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Renters deserve a better deal

Caroline Le Couteur MLA 1 February 2019 42

Greens housing spokesperson Carolyn Le Couteur says its time for a look at renters rights. Photo: Supplied.

Rental properties are people’s homes, and renters need to know they have adequate protections to ensure basic housing security. Our current rental laws offer inadequate protections for renters.

Canberra’s high rents and low rental vacancy rates (less than 1 per cent vacancy) mean that renters lack choice and bargaining power when it comes to basic rights. This needs to change. In 2019, rental laws in the ACT will be debated, which means we have an opportunity to get a fairer deal for the ACT’s 100,000 renters.

More people are renting now than ever before and for longer. The type of people who are renting has also changed to include a greater number of families with children and older people. It’s time to modernise and improve our rental laws, to protect the rights of renters in the ACT, and to reflect the ‘new normal’ of long-term renting.

The processes of reviewing the Residential Tenancies Act began four years ago: since then, very little has changed. The Government have tabled amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, which are due to be debated. In 2019, we have the chance to ensure renters get a better deal.

That’s why the Greens are working to ensure renters can make minor changes to their properties without having to ask their landlord’s permission. It’s the little personal touches that make all the difference —hanging your favourite artworks and family photos or putting up a shelf for mementoes and books.

That’s why the Greens are standing up for Canberra renters to have the right to make minor and reversible modifications without having to seek consent.

We’re also working to ensure that all rental properties meet minimum rental standards. No one deserves to live in a mouldy house where the dishwasher floods the kitchen and the front door won’t lock—it doesn’t feel like home.

The Greens are challenging the Government to set some very basic minimum standards for rental properties, including roofs that don’t leak, doors that lock, and functional kitchens. Greens’ MLA Shane Rattenbury started this work back in 2011 and we’re still committed to getting it done.

We’re also concerned to hear cases of unfair evictions in Canberra, when ‘no cause’ really means, move out. Under the current legislation, a tenant can be given 26 weeks’ notice that their tenancy will end, and the landlord does not have to provide a reason.

These “no cause” evictions are sometimes used in a retaliatory way: there are numerous reports of tenants receiving termination notices after disputing a rent increase or raising maintenance issues.

We know that this can cause renters to remain in unsafe or unfair housing, rather than bring these issues. That’s why the Greens will introduce amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act to remove no cause evictions, and instead insert a list of acceptable reasons for a lessor to end a tenancy, similar to recent reforms in Victoria.

Clearly, a raft of changes are required. It’s time the Government got on with the job.

Caroline Le Couteur is the member for Murrumbidgee and the ACT Greens spokesperson for Housing.


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42 Responses to Renters deserve a better deal
John Chan John Chan 9:12 am 22 Feb 19

6 months notice is fair.

John Chan John Chan 9:11 am 22 Feb 19

When a tenant and a landlord cannot resolve their differences why must the Law interfere with a 4 month smooth process that would allow landlords to recover their large assets and move on? Landlords also have families to look after with their investments. Do not always think that the landlord should wear the problem for every friction with the tenant.

Grimm Grimm 8:24 am 10 Feb 19

Landlords should have every right to decide if pets are kept in their property or modifications are made, or if they want the current tenant out with 6 months notice.

If you don’t like it, buy your own house and do what you like with it.

Blen_Carmichael Blen_Carmichael 4:22 pm 06 Feb 19

“Under the current legislation, a tenant can be given 26 weeks’ notice that their tenancy will end, and the landlord does not have to provide a reason.” Wow, only six months’ notice, hey?

Geoffrey Bell Geoffrey Bell 10:41 am 06 Feb 19

interesting post i came across in an English property forum. It also looks like she is having issues with the government just making it not worth the effort.

I only have 3 properties and when I worked out actually how little I've

made from them over the past 5 years and how much work I've put in for

that return on my investment, coupled with the ever increasing rules and

regulations and extra tax etc., I'm seriously wondering if it's worth

the effort. There was a time when I enjoyed being a landlord and I think

I do a good job and my tenants have been happy. But now, it's just one

thing after another and the 'rules' are constantly changing, always

meaning less profit.

My plan was that eventually the properties would provide my pension and

then be left to my children. However, they will never make me rich, just

provide an adequate amount of income for a comfortable retirement from

the age of 65. After attending a training course recently for my job, I

realised that unless I can become too rich to care about paying nursing

home fees etc. when I'm old then it's quite likely that my assets

(properties and rent) would be used to pay for any care I may need and I

won't be able to leave them to my children as I intend to. Whereas if I

spend all my money while I'm younger, and have no assets when I get to

that stage of life, the state will pay for the care I need. As I'm going

to be one of the many people stuck in the middle range of being

reasonably ok financially but not wealthy by any means, I'm seriously

wondering if working hard as a landlord (in my spare time, alongside my

'proper' job) is worth it anymore. Why not just take my money now,

retire early and enjoy the next 20 years or so and let the future take

care of itself?

The government is not encouraging me to do anything else at this point

in time!

Kuan Bartel Kuan Bartel 12:28 am 06 Feb 19

And pets! Canberra is the worst place I’ve ever lived for finding a place which accepts pets. Most other states have already changed to allowing pets.

    Maya123 Maya123 6:37 pm 06 Feb 19

    One of my best tenants came because I allowed pets in my rental…Doberman (gulp) in this case. The owner was a brilliant tenant. Actually I almost didn’t take him, because the reference he wrote for himself saying how he would look after the place sounded too good to be true. It all turned out to be absolutely true.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:57 am 04 Feb 19

It would appear that the Greens have a good insight into landlord/tenant matters with the local leader Shane Rattenbury already owning two investment units in Canberra:

https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/greens-leader-negatively-gears-investment-properties-one-in-light-rail-corridor-20160912-grealf.html

While that could appear to be a conflict of interest with the tram project Rattenbury said he supported the Greens’ policy on negative gearing, and that he had always planned to use a progressive affordable housing model, named Homeground, to rent out the apartments at a discounted rate to low-income tenants.

I think the Greens’ policy on negative gearing is the same as Labor’s in which case his units would be “grandfathered” if they were negatively geared.

What good luck Mr Rattenbury is having.

Heidy Perri Heidy Perri 7:43 pm 03 Feb 19

I’d just be happy to not have an inspection every six months where I have no right to refuse entry to total strangers, and if I’m not home, they’ll use their own keys anyway. 😡 It’s disgusting.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:55 pm 03 Feb 19

    If you keep the place okay you don't have a problem. Having been in both positions, as a renter and later as someone renting out a house through an agent, the house doesn't have to be perfect except for the final clean before you leave. As long as there is no obvious damage and it looks okay you should be okay. My agent did not keep keys, so they couldn't enter without the renter there, so no, they didn't have keys to use. If you have a problem with the house being periodically checked, I wonder what you are trying to hide. I never had a problem as a renter...except to hide the cat. (Which I think the agents knew about, but said nothing as the house was kept well.) Later as a land lady I allowed pets. As you would have been dealing with the agents or owner, they would not be "total strangers", so a rather dramatic response. As for someone using a key and entering without your permission, that is not allowed in the rental agreement.

    Heidy Perri Heidy Perri 10:16 pm 03 Feb 19

    Julie Macklin it actually is allowed, and I have letters from my agents stating that they will enter if I'm unavailable for inspections. I have nothing to hide, and my house is immaculate. I just don't appreciate the periodical invasion of privacy that homeowners don't have. I rent because the current housing market is ridiculous. With more good, reliable people like myself having no other choice than to rent, I truly believe that renters deserve a right to privacy.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:18 pm 03 Feb 19

    Heidy Perri Then be there when they do the inspections. You might be okay as a tenant, but not all people are. Without inspections the house could be being not looked after, or even used as a grow house, as has happened to some not inspected rental properties. My agents told me they didn't keep keys for security purposes; although I as owner had a key, but I never used it while a tenant was there. When I was a tenant in one rental, rented directly off the owner, I would leave the rent in the lounge room in a mutual hidden place and if I wasn't there the owner would enter and pick it up, so in effect my flat had a fortnightly inspection.

David Ilchef David Ilchef 10:00 am 03 Feb 19

How about lower rents so we don't need to pay at least 40% of take home salary to rent a decent place

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:14 am 03 Feb 19

    That would be nice, but the house owners don't do this for charity; they want to make a profit on their investment. I used to have a house rented out and after expenses (Land tax, rates, insurance, etc) the profit was less than if I had left the money in the bank. Because the rental was old and shabby (the outside needed a paint), I charged what might have been the cheapest rental house in all of Canberra (and it was inner city), but I still had difficulty getting a tenant. Inside was okay; that had been freshly painted, but I suspect many people just drove past and picked another house to rent, which would have been at least another $100 plus a week. Strange, people would rather have paid more money, than rent a bargain. Rather like your comment, "to rent a decent place". Picky! The reason I didn't paint the outside of the house, was that I was planning a knock down, rebuild and I didn't want to waste money on this house. I rented it for seven years, before I could afford to replace it. The inside though had been freshly painted, and I put in new carpet and curtained the whole house. I have in the past rented too, but was never that picky; rental price was very important to me, so I rented the cheapest I could.

    Geoff Rey Geoff Rey 12:41 pm 03 Feb 19

    Calm down Julie

    David Ilchef David Ilchef 12:44 pm 03 Feb 19

    I dont think there’s anything strange about people wanting to rent a decent place.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:22 pm 03 Feb 19

    Geoff Rey Not a constructive comment, esp. as I was calm. Just stating facts.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:23 pm 03 Feb 19

    David Ilchef Nothing strange about it, but you must be prepared to spend more money to get a decent place, and if you need to spend 40% of income (it would be a higher percentage than that for me), perhaps you need to reconsider what is important, as you complained it's too much. Then again, different people have varying ideas of what is 'decent'.

    Jackie White Jackie White 1:35 pm 03 Feb 19

    Houses are overpriced, thus investors/landlords have larger mortgages on them, thus rents are higher,

    If values come down to where they realistically SHOULD be (about 40% below current prices), then rents will be affordable for most.

    This idiotic bubble, continually fueled by daft people who pay inflated prices rather than refusing to do so, en masse, needs to burst.

    Simon Dw Disndat Simon Dw Disndat 10:11 pm 05 Feb 19

    Bunch of economists here

    David Ilchef David Ilchef 10:17 pm 05 Feb 19

    Right? In the mean time my rents stay the same

Warwick Alsop Warwick Alsop 8:29 pm 02 Feb 19

Yes. I could really use a few dozen less strangers traipsing through the place every year.

    Jackie White Jackie White 1:37 pm 03 Feb 19

    if you are the owner, why not have long leases like they do in other countries? Not uncommon in Europe to have 5+ year leases. That will ensure fewer (not less) people traipsing through the house.

    Geoffrey Bell Geoffrey Bell 12:38 am 04 Feb 19

    Careful about using overseas property as an example. An articles from France http://melba.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/11/13/the-french-housing-crisis-and-the-dream-of-becoming-a-tenant/

Joannah Leahy Joannah Leahy 7:58 pm 02 Feb 19

If you have ever been through the tribunal you will know that it is aligned towards protecting tenants and not landlords. Changes such as enabling renters to paint the landlord's property, keep animals in a rented property etc should be accompanied by increased protections for landlords who ultimately wear the risk and have to rectify the damage from these actions. Doubling bonds might share the burden more evenly.

Stu McRae Stu McRae 2:38 pm 02 Feb 19

Landlords will increase rents to reflect shift in legal rights or deploy their funds elsewhere.

    Rob Thomas Rob Thomas 5:51 pm 09 Feb 19

    RE-DEPLOY THE FUNDS!

    Do you mean they'll sell their properties?

    Great, more property on the market, more options for renters to buy.

    Joel Dignam Joel Dignam 2:52 pm 12 Feb 19

    You say that as if landlords can just pass on costs with a click of their fingers.

Maya123 Maya123 1:59 pm 02 Feb 19

The mould issue is often brought up. This is a tricky issue, as some people don’t clean enough and then complain about mould. I had one lot of tenants like that. No tenant before them had a problem with mould, but then these tenants moved in and the bathroom became covered in mould. They moved out leaving the bathroom filthy, and other problems, saying the mould wouldn’t come off. A cleaner found it easy to clean off. They lost their bond in the Tribunal. More tenants moved in and I went around to see them and to collect the bathroom curtains to wash out the mould. ‘No problem,’ they said. ‘Done already. Easy.’ I was embarrassed they had seen the curtains as they were, but they were lovely people and nothing was too much a problem. Unlike the previous tenants, who couldn’t even change a light bulb. I would do this for them. That house never suffered a mould problem again. My theory was that the tenants never used the bathroom fan, and if they did they didn’t allow enough air gap for proper extraction, such as leaving the bathroom door slightly ajar. They also didn’t clean enough. The agent showed them how to clean; I showed them how to clean, it was all too difficult and I believe they thought that was someone else’s responsibility. In a previous life, they had probably had cleaners to do this for them.

I have also been a tenant and I moved into a flat that had the worst mould problem in the bathroom I have ever seen. I used a knife to scrap it off; it was so bad. Once the mould was removed, I never had a mould problem again, because I actually cleaned. And that bathroom had no extractor fan.

Gwyn Rees Gwyn Rees 1:03 pm 02 Feb 19

Ms Le Couteur has a tough job. On the one hand she wants to be the good guy and assist renters to make a home feel more like one but on the other hand she is the bad guy assisting to make rental properties less affordable. The ACT Greens Labor Parliamentary Agreement reflects that the Greens agree with Labor's tax reform in all instances. I would bet if the question was put to renters about what was most important it would be affordability over putting up some shelves. So these announcements are bittersweet because making a home is one thing but having the capacity to own one being driven away from you (even on a modest income) is a far more serious thing. Ms Le Couteur should pitch herself as Chief Minister in a minority Government with the Libs and then we might see some serious reform!

Danielle Smith Danielle Smith 12:52 pm 02 Feb 19

And also pre moving in reports are ridiculous no. Mine was 157 pages!! And they expect you to return the property to that level after 2 years. It defies logic

    Robina Jane Robina Jane 1:46 pm 02 Feb 19

    Whilst claiming negative gearing benefits for a 'depreciating' property...

    Tony Morris Tony Morris 1:51 pm 02 Feb 19

    Robina Jane rubbish thats not how negative gearing works at all.

    Luke Bennett Luke Bennett 2:10 pm 02 Feb 19

    Tony Morris Robina is correct - part of the expense that can be negatively geared is for deprecation of the construction cost of the property.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 2:11 pm 02 Feb 19

    There is an allowance made for normal wear and tear; actually in my experience as an owner, an overly generous allowance for wear and tear, as in my own house I never had the wear and tear in two years as tenants were allowed. I looked after things very well; whether in my own house, or as a tenant. I have been both owner and tenant. As a tenant (in two places) I left the places better than when I moved in and had no problems with getting bond back and a good reference. As an owner of a rental, some tenants left the place immaculate and better than they moved in, and others (mainly thinking of one tenant) who left it far worse, with all the excuses in the world. They lost their bond. There was no problem with the others getting a quick refund of bond. Some people are heavy on a house, even without wilful damage, while others are light on a house. So after two years, allowing for minor wear and tear, a house should be able to be returned to how it was on moving in. I left my rentals better.

    Danielle Smith Danielle Smith 3:41 pm 02 Feb 19

    Julie Macklin sounds like you haven't been given a defect notice for apparently having soap scum on the bathroom tap. Glad your experience has been good for you but it's not for a great many tenants

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:11 pm 02 Feb 19

    Danielle Smith That might be why I have been told (going on comments by other people - I don't know the true statistics) that the Tribunal tends to come down more on the tenant's side, if it's only little things like this. Did you polish the bathroom taps? I do, so no soap scum.

Danielle Smith Danielle Smith 12:49 pm 02 Feb 19

Yes! Landlords need to remember that renters want to make the property their home. Not just a place to live

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:12 pm 02 Feb 19

    Danielle Smith the problem with that is not all rental properties are investment properties. Some are the owners own home they are renting out whilst they temporarily live interstate or overseas.

    I’ve rented out twice now whilst being overseas and I would not like a tenant make the property their home to the extent that I’ve seen the greens suggest. Repainting their own colours etc.

    But if the property was simply a pure investment then I would much prefer a tenant make the place “their own”.

Kriso Hadskini Kriso Hadskini 12:19 pm 02 Feb 19

Considering the amount of rentals with 50 year old stoves and ovens in them, probably.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 11:24 am 02 Feb 19

Make sure you don’t miss two of the key factors in rental increases across Canberra.

The changes to Land Tax calculations on rented properties have been directly passed on to the renter. No surprises here despite the government saying landlords would swallow the increases.

The disproportionate increases in annual rates, Family violence fee and Emergency Services Duty has hit poorer households in the outer suburbs much harder than inner Canberra.

These outer fringes of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Gunghalin are where many low income families have traditionally rented.

Greens have the power to renegotiate the way Annual Rates and Land Tax are calculated and the lack of facilities, services and public transport in outer areas needs to be captured in the tax charges. Per square metre Land value alone is not fair and equitable.

    I am a Rabbit™ I am a Rabbit™ 7:50 pm 02 Feb 19

    The days of “lower income families” renting a McMansion in the outer suburbs are long over – they’re now only capable of affording dog box apartments in Franklin. The lower income individuals who live in the outer suburbs typically own the house outright, meaning they’re still sitting on a significant financial asset.

    The comment about the rise in rents being driven primarily by tax is also completely incorrect – first year of economics 101 will tell you otherwise. I’d also be careful about advocating for reform… People in town-houses and apartments are sick to death of having to subsidies individuals living in valuable McMansions.

    Your “fair and equitable” solution is debatable, and I would argue such steps would be regressive towards the true poor (low income individual or family renting with no assets) – as opposed to wealthy retirees who are cash poor and asset rich. It’s not the responsibility of tax payers to subsidies the lifestyle of the latter group.

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