Shifting housing trends mean Australia’s lagging tenancy laws undermine renters
LET’S be honest, many of us have given up on The Great Australian Dream of owning our own home and conceded to our fate of being Generation Rent.
But as more and more people are living in rental accommodation — and living there for longer — Australia’s tenancy laws have not adapted, leaving tenants under-represented and without security they can keep a roof over their head.
Tenancy unions are now demanding the laws adapt to shifting trends, and get up to speed with the rest of the world.
“The biggest issue right now is that housing insecurity is built into our renting laws across Australia,” Ned Cutcher, senior policy officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW told news.com.au, in light of International Tenants Day, which was on Monday.
“Once you are outside of a fixed-term lease, a landlord can end your tenancy without giving a reason ... what this does is it allows a landlord to mask reasons that may not be genuine or may not be considered good reasons to end a tenancy.”
The instances of tenants receiving these ‘no grounds’ notices of termination is common, said Mr Cutcher, and leaves many tenants living in fear to ask their landlord for basic repairs and maintenance.
In a survey conducted by the Tenants’ Union of NSW in 2014, 77 per cent of respondents said they had held off from making a request or raising an issue with a landlord for fear of being asked to move out. The tenant is seen as “too troublesome” to keep on, Mr Cutcher said.
“Which when you think about what is at stake — someone’s housing is at stake — the question of whether a landlord or a tenant need to like one another raises some interesting points of discussion.”
AUSTRALIA IS AN OUTLIER
Mr Cutcher said Australia lags behind many countries worldwide when it comes to the rights of renters.
“[Lack of regulation] is not a normal thing globally, but it is a normal thing in a couple of jurisdictions — England, the USA and Australia are the main players,” Mr Cutcher said.
“We look to places like Germany, France and Switzerland and see that tenants have got much better conditions over there. It is a basic proposition that as long as you keep meeting the terms of your tenancy agreement — you keep paying the rent, you keep looking after the place, you’re not causing problems with your neighbours, and the property remains for rent — you basically have control over the length of time you’re going to be able to stay in that property.
“We don’t have that in Australia. We Australia, the USA and the UK are outliers in this sense.”
And with a growing cohort of long-term renters, Australia should be following the lead of Europe.
“One of the things with the European context is there are often a lot more people who do rent and rent for long periods of time in those places. But we are rapidly moving towards that kind of situation in Australia with the price of home ownership being out of reach for many. And that’s not going to change,” Mr Cutcher told news.com.au.
“So now is the time to be looking at these laws and saying they are not suitable to a housing system that is not producing the outcomes that we assumed it would.”
According to a comprehensive study into the long-term private rental market in Australia conducted by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) and released in July 2013, just over a third — 33.4 per cent — of all private renter households are long-term renters who have been living within the private rental tenure continuously for 10 years or more. However, this study drew on a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2007—08, supplemented with an analysis of Waves 1 to 10 of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, meaning this number has no doubt increased well beyond one third.
Even more telling, the study showed that close to one third (30 per cent) of all long-term private renter households included dependent children.