Renters will now have greater rights under legislation passed in the Legislative Assembly yesterday (21 February) but the Government has shied away from laws to stop what renter advocates say are unfair evictions.
The Government says the reforms would substantially improve the quality of life for renters in Canberra but still protect the rights of landlords.
Under the amendments to the Rental Tenancies Act, it will be easier for renters to keep a pet, make minor modifications to their rental property, and to break a lease without incurring significant costs.
They will also be protected against excessive rent rises.
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Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said there would now be presumption in favour of tenants keeping pets in their rented properties, unless the tenancy agreement specifically requires landlord consent.
A landlord can only refuse a tenant’s request to keep a pet if they have obtained prior approval from the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).
“ACAT will consider factors including whether the premises are suitable for animals, or if keeping the animal would pose an unacceptable risk to public health or safety,” he said.
“Landlords will also be able to set reasonable conditions around the number of animals kept, and the associated cleaning and maintenance requirements. Tenants will be liable for any damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.”
Tenants will be able to use a nail or hook to hang pictures, or use Blu Tack on a wall but they will still need landlord approval to make other modifications to their rental property, and will be required to restore any modifications such as painted walls to the original condition, unless otherwise agreed with the lessor.
On rent increases, if the landlord wants to raise the rent by more than 10 per cent above the rate of inflation, they will need to justify this decision with ACAT, unless the tenant agrees to the increase.
“As more and more people choose to rent in our community, it’s important that we consider their wellbeing by introducing measures to help make their house a home,” Mr Ramsay said.
“The ACT Government is committed to ensuring that tenants, and especially vulnerable tenants, enjoy greater protection in the ACT’s rental market.”
Renter groups had also wanted changes that would stop landlords evicting people without just cause, or what they believe could be in retaliation for complaining about the state of a property.
Under the current legislation, a tenant can be given 26 weeks’ notice that their tenancy will end, without any reason.
The Greens had proposed a list of acceptable reasons for a lessor to end a tenancy, similar to recent reforms in Victoria, as well as minimum standards for rental properties.
Better Renting’s Joel Dignam said the passing of the amendments was a small step in the right direction, but there was still much further to go.
“If renters are going to have homes that are stable, liveable, and safe, we need to see an end to unfair evictions and minimum health and safety standards for rental properties,” he said.
“People who rent may not own a house, but [yesterday’s] changes will make it easier for them to have a home. Being able to put up a picture, or have a cat is something that many of us take for granted. It’s only fair that people who rent can have the same opportunities,” he said.
“Renters across the ACT will continue to campaign on these issues. We hope that this year we can see greater ambition in this space, supported by all sides of politics.”