in and set a ‘fair rent’ that takes into account both parties’ financial situation. We also need strengthened financial assistance or debt relief – to help renters stay in their homes through the pandemic, and avoid debts weighing us down for years to come.

Ongoing crisis for renters

During the COVID-19 crisis many renters have lost jobs or income, and faced significant financial hardship as a result. These impacts are ongoing. A recent survey of 15,000 renters found that renters are skipping meals and paying bills late to afford rent during the pandemic (ABC News), and many are facing eviction during the crisis (The Project). In September, a Tenants' Union report drawing on data from Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services showed a huge increase in callers asking for advice about termination of tenancy (up 80%), an increase in advice about 'no grounds' terminations (up 33%), and many having trouble with rent (40% of private renters who contacted services) – Tenants' Union Report – Supporting renters through the pandemic

Renters' Guide to COVID-19 updated

Our Renters Guide to COVID-19 has been updated to reflect the moratorium extension, as well as many other updates, including an expanded section on Tribunal proceedings during COVID-19, a new section for the most useful templates and forms, and an improved section on rent negotiations – now also summarised in this handy flow chart:

Tenants Advice Line – increased hours

In order to provide more help for renters in bushfire impacted areas and/or impacted by COVID-19, we have increased the hours of our Advice Line. 

The Advice Line now operates 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, Monday-Friday.
We will be prioritising helping those impacted by the bushfires and COVID. The phone number is the same: 1800 251 101. Also, renters can still get advice from their local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, or NSW Fair Trading. 

Pets and strata – a win!

But it's only the first step.

A couple of weeks ago the Supreme Court of Appeal found that a strata by-law that places a ban on pets breaches NSW strata scheme legislation and is invalid. A blanket ban on pets, they found, is “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive”. See Pets now allowed in Sydney apartments as blanket ban on animals lifted by NSW Court of Appeal (Domain).

This great outcome is hopefully the end of a long legal battle for Jo Cooper, owner of Angus – a 14-year-old miniature schnauzer. Jo first applied four and half years ago to the Tribunal to overturn the blanket pet ban in her apartment block so Angus could live with Jo and her partner in their Eastern Sydney unit. Jo’s challenge has seen her go through the Tribunal, the Tribunal Appeals Panel and then on to the Supreme Court of Appeal. She knew that a good decision for her would impact thousands of pet-loving apartment owners and residents. Along the way she has connected with others keen to make strata more pet friendly, and has galvanised many into action, initiating a community petition to NSW Parliament on pets in strata – which you can sign here.

So what does this decision mean?

Well, for owners in strata it means having a pet will be a whole lot easier, though there is still a lot of uncertainty. But for renters in strata it's a different story. They've always faced multiple barriers when it comes to pet ownership. Even if your strata scheme will now allow pets, you may still be facing a pet ban from the landlord. As we note in our Guide to Renting with Pets: while there is no term in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) prohibiting a renter from keeping a pet, or requiring they ask for their landlord’s consent, many landlords include a clause in the tenancy agreement restricting pets. It's a shame landlords are permitted to continue to act in 'harsh, unconscionable and oppressive' ways. 

What needs to happen now?

For many of us, pets are an important part of our family. We feel that we can't 'make home' if our pets can't be part of it. Yet many renters who own pets report experiencing discrimination at the point of application. And significant numbers of people experiencing domestic violence delay leaving a situation of violence because they aren't able to secure alternative housing that allows them to bring their pets with them. Tenancy law needs to change, and no, the answer does not lie with 'pet bonds'. (Earlier this year Meriton got caught out charging an illegal, non-refundable $1100 'pet license' fee for renters in their apartment complexes. They only stopped when Fair Trading threatened to take them to court.)

Read our full analysis of the pets in strata decision and next steps in our blog
Read more

Going to the Tribunal... and winning

It's great when justice is served at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) – check out this post from a renter who successfully challenged claims on her bond. Don't forget that your bond is your money and it should come back to you at the end of the tenancy. It is always the landlord's obligation to actually prove (with evidence) that there is some money that you owe. We know there are a lot of disputes over bond and cleaning – to work out what is reasonable, check out these great articles in savings.com.au and ABC Life from earlier this year.
The Tribunal is an independent body, and although it is not a formal court, its decisions are legally binding. Tenants usually represent themselves. Going to the Tribunal is not meant to be daunting, but we know that it can feel that way. That's why Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Services are there to help. And now we have a new online form available for tenants to request advice before a Tribunal hearing: tenants.org.au/ncatadvice. Please note that you must have a hearing date to use this form, and while the local service will do their best to call you, if your hearing is less than one week away it may not be possible to speak to you beforehand. 
Tribunal Pre-hearing Advice form

Social housing left high and dry?

The recent Federal Budget offered nothing extra for social housing – which is certainly a missed opportunity (The Conversation), and it also did little to address homelessness, and instead includes cuts to funding for homelessness services from mid 2021 – Social housing left high and dry in 2020 Budget (Probono Australia).

The solution to homelessness is pretty straightforward really: housing that is affordable – such as public and community housing. "Homelessness doesn't happen to a certain kind of person. Many are just on the wrong side of Australia's housing boom, born without a social safety net or priced out of increasingly competitive rental markets." – as Sherryn Groch writes in Bob slept on trains. Now he has a home. The fix was simpler than you might think (Sydney Morning Herald).

To reduce homelessness and housing stress, Vinnies NSW is calling on the NSW Government to build 5,000 new social housing homes every year for the next 10 years. The Build Homes – Build Hope petition has already collected over 12,000 signatures on paper, and they have now started an online version – sign it here. We'd love to see NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet's recent announcement about a budget commitment on social housing be a first step in this direction – NSW to spend big on public housing to get out of the COVID-19 recession (Sydney Morning Herald).

What could the NSW Religious Freedoms Bill mean for renters?

The Tenants' Union takes discrimination seriously, in particular in relation to housing. We believe everyone should have the right to safe, secure housing, free from discrimination, including on the basis of religion. We hold deep concerns about the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, and do not believe this Bill will serve to reduce discrimination against renters. Instead, the Bill would allow people and organisations to use religion to engage in otherwise unlawful, discriminatory behaviour, including when providing housing. This would harm a broad range of people who already experience discrimination, including people from minority faiths, the LGBTQI+ community, and single parents.
That's why we have signed on to a joint statement coordinated by Equality Australia opposing the Bill currently being considered by NSW Parliament. If your organisation would like to join 91 organisations (and counting) that have signed on to the statement, click here. As an individual you can sign the petition against the Bill here.
Read more about the Bill and what it could mean for renters on our blog.
Read more

Renting news from the future?

Among many other nightmarish visions coming out of the United States, a gig economy company recently launched 'Uber, But for Evicting People' (Vice), and Amazon announced a new service that "makes it easy for property managers to set up and manage Alexa-powered smart home experiences throughout their buildings." – Amazon's Alexa for Landlords Is a Privacy Nightmare Waiting to Happen (Gizmodo) 

Given the power of identity data over our lives, it is concerning that a major Australian tenancy blacklist company is under investigation by the information commissioner for a potential data breach. Not surprisingly, they have sought to stymie the investigation (Guardian Australia)

Some say "Home ownership is a marker of a growing generational and class divide in Australia" and many of us will be life-long renters not home-owners (ABC Radio). Others argue that Australia should not give up on home ownership, but should make renting better (Sydney Morning Herald), or that Build To Rent is a compelling alternative (Fifth Estate). 

Perhaps the best way to figure out what will happen in future is to understand the past. Chris Martin from City Futures at UNSW offers this excellent history (a long read, but definitely worth the time) – A brief history of Australian residential tenancies law reform: from the nineteenth century to COVID-19.

Changes to planning laws

There have been a number of announcements around reforms to the planning system, partly as a response to the COVID-19 economic downturn. The NSW Government has explained they wish to encourage investment that will deliver real social and economic benefits for the community.

We recently provided comment on the Department of Planning's proposal for a new Housing Diversity State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP). The changes proposed include planning provisions for the new 'housing types' of Build To Rent, purpose-built student housing and co-living, and changes to planning controls (including an affordability requirement) for boarding houses.

For more detail, read our full submission here.
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Legal information in this email is intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. It applies to people who live in or are affected by, the law as it applies in NSW, Australia.
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The Tenants’ Union recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the First Peoples of Australia. Our office is on the lands 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.