ACT Government unveils proposals for greater rights for renters

Ian Bushnell 6 August 2021 106
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury: “We want to turn rental properties from a house into a real home.” Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without cause, and their properties will have to meet set standards under ACT Government proposals to improve conditions for renters in the Territory.

The government is also proposing to restrict rent bidding and give tenants more freedom to grow their own food and compost kitchen scraps.

The proposals, some of which have already been widely canvassed, are now out for public consultation.

At present, landlords can evict tenants on a lease without cause by giving 26 weeks’ notice, but those on month-to-month agreements can be thrown out at the end of the month.

The government is proposing to remove no-cause evictions from the Residential Tenancies Act to give tenants more certainty and confidence that they can raise issues with their landlord without fear of being tossed out in retaliation.

It wants to know if any new causes for eviction should be added, such as wanting to use the premises for a non-residential purpose, or so social housing can be managed effectively.

The push for minimum property standards has been focused on the high energy costs renters face, as well as the health risks of enduring Canberra’s chilly winters and baking summers in poorly insulated properties with inefficient or no heating and cooling.

The government can now introduce minimum standards for physical accessibility, energy efficiency, safety and security, sanitation, and amenity, but is still deciding on particular measures and how detailed they would be.

For example, the standards in Victoria are much more specific and prescriptive than in NSW.

The government is also considering whether minimum standards should be phased in during a period of time, if there should be any exemptions, and how they should be enforced.

Reports of rent bidding or auctions have emerged during the ACT’s rental crisis, and many people argue the practice is unfair, unethical and hikes rents.

The government wants to know if the practice should be banned or restricted, and whether advertising a rental property with a price range or with no price at all should be allowed.

While tenants can already have gardens, the government wants to give them more scope, so long as they restore the grounds to their original condition when the lease ends.

Landlords would not be able to refuse significant changes without an order from the ACT Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said everyone deserves a safe and secure place to live, and the proposed changes would help create a fairer and safer rental system.

“Almost one-third of Canberrans rent so we want to turn rental properties from a house into a real home,” he said.

Landlords and the property industry have argued that the proposals would only deter investment in the rental market and lead to even fewer properties available to rent.

REIACT CEO Michelle Tynan said 21 per cent of landlords had indicated they would remove their properties from the market and 59 per cent said they would increase the rent if a minimum efficiency standard required extra investment.

She said nearly 10,000 properties could be affected.

But with many people unable or unwilling to buy their own home due to the runaway prices of property, calls have been growing louder for stronger rights for renters and more certainty.

Submissions can be made until Friday, 17 September, 2021.

To learn more, visit the YourSay website.

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106 Responses to ACT Government unveils proposals for greater rights for renters
Verity Owens Verity Owens 10:18 am 10 Aug 21

I think they need to put a cap on rents. They are just too high. Its time the goverment stepped up and provided more housing. Public housing was very good when i was in my 20s. Now its crap the houses are a mess and its an insult to offer them to people. Thats even if you can get one. They do not even meet the rental standard in some cases. No. Security no heating or cooling..

Oiledpengu Oiledpengu 11:16 am 08 Aug 21

Great. Another guaranteed rental increase due to these meddlers

Rowan Hurrell Rowan Hurrell 9:12 am 08 Aug 21

What about making buying a house affordable again

Cooby Pedy Cooby Pedy 8:17 am 08 Aug 21

the reason that landlord's have to charge high rents is because of Barr and his green mates.the high rates the high land taxes . so if people are paying $500 a week half of that is going to Barr and most of the rest going to estate managers, mortgage and repairs so landlords are making very little or zero profit on there investments. So Barr please stop blaming everyone else when you and your green mates are the real cause

carriew carriew 6:51 am 08 Aug 21

There is a Social Housing program in ACT that benefits owner and tenants but not many people have taken up this option. Greedy landlords want to squeeze the hard earned money from those less fortunate than themselves. Not a good look!

carriew carriew 6:47 am 08 Aug 21

As a property owner (my home) and having been a renter I applaud the ACT govvy’s action at making it a more equitable and just arrangement between landlord and tenants.

This business of Investing in property to increase wealth is a double edged sword. Sure Mum and Dad investors are looking for ways to secure financial freedom but this trend of “getting rich” by using OPM, Other Peoples Money, is in my opinion unethical or can be.

Tenants need to have some security of tenure in their home. I have been fortunate to have rented from good people, who didn’t charge excessive rent and who were open to communicate with me regarding my needs and wants in relation to the property I rented. I have had the unfortunate experience here in Canberra some 30 years ago of falling prey to an unscrupulous Agent who wanted us to pay to have the house recarpeted due to some red cordial stain on the ancient existing carpet. I had paid to have the carpet patched professionally but this wasn’t enough for the Real Estate Agent managing the property. We ended up at the Tribunal and the case was decided in our favour. But it was a stressful and time expensive process.

Thank you Mr Rattenbury for being a champion of fairness

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 3:06 pm 08 Aug 21

    Not sure why you’re thanking Minister Rattenbury for being the champion of fairness?

    His property tax changes have added almost $100 to weekly rents, his land supply restraints have added hundreds of thousands to the cheapest blocks of land and his inner city renewal plans have removed thousands of public housing dwellings and made Canberra property developers very rich. .

    Even some Greens supporters aren’t overly happy with aspects of his housing policy and actions.

Acton Acton 10:50 pm 07 Aug 21

The photo shows the face of incompetence.

For a party that claims to represent the disadvantaged, to be progressive, to be socially aware they have made housing so unaffordable that Canberra has now become the most expensive Australian city to rent a property.
All on their watch.
The median weekly rent in Canberra is now $620 compared to Sydney $582, Melbourne $444, Brisbane $476, Adelaide $430, Perth $472, Hobart $499, Darwin $548.
The hypocritical blinkered Greens/Labor just don’t get it.
Their own policies and agendas are what is driving rents up and affordability down.

PlasticScene PlasticScene 2:09 pm 07 Aug 21

As I predicted, there were mostly pro-landlord comments to this article. But fact of the matter, tenants are treated very poorly in Canberra. It’s astonishing how badly they are treated considering the rent tenants have to pay! I have moved into properties that had existing issues that were never addressed (I would have expected them to be remedied between tenants; all it takes is sending a handyman around), including such serious issues as a green, untreated pool and mould problems. It’s disgusting and unacceptable and can have consequences for people’s health and wellbeing!

Bring on more basic protections; they are SORELY needed.

Jose Vega Jose Vega 1:54 pm 07 Aug 21

Making a 1980s typical house as energy efficient as the typical 2020s house would be prohibited and not an option unless it is demolished and rebuilt to the current standards... according to previous reports on this subject. Depending on what the ACT greens are going to imposed the cost may not be able to be economically bored by the owner of the house.. and in this high priced market for houses it would be a much better option to sell and invest the money elsewhere... Simple if you screw too much with the market there are consequences..

Craig Elliott Craig Elliott 10:24 am 07 Aug 21

With a 0.8% vacancy rate and the highest costs in the Country….what are they thinking 🤔…. It’s not rocket 🚀 science this will just send rents even higher. The strategy should have been on affordability and increasing supply of reasonable quality townhomes….

Hrvoje Hančević-Grabić Hrvoje Hančević-Grabić 5:18 am 07 Aug 21

I’m not a landlord and I am still very much opposed to this - it also hurts renters a lot!

Communist countries have this system and it only works for those who deserve things the least - often making a property a dead investment and with difficult tenants, properties eventually being returned in a horrible condition without any option to get costs for repairs while having to deal with some ridiculous unapproved modifications. This drives rents further up. Renting a property in such country can easily reach 2/3 of total family’s income. 50 year old singles still living with their parents. Think about that. 26 weeks in this proposal, but that could change to worse.

It also means that landlord could end up homeless or potentially not being able to sell their own property.

This is a dangerous game.

2 months eviction, perhaps, not 26 weeks. What is a month by month clause then if not a fixed term anyway? Otherwise, just find fixed term and extend by fixed terms, and if market wants it, everyone can have it already now. But the market does not want it, right?

So if landlords start investing in other states instead, price won’t go down as ACT controls supply. Which means more money would leave our economy, less building to be done and with about 400 people moving to ACT each week (before COVID), it would drive rents up to the sky.

This also seriously undermines private ownership rights of a capitalist democracy.

And the right to significantly modify the place without permission?! Why? Not. Your. Place.

I rented most of my life and I never even imagined that I should be entitled to modify something without permission that does not belong to me.

Another example of a failure is that in high growth years, we could experience what happened in Dubai 15 years ago, people kept empty properties as price grew too fast to be worthwhile bothering with tenants (just like 2020 and especially 2021 so far in ACT), which would result in driving rents up as well. They did not even have many tenant protections, making it more likely to happen here.

Also, interpretation of what is a “justifiable reason” to evict will be challenged in court case by case, so there will be many more people entering litigations and how many renters have 15-20k to do that?

This is both, a stupid and a very dangerous proposal for cheap votes which will end up hurting everyone and especially renters while increasing homelessness rate at the end while undermining the free market.

I am all for some additional protections, but this is far too dangerous.

    Po Oh Baer Po Oh Baer 11:20 am 07 Aug 21

    Hrvoje Hančević-Grabić absolutely.

    Heather Badenoch Heather Badenoch 2:05 pm 07 Aug 21

    Hrvoje Hančević-Grabić the periodical clause in fact is 21 days to 21 days. Not even month to month ACT government changed that legislation years ago. Tenants can move out with 21 days notice. Short notice for tenants to move. Will be interesting to see how ACAT will handle all the challenges. Another tax payers funded service. They will need to employ more legal people to handle all the applications.

Pauline Clynch Pauline Clynch 4:42 am 07 Aug 21

Will this also apply to public housing stock???

letsnot letsnot 1:59 am 07 Aug 21

Tenants cannot “be thrown out at the end of the month” if on a month to month lease. There’s no such thing as a month to month lease. It’s called a periodic lease, and a month has nothing to do with it.
26 weeks notice is still required if it’s without reason. Otherwise, it’s 12 weeks for renovations or 8 weeks for sale or for the owner to move back in.
Tenants on a lease can’t be evicted with 26 weeks notice unless the end of that 26 weeks is after the end of their fixed term lease.
What a poor excuse for journalism this is.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 10:53 pm 06 Aug 21

There’s plenty of property investment advisors who highlight that Canberra has become a difficult place for property investors who are looking for cashflow positive investments. High prices, high rates and taxes and government imposed restrictions on landlords can scare off mum and dad property investors.

Wealthier or high earning landlords who are happy to negative gear and wait out rent losses for long term value can make a killing in Canberra.

In cities like Sydney and Brisbane the cheap rent houses are often the pretty run down small houses owned by working class or aged owners (who treat it like superannuation).

I feel our politicians have a theoretical and academic view of housing and renting in Canberra that doesn’t match idiosyncratic nature of our housing and rental market.

Erin Green Erin Green 8:49 pm 06 Aug 21

So the government expects landlords to have their properties “up to standard” but they can’t keep their own stock up to standard leaving people living in government housing in properties that aren’t “up to standard” 🙄

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 12:04 am 07 Aug 21

    Erin Leonard yes! so glad you posted this - how do so many others not see this irony?

    ACT Gov is 'do as I say' not 'as I do'...

    Exactly, why are ACT Gov rental properties not held to the same scrutiny of the laws that they themselves impose to private rentals?

    Just google to read the many horror stories of sub standard living conditions that ACT Gov renters have to endure..

    Erin Green Erin Green 8:15 am 07 Aug 21

    Nada Krstin exactly!

    Bek Clark Bek Clark 9:15 am 07 Aug 21

    There’s no money left in the maintenance budget. They’ve been sending invoices to tenants for years.

    Geoffrey Bell Geoffrey Bell 11:07 am 07 Aug 21

    Bek Clark It will properly be forced on landlords - but the government has run out of money for maintenance.

Nick James Nick James 8:45 pm 06 Aug 21

More controls on landlords, increased taxes on property owners, highest rents in the country.

The Greens don’t seem to understand that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Pretending to care while making things worse. Standard.

bigred bigred 8:40 pm 06 Aug 21

Being a landlord in the ACT is a mug’s game. Just when you think you are catching up, Mr Barr moves the goal posts with his ever increasing taxes and charges and measures like this.

While rents are expensive, the costs cannot all be passed on or the rents would be prohibitive. I would expect the number of private investors is in steady decline.

Chris Thomson Chris Thomson 8:27 pm 06 Aug 21

With interest rates so low, almost worth leaving rental properties vacant to avoid the ACT govt imposed restrictions

    Geoffrey Bell Geoffrey Bell 8:55 pm 06 Aug 21

    Chris Thomson I think that you still pay land tax even if unrented. Only PPOR don't have land tax?

    Heather Badenoch Heather Badenoch 9:02 pm 06 Aug 21

    Chris Thomson they will still charge you land tax if you leave vacant this legislation came in 2019. So no win if you do this. Land tax is now not charged when you rent like it was originally. Another change they sneaked in. You pay even when vacant.

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 11:49 pm 06 Aug 21

    Heather Badenoch of course, why does this not surprise me with the current ACT Gov ...somehow you still have to pay tax when there is no income generated...(how do you find funds to pay extra tax when you have no income towards it?)

    No wonder that those who can, are selling up their property investments in droves 🙁

    Which ultimately leads to affecting renters needing homes and also loss of economy for local property agents...they have created a vicious and untenable cycle - just awful

    Callum Moir Callum Moir 8:12 am 07 Aug 21

    Nada Krstin You know other people are buying them and becoming owner/occupiers or renting them out themselves right? They don’t magically disappear. If dodgy landlords want to withdraw from the market it’s a win/win for everyone

    Heather Badenoch Heather Badenoch 9:16 am 07 Aug 21

    Nada Krstin absolutely the domino effect. Down the food chain. Less properties to rent agents will need less staff. So more people looking for employment. And a lot of staff rent so they will also be effected in the chain. Less maintenance so less work for tradies.

    Heather Badenoch Heather Badenoch 2:20 pm 07 Aug 21

    What a lot of general public may not know. There will be many more renters needing rental assistance from ACT Government. They assist renters rightly so with Bond payments and rent weekly rebates for tenants who qualify based on income who are renting in the private sector. So this will mean ACT government are going to have to pay out more funds to help renters. Hope ACT government have deep pockets to give this assistance.

Patrick Harrington Patrick Harrington 8:26 pm 06 Aug 21

Dannii Harrington

"The push for minimum property standards has been focused on the high energy costs renters face, as well as the health risks of enduring Canberra’s chilly winters and baking summers in poorly insulated properties with inefficient or no heating and cooling."

I wonder how our previous landlord will cope with this hahah

    Dannii Toni Dannii Toni 8:32 pm 06 Aug 21

    Patrick Harrington probably about as well as the wall fared after I face planted it when I slipped on the worn out carpet on the stairs

    Dannii Toni Dannii Toni 8:33 pm 06 Aug 21

    Patrick Harrington but don’t worry! I’m sure there is some other parental responsibility they can use to refuse a perfectly reasonable request to prevent the tenants from roasting during summer.

Joannah Leahy Joannah Leahy 8:16 pm 06 Aug 21

And the do-gooders wonder why rents are so high in the ACT.

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