A look at the past year, plus all the latest tenancy news.
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Welcome to our last newsletter of 2018. And what a year it's been!
I've been Acting Executive Officer since August, while Julie Foreman is on long service leave. It's been a busy few months! A key focus has been the  campaign to Make Renting Fair – supported by over 100 other organisations. We have had a real effect, although we did not succeed in in ending unfair evictions with the passage of the Residential Tenancies Act Review Bill in November. The campaign continues.
Our legal team have also been making a difference with their public interest litigation and legal advice. We provided over 3,000 instances of advice, information or referral this year. In our work with land lease community residents, we have prevented park operators profiteering from electricity charges and strengthened residents’ rights of tenure and compensation. As always, our support for the NSW network of Tenants Advice & Advocacy Services is of prime importance.

In the last year, the Tenants' Union training programs educated over 1,500 people.

There were over 850,000 unique sessions on our website tenants.org.au – making it the preeminent online resource for tenants in NSW.

This year we also launched our Rent Tracker postcode tool to provide tenants with
up to date data about rents in your area, to challenge unfair rent increases.

2019 will be another big year as we continue all this work plus a number of additional projects. We hope to embark on a special outreach project about the changes to Residential Tenancies Act. We also want to make sure renters' rights are firmly on the agenda during the State and Federal elections.

But funding is scarce, and we need diverse sources of income to make all this important work happen. So we're asking you to make a donation to help us to continue and expand our work for renters. We particularly encourage you to become a regular donor and a Tenants' Union Ambassador – with a donation of $50 or more per year. But every little bit helps. All donations of $2 and over are tax-deductible.

The Tenants' Union has been defending renters' rights for over 40 years. We have achieved major improvements in tenancy law. But there is more to do. Please help us to continue by donating now.

We wish you season's greetings and all the best for the new year – and thank you for your ongoing interest and support for our work!
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Tenants' Union Annual Report 2017-2018

We've just published our 2017-2018 Annual Report – check it out it in pdf or online. Or jump straight to a particular section...

Tenancy advice over the holidays

The Tenants' Union will be running an Advice Line over the holiday period when some Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services are closed. The Advice Line will provide legal information and referral for tenants, boarders and residents of land lease communities. It will operate from 10am–1pm and 2pm–5pm every day except public holidays, between 21 December 2018 and 4 January 2019. The Advice Line number is: 02 8117 3750 or 1800 251 101.

News from the changing world of tenancy

Fear of eviction, properties in disrepair, just getting by

Last week we were proud to help release Disrupted – the consumer experience of renting in Australia – the second report commissioned by CHOICE, National Shelter, and the National Association of Tenant Organisations. The report delves into the renting experiences of our country’s renters and reveals three common issues:
  • poor quality homes and being too afraid to request repairs
  • insecure tenancies
  • struggling with rental affordability and cost of living pressures
The report also shows that there are more insecure leases and substandard housing in NSW than any other state or territory. Read more

Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act

The Residential Tenancies Act review bill passed through parliament in November. It introduces some good things and a few bad things. Overall we can count the bill as a win for the tenants side. One of the key positive reforms is around provisions for survivors of domestic violence. Check out our one-page information sheet about the new domestic violence amendments.

NSW Fair Trading is currently drafting the Regulations. After that’s finished, Parliament will declare the legislation in operation. We anticipate this will happen for the domestic violence provisions early next year, and for everything else it will be sometime after the state election in March 2019.

For more detail on the changes, check out our posts What you need to know about renting reform in NSWPart 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Factchecking the media

Media reporting of housing issues is a mixed bag. Over the last week there have been three instances we thought it was worth factchecking. It was incredibly disappointing to see both of Sydney's main papers having an unfair crack at public housing tenants. And then the ABC dropped a clanger on Sunday – incorrectly reporting that "last year, more Australians bought their seventh home than those who bought their first." Read more

Threatening advertisements 'just a joke' to agents

A few months ago, a real estate agent in Victoria had to apologise and remove an advertisement following outrage by tenant advocates and negative attention on social media.

The ad was pitched at landlords and featured two Rottweiler dogs alongside the slogan "here’s two reasons we’ll get your rent on time". The two dogs are rescue dogs from an animal welfare charity.

The ad was condemned as threatening. They said it was a joke. But we at the Tenants' Union don't think it was funny.
Last week, a Tasmanian real estate agent put out a very similar post on Facebook. They have since taken it down, but have not apologised.

The message these agents are trying to sell is very much anti-tenant, and we think they were trying to attract a particular kind of landlord and attitude.

We also note that there is quite deep irony for a real estate agent to promote rescue dogs, as anti-pet policies by real estate agents and landlords make it much more difficult for rescue animals to find a home.

The limits of rights and protections: Housing as an essential service

Parity, the national publication of the Council to Homeless Persons, recently featured a piece by Leo Patterson Ross (Tenants' Union Senior Policy Officer) and Mark Riboldi (Community Legal Centres NSW Advocacy and Communications Manager).

"Public policy relating to renting and tenancy is typically approached through two competing conceptions: consumer protection and human rights – are we regulating an economic exchange or ensuring that everyone has a roof over their heads? The problems resulting from these, governments resistant to enforceable rights mechanisms and not all tenancies being commercial transactions, mean too many people are denied adequate housing. Perhaps it’s time to explore a different way of framing this issue: through the lens of access to housing as public service provision. Read more

The sad truth of Aboriginal homelessness

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness in NSW is both alarming and growing. An understanding of the situation must begin with the historic and ongoing injustice associated with the way Australia has treated land and property since it acquired it under a false legal claim in 1770. It isn’t surprising that a people whose land was stolen are now largely excluded from the wealth generated by property ownership on which modern Australia relies so heavily. A myriad of other issues also contribute to the situation. Read more

Rental affordability crisis? Just get two jobs

Struggling to pay your rent? The president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia has some advice: 'get two jobs'! He put forward this insight during this 8 minute piece on ABC's 7:30 Report. Thankfully, Leo Patterson Ross and a number of tenants were also featured guests – they were able to present a different perspective.

So is there a rental affordability crisis? In this piece, Leo told the New Daily:
"You can’t just look at the average, which includes higher income people, and say it’s not a problem. We wouldn’t do that with a health crisis, just look at the healthy people, or average out the healthy people, and say you’re fine. We have to look at the people affected by the problem."

The Rental Affordability Index report, most recently updated on 29 November, is a very useful piece of research. It is put out by National Shelter, SGS Economics & Planning, Brotherhood of St Laurence, and Community Sector Banking.
There's been plenty of media attention on falling property prices and falling rents (in some parts of Sydney). But this doesn't necessarily translate into lower rents for tenants on the move. It's worth looking at rents in your area, using our Rent Tracker postcode tool.

Auditor-General calls 'three strikes' on anti-social behaviour policy

The Auditor-General office has released its report into FACS' anti-social behaviour policy. If we lived in a world led by evidence-based policy decisions it should be the nail in the coffin of the punitive anti-tenant approach to social housing. The report makes it clear that the policy has not created "better, safer communities" as it was meant to do – according to both tenants and FACS workers themselves. Read more

International focus on older tenants

This year International Tenants’ Day coincided with the International Day of Older Persons. The International Union of Tenants chose to highlight the theme: Sound, safe and suitable housing for elderly people. Sub-themes included:
  • The right to social and housing assistance to ensure a decent existence for elderly people who lack sufficient resources.
  • A tenure neutral stance expressed through public policy could achieve wide availability of suitable rental housing alternatives for elderly people.
  • Adaption of housing to suit the elderly.
But how is Australia doing in relation to older tenants? Read more

Strata mediation service

NSW Fair Trading has launched a free mediation service available to anyone who lives in, owns, or works in the strata sector or in a community scheme. This service may be of assistance in dealing with common strata disputes such as:
  • keeping pets
  • repairs and maintenance to common property
  • car parking
  • the use of common property
For details, visit the applying for strata mediation page on the Fair Trading site.
Enjoy your holidays! Before you go, please consider chipping in to help us continue our work for tenants...
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For tenancy advice, please contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service. See tenants.org.au

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 New South Wales, Australia.

Copyright © 2018 Tenants' Union of NSW, All rights reserved.
Suite 201, 55 Holt St, Surry Hills, 2010, NSW. (02) 8117 3700

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