One of the biggest issues for renters in New South Wales is a lack of stability. While rental laws in other countries have been set up to provide long term security for tenants, in NSW many renters don't know where they'll be living from year to year.
NSW Greens spokesperson on Housing Jenny Leong explains why removing 'no grounds' evictions needs to be a priority for our rental law reform.
You can watch the full speech here or read the transcript below.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (15 November, 2016, 12:54:41): For many people, the idea of owning their own home is now a fantasy. Home ownership rates continue to drop. As buying a house becomes less and less affordable, more people are renting in New South Wales than ever before, and for longer. Almost 40 per cent of New South Wales households are now renting, and more people than ever will be lifelong renters. For many people, renting is the only option. There are more children now living in rental accommodation than ever before. At the last census 41.2 per cent of families with dependent children in New South Wales were renting. In New South Wales 20 per cent of people receiving the aged pension now rent.
One of the biggest issues for renters in New South Wales is a lack of stability. When a tenant signs a lease it is usually for just six or 12 months. At the end of the lease a landlord can tell a tenant that they have to move out of their home without providing any reason, even if the tenant has met their responsibilities and paid the rent on time. Tenants on an ongoing periodic agreement face even more insecurity. They can be asked to move out of the property with just 90 days notice at any time the landlord chooses, again without the landlord having to give any reason. These "no grounds" evictions are not common practice around the world. CHOICE has noted that Australia is one of the few countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] that allows no grounds evictions. In many other countries tenancy laws offer long-term stability. Renters are able to set up a home, put down roots and feel secure about their housing situation. This is not the case for people like Ruby, a renter who lives in constant fear of receiving a termination notice. Ruby explained to us:
We have a kid starting school next year and trying to find a place in the same area would be very stressful. I only ask for repairs if it is something we cannot live with because I do not want to draw attention to ourselves. It's not like this everywhere. When we lived in San Francisco, landlords couldn't evict you for no reason. It made life far less stressful.
Ben, a new parent and a renter, had just moved into a rental property a couple of months before his baby was born. He was given only a six-month lease, which was not renewed, and he had to find a new place to live. The problem for people like Ben is that they face this kind of insecurity every time they move into a rental property. Almost one-third of the time that people living in Australia's private rental sector move house, it is because they are forced to move rather than because they made the choice to move.
New South Wales rental laws are currently under review. We are encouraged that the Minister is looking at incentives to promote longer leases. We welcome any reform that will allow renters to stay in their homes for longer. However, in line with this, we cannot understand why there is not a commitment to stop no grounds evictions. The Tenants Union has been calling for an end to no grounds terminations for years. The Greens support this reform. We have been campaigning for renters' rights and we will continue to do so. As long as no grounds terminations are allowed to remain in New South Wales law, landlords will have the upper hand in any dispute. The possibility of a no grounds eviction can act as an unspoken threat.
Sarah told us that she has been evicted on no grounds twice, simply for requesting that things be fixed. Finally, when she took her complaints to the tribunal, even though she was not at fault she was evicted. A dodgy landlord who does not want to spend money on essential repairs and maintenance can use this provision as a way out. They can simply put off repairs until a lease expires, then evict the tenant who made the requests for repairs, get a new tenant and start stonewalling all over again. Of the 200 renters who responded to a survey conducted by our office, 60 per cent said they had not asked for repairs because they were concerned that it might put their tenancy at risk.
The Greens recognise that it is reasonable for a landlord to ask a tenant to move out of a property in certain circumstances. It may be because the landlord or their family want to live in the property. These genuine grounds could be provided for in the Act. Given that, it is unclear why we need to retain the provision for no grounds evictions.
Allowing landlords to throw out tenants with no good reason—with no grounds—comes at a great cost to our community. It is almost impossible for anybody to justify that. Living from year to year with no stability creates a great deal of stress for families, the elderly and people who rely on support networks in their communities. Renters alone do not bear the cost of this. Our communities are compromised because renters are not able to fully establish themselves in their local neighbourhoods. Our laws need to be updated to reflect the new normal that is renting. In many global cities renting laws give tenants long-term security and help keep rents affordable. Our laws need to reflect the reality of renters in our community and provide stability and security.