A proposed policy to allow tenants to ask prospective landlords for their references has been applauded as a good idea on paper, but not in reality.
The idea first gained traction online after it was floated by comedian Tom Cashman on Tik Tok.
But Labor backbencher Michael Pettersson took the proposal a step further.
Mr Pettersson last week introduced a motion to the ACT Legislative Assembly calling on the government to introduce the right for tenants to receive references from a landlord’s previous tenants.
He said it would help address the “power imbalance” that existed between landlords and tenants.
“Landlords know everything about a tenant; they know their income, employment, rental history and personal references,” Mr Pettersson said.
“Tenants don’t know anything about their landlord and importantly, they don’t know anything about their treatment of previous tenants. It’s unfair.”
But Joel Dignam from Better Renting isn’t convinced it will translate to actual change or improved conditions for renters – although he can see it’s coming from a good place.
“Unfortunately, this proposal won’t make much difference given Canberra’s tight rental market which already has a very low vacancy rate,” he said.
“I think if someone was to ask for a landlord’s reference, they would risk missing out on the property entirely.”
Mr Dignam said even if a renter was to get a reference for a landlord, and it turned out to be poor, they might not have anywhere else to turn.
“The rental market in Canberra is not like other markets – there aren’t a whole lot of options.”
He welcomed the spirit of the proposal but said the government would be better off focusing on ensuring landlords concentrated on their mandatory repairs and maintenance.
“That would be more effective than this transparency measure,” he said.
Mr Dignam favoured other measures to amend the Residential Tenancies Act already under consideration by the ACT Government.
This includes changes to minimum standards and the no-cause eviction ban.
He said these changes “would make it easier for tenants to get repairs done because they wouldn’t be scared of being kicked out for no reason”.
Mr Pettersson insisted the power imbalance between tenants and landlords could be addressed if the right system was put in place – whether that be mandatory references, public register or a similar process.
He’s hopeful the government will be able to fine-tune these elements of his proposal before it returns to the Legislative Assembly.
“Let’s not rush into this, let’s get the model right,” he said on Wednesday.
Opposition spokesperson for Housing Mark Parton described the entire proposal as a joke.
“The biggest word that comes through to me is `contempt’ – that at such a time in our housing crisis where the rental vacancy rate is [about] four per cent and people are sleeping in their cars and leaving town, this is the best they can do,” Mr Parton said.
“This is rubbish… I’m staggered that we are going to be wasting time debating this.”
Footnote: After comedian Tom Cashman asked a property manager for a landlord reference earlier this year, his request was denied and his approval cancelled.
However, Mr Cashman on Wednesday posted a Tik Tok to his account after Mr Pettersson moved the motion in the Assembly saying he felt “vindicated”.