Tenant News

Show your supPAWt for pets in rentals!

NSW Fair Trading is currently seeking feedback on the laws for pets in rentals. In NSW, landlords can still refuse to allow a tenant to keep a pet without providing a reason (unless it’s an assistance animal). The situation is better in other states and territories – for example, the landlord may be required to go to the Tribunal to refuse a pet, or may only be allowed to refuse a pet for certain reasons. We think it’s time NSW caught up!
The Tenants’ Union and the Make Renting Fair campaign have been collecting renters’ opinions and experiences about pets and renting. Last week, we held an action in Camperdown dog park for renters and our furry friends to sign on to end blanket ‘no pets’ clauses. It was lots of fun!

Check out our video with Councillor Chloe Smith (Labor Councillor for Stanmore-Damun) and video with Jenny Leong (Greens MP for Newtown) about renting with pets, and what needs to change for renters in NSW. 
It’s not too late to show your supPAWT for pets in rentals – please take Fair Trading’s quick survey, or upload a submission, before 5pm Friday 2 Dec.
NSW Fair Trading survey

New research on the Northern Rivers floods shows the flaws in the housing system

While floods and their aftermath continue to impact the disadvantaged the most – ‘Ruined my life’: Renters like April are flood disaster’s forgotten victims (ABC News) – new research on the Northern Rivers has revealed the dynamics of housing and floods in more depth. The impact of housing vulnerability on climate disaster recovery: The 2022 Northern Rivers Floods focuses on the Northern Rivers eight months after the severe floods earlier this year.
The research was conducted by UNSW City Futures, and jointly commissioned by the Tenants' Union of NSW with five other community organisations. 
The research shows that regional housing markets cannot withstand widespread property losses caused by natural disasters, like floods, because there is limited rental stock. The result is that more low-income renters are being displaced, while others are being left with little choice but to accept living in homes that need repairs, or are otherwise unsafe. Action needs to be taken to safeguard regional Australians against homelessness and displacement. The report makes a number of recommendations, including: 
  • Build more social housing stock in low-risk geographic areas
  • Better protections for renters, such as ending no-fault evictions, at least in periods when the private rental market fails due to natural disasters
  • Better resourcing for responses to homelessness
Read more

Some good news – improving standards for energy use

Minimum standards can help improve life for renters, and as well as combat climate change and mitigate its affects. In the ACT, rentals will soon have to be fitted with ceiling insulation that meets the standards of new builds (ABC News). And in VIC, from 2023, new apartment buildings seeking to operate an embedded network must use 100% renewable electricity and generate at least 5% from on-site renewable energy such as solar and / or geothermal (The Fifth Estate).

Land tax – First Home Buyer Choice scheme

There have been a variety of views on the NSW opt-in land tax (Canberra Times). At the the Tenants' Union, we have supported a broad-based land tax for many years – we see it as fair and efficient. However we also recognise that this version does not fit the definition of a broad-based land tax of the type that we support, or of the type that was originally proposed. In effect it is another support for purchasers of their first property. Thankfully, in this instance we don’t believe it will act to further inflate the already inflated property market, though it also won’t reduce the cost of purchasing overall. 

In October we spoke about these issues at the public hearing for the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Property Tax (First Home Buyer) Bill 2022. For more analysis read our opening statement – Property Tax: TUNSW provides evidence to NSW Parliament
Read more

Election advocacy: urgent need for change in the NSW renting system

Earlier this month the Tenants’ Union and Make Renting Fair, as part of the Homes for People coalition, launched Housing Solutions for Everyone at NSW Parliament. The coalition of NSW housing campaigns is working together to give focus to the problems many people face in relation to housing. We are calling for housing reform that will create the homes people want and need; homes that provide shelter, safety, stability, and comfort.

So the Tenants’ Union was very pleased to see NSW Labor re-commit to ending no-grounds evictions if elected. Landlords will be required to identify the reason for ending a lease – from a set list of reasonable grounds, such as needing to move back in to the property. Labor also committed to portable bonds – a mechanism for tenants to transfer our bonds between tenancies when we move, to reduce the hardship of 'double bonds'. Under Labor’s proposal, the Rental Bond Board would allow a bond to be transferred directly to another property when a tenant moves – Portable bonds’, stricter eviction laws promised for NSW renters (SMH). 

The Greens also continue to work tirelessly for tenancy reform – MP Jenny Leong recently introduced a bill to parliament to abolish no-grounds evictions – Push to end no grounds evictions in NSW (AAP). While the Bill was not voted on before Parliament sat for the last time this year, we hope all decision makers are aware of the urgency of the need for reform to end no-grounds. This was raised with all decision makers in a joint letter from the Tenants’ Union, COTA NSW, Shelter NSW, Housing for the Aged Action Group, Better Renting, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and Vinnies NSW when the Bill was introduced in early November.

Disinvestment threat debunked

Just this week new research was released from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) examining the effects of regulation on investment behaviour. The research looked at the periods following tenancy reforms in NSW and Victoria to test whether disinvestment was something policymakers should be concerned about.

Disinvestment is the oft-repeated claim from industry figures, in Australia and abroad, that landlords will remove their properties from the sector, driving down availability and driving up rents. 

The researchers found no evidence for the claim and also included a useful comparison of various aspects of renting law across Australia.
Media and politicians should take note of the findings and stand firm on sensible renting reform that focusses on the main task of ensuring all of us have a home.

We recommend the full report, but to get an initial taste you can check out this Conversation article from some of the contributing researchers.

Dangers lurking in real estate industry tech

Following the Medibank and Optus data breaches, tenants have come forward who have suffered identity theft after a hack on a real estate agency (ABC News). A major data breach also came to light at Harcourts Melbourne City real estate (ABC News) – names, addresses, signatures, photo IDs and bank details may have been visible to hackers. 

There is an urgent need to regulate the real estate industry’s technology and data privacy practices – particularly  around rental applications.
As well as concerns about data privacy (SMH), there are deeply troubling practices such as pressuring applicants to pay for background checks and skirting the law on rental bidding – Imperfect match: Australian renters in dark over use of data by tech company Snug (Guardian).

For a humorous take check out You would not believe what questions agents are asking tenants now! (First Dog on the Moon, Guardian).
And, in case you're wondering, yes, it is true that more than half of NSW politicians own multiple properties (SMH).

In this context, we are pleased to see NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello backing better rental data protections (SMH) and state regulators considering action (ABC News) over real estate websites pressuring rental applicants to pay for their own background checks. It's also good to see renters using technology for community support – ‘Don’t Rent Me’: the online tenants’ group for swapping horror stories, advice and frustrations (Guardian).
All the above makes it very timely to welcome a new member of the Tenants' Union Board: Linda Przhedetsky, Associate Professor at the UTS Human Technology Institute. 
“I see housing as an essential service. As a renter myself, I've experienced the process of applying for a property, only to receive a mysterious score that rates my apparent suitability for the rental. I'm passionate about improving consumer protections to make renting fair, and ensuring that opaque technologies don't cause harm.”
Linda has worked across government, academia, civil society, and non-profit organisations. She is undertaking a PhD in the ethical development, regulation and use of artificial intelligence. Her research focuses on the role of automated decision-making in competitive essential services markets – including tenancy – and the development of effective regulatory solutions to prevent consumer harm. If you would like to talk about the use of screening and sorting technologies in the rental housing market, get in touch with Linda at linda.przhedetsky@uts.edu.au

Review of domestic violence rental laws

Renters experiencing domestic violence are able to take action to end their tenancy and escape the situation without facing a penalty. They are also protected from financial liability for property damage resulting from a DV offence, and from being listed on a tenancy database.

These protections have been in place in NSW tenancy law since 2019, and are critical protections to ensure renters can escape and move on from a situation of domestic violence. Currently NSW Fair Trading is reviewing these protections to ensure they are working as best they can.

The Tenants' Union has been working with Women's Legal Service NSW and Domestic Violence NSW to identify where things are working well and where they can be improved to inform our response to the review. We have been collecting case studies from people who ended their tenancy in NSW using a domestic violence termination notice, as well as people who may have supported someone to end their tenancy in this way. 

You can still contribute directly to the Review, until 5pm Friday 2 December. 
Contribute to the Review
If you have been impacted by domestic, family or sexual violence and need help, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). Available 24/7.

Tenants who face additional barriers

The final episode of our Renting Matters podcast discusses the barriers faced by people with disability and tenants experiencing racial discrimination. Bridget from the Community Legal Education Branch at Legal Aid NSW speaks to Cathy from Side By Side Advocacy about tenancy and housing problems experienced by people living with a disability. Bridget also speaks to Alison from Redfern Legal Centre’s Housing Service about a case she ran for a client with a disability who was at risk of homelessness. Finally Bridget speaks to Justin from Marrickville Legal Centre about a client he helped who had been experiencing discrimination and vilification in his tenancy.
Renting Matters podcast

Aboriginal renters face further barriers

New research from VIC shows the discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander renters. Barriers arise at every stage of the renter’s journey, due to prejudice, discrimination and structural disadvantage, and are highest at the point of rental access – Think private renting is hard? First Nations people can be excluded from the start (The Conversation).

In WA, Noongar advocates have spoken at the parliamentary inquiry into homelessness. There were representatives from the 'tent cities' that were established in Perth, as well as families who have been made homeless due to no fault evictions, and relatives of people who have died homeless on Perth streets – ‘Punitive’ rental laws condemning Aboriginal families to homelessness, prison and death (National Indigenous Times).

The lack of social housing must be addressed

One of the most common reasons people apply for social housing is because they or their immediate family members have a disability and they are unable to work. They need an affordable alternative to private rental housing that’s suitable for their disability-related needs. But the lack of social housing just makes their extremely difficult situations worse. See case studies and new research – ‘I’ve been on the waiting list for over 20 years’: why social housing suitable for people with disabilities is desperately needed (The Conversation). 

Is the National Housing Accord ambitious enough?

It was heartening to see that the Federal Budget and National Housing Accord recognise stable, secure and affordable housing as a critical component of national wellbeing. The Housing Accord confirms funding for 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes, with an additional Commonwealth commitment to a further 10,000 affordable (below market rent) homes and State/Territory commitment of up to 10,000 new homes. It also includes a target for one million well-located and energy-efficient homes to be built over the same period – Housing accord could be a game changer for rental crisis (Everybody's Home). However the million homes target is less impressive when you consider that it is largely consistent with what has been built historically: in the five years prior to the pandemic, about 985,000 homes were created – 1 million homes target makes headlines, but can’t mask modest ambition of budget’s housing plans (The Conversation).

The need for social housing continues to grow

The latest Rental Affordability Index was launched today, confirming again that the experience of renting is dire especially for low income renters. Check out the Index and explore the data.

Researchers at University of Sydney and University of NSW, for the Community Housing Industry Association, also just released an updated snapshot showing the shortfall in housing that is genuinely affordable for people in the lowest 40% of incomes is growing and inaction means addressing the shortfall is getting even harder.

In a previous update on this research NSW was going to need to build, buy or borrow 15,835 homes each year from 2016 to 2036 and make them genuinely affordable to meet the needs of the community by the end of the 20 years.  In this update that figure had increased to 17,450 homes each year from 2021 to meet the needs by 2041. The lesson: The longer we wait to start, the harder the task will get and in the meantime, the hardships for renters will become worse.
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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.