On Thursday 1 November, the ACT’s Attorney-General, Gordon Ramsay, introduced a bill to change renting laws in the ACT.
The bill proposes a number of changes that will bring a bit of balance back to renting.
For example, renters will now have a default right to a pet. A landlord can still refuse permission, but only following an external review. No longer can a landlord just say no on a whim. This is similar to changes that Victorian Labor promised back in 2017, which they eventually delivered on earlier this year.
Ramsay’s bill will also make it easier for renters to make their house a home, with stronger rights around modifications. For certain modifications, as with pets, a landlord won’t be able to refuse without external approval. This will cover changes that can be “reversed or undone”, as well as changes related to safety, disability, energy efficiency, or security.
These are sensible, positive changes. In introducing the bill, Minister Ramsay acknowledged that renting is becoming more normal, including for families and older Australians. These people deserve the right to make a liveable home. This bill will help with that.
Unfortunately, Minister Ramsay has left some important reforms on the cutting room floor.
All over Australia, experts have called for an end to unfair evictions. This is where a landlord terminates a lease without having to provide any reason at all.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons to terminate a lease. Currently, a landlord can terminate a lease if the tenant is at fault or if they wish to sell the property, conduct major renovations, or make it available for them or a family member to occupy it. Additional reasons could be added, if necessary.
Because the legitimate reasons are so well-defined, it’s concerning that unfair evictions are still allowed. In reality, these evictions exist to intimidate and punish renters. Even if they don’t often happen, the fact that they could happen means that renters have to worry about eviction just for asking for simple things like repairs.
Fortunately, there’s still time to fix this oversight. The Make Renting Fair CBR Alliance will be working with the crossbench and the opposition to make sure that people who rent don’t have to fear losing their homes for no good reason.
In another omission, the changes include nothing on minimum standards for rental properties.
As Better Renting has shown, Canberra’s renters are living in homes that are dangerously cold in winter and more expensive to heat or cool. A rental property is at least five times more likely to have the lowest-possible energy efficiency rating. We estimated that renters in the ACT are missing out on benefits worth about $39 million a year. Minimum energy efficiency standards would make rental homes more comfortable, and cut power bills.
This is an issue that people who rent cannot forget. We will be keeping up the pressure, especially as the government looks at ways of reducing our carbon footprint.
On another note, it’s almost laughable to see the arguments raised by the Real Estate Institute of the ACT, which has advocated against the changes. They have argued that changes could make renting more expensive.
These arguments, oddly enough, have no basis in evidence, theoretical or otherwise. It’s a straw that the REIACT is clutching to. And let’s be real: the real estate industry has no problem with rent increases. It’s like the fox complaining that the henhouse isn’t secure enough.
Groups like the REIACT don’t actually represent landlords. They represent property managers. These are two different groups. Landlords benefit from rental reforms, because it can lead to longer tenancies. This means a steadier, more reliable income for landlords.
But property managers make bank when a tenancy ends, because they charge big fees for setting up a new lease. Sadly, it’s in their economic interest to have unhappy renters who want to leave after 12 months.
Ultimately, the changes are a win-win for renters and for good landlords who want to offer a decent home. While Better Renting will be working for more ambitious reform, these changes are still a small positive step in the right direction.