Australia has an imbalance in power between landlords and tenants.
Australia has an imbalance in power between landlords and tenants.

Rent hell: ‘What hope do I have?’


TAMMY Brennan's story is by no means exceptional. She is up-to-date with her rent, she takes on much of the home repair work herself and while she would have liked to have stayed in her property for many years to come, she was instead handed a surprise eviction notice.

The single mum has been told she will need to find a new property for herself and her 10-year-old daughter by the end of January.

"I've been trying to find something, but I turn up at inspections and there are 70 people there and they're wearing suits," Ms Brennan said.

"People are dressing up for rental properties. And I wonder as a single mother, what hope do I have?"

"I don't want to keep moving my daughter around. Now I might have to move out of Sydney because it's so hard to find something."

Ms Brennan is paying $900 a week for her terrace house in Sydney's inner-city Darlinghurst, but was recently told the house was uninhabitable due to mould, which Ms Brennan claimed she had been tending to on her own.

When she argued the property was, in fact, both inhabitable and fixable, she said she was served a no-grounds eviction notice.

Rachel Nichol, property management team leader Laing + Simmons, which rents out the house, told she couldn't comment on the specifics of Ms Brennan's case owing to "privacy reasons".

But she added: "When our agency serves a no grounds notice to any tenant we offer to assist them in finding another property and provide them with links to our website for other rental properties we have and welcome them to contact us about any of these properties.

"A tenant must also use their own initiative to actively make their own inquiries with other agents."

There are lots of people with stories similar to Ms Brennan's and if you're in doubt as to the uniformly depressing nature of tenants' complaints visit the #rentinoz hashtag on Twitter, which reads like a kind of charge sheet of bad behaviour by landlords.

While some landlords are clearly behaving in breach of their state's rental act, others are not. In Ms Brennan's case, the landlord did nothing illegal and is perfectly within his or her rights to issue a no-cause eviction.

And therein lies the problem.

The 'no grounds eviction', also known as the 'no-cause eviction', is at the core of rental inequality in Australia.

In all Australian states, apart from Tasmania, tenants can be evicted when their fixed-term lease is up. Once the tenant moves to the common month-by-month lease, landlords can deploy the no-grounds eviction without giving a reason.

But as many tenants' advocates have pointed out, there is always a reason, and sometimes it's payback for a tenant who complained about doors that didn't lock properly or a broken-down appliance.

In NSW, the Government, which has confirmed it's examining new rental measures, is facing considerable pressure to end no-grounds evictions. For its part, the Labor opposition has promised that if it wins the 2019 state election it will end no-fault evictions - a move the NSW government needs to adopt fully. No watering down of the clause or tinkering at the edges. No grounds evictions need to be scrapped entirely.

The Andrews Government in Victoria recently introduced new rules to include a provision that allowed landlords to end tenancies using an 'end-of-fixed-term notice' to vacate only at the end of the initial fixed term.

After that, a landlord will only be able to end a tenancy using one of the specified reasons detailed in the Act. But allowing landlords to deploy an 'end-of-tenancy notice' on the fixed-term lease could easily be used as a no-cause eviction notice in disguise. Let's hope the NSW Government is prepared to go further and scrap them altogether.

The Andrews Government also announced a string of other tenancy changes, including a ban on rental bidding, limits on rent rises and establishing the right of every tenant to have a pet, except in "certain circumstances".

Real Estate Institute of Victoria's Chief Executive Officer, Gil King, said that many of the reforms would unfairly hurt mum and dad landlords, tweeting: "Let's be clear. The new (Victorian) rental laws have less to do with helping tenants and more to do with winning the Northcote by-election."

The last point is probably true, but the laws aren't designed to hurt mum and dad investors either, but rather correct the power imbalance that underpins the tenant-landlord relationship. And they still don't go far enough.

Let's compare Australian tenancy laws to those overseas. Indefinite leases are available to renters in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, and even if the tenant is on a fixed-term lease it is difficult to terminate the agreement without their permission.

In Ireland, tenants are moved on to a secure lease of four years after six months of renting.

In many European countries, such as France, Scotland, Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark and Germany, landlords cannot evict tenants at any stage without a certified reason.

So, yes, an end to rental bidding would be wonderful. Keeping a pet in most cases should be allowed, too. But let's start with fixing the greatest problem renters face, which is the ever-present threat of homelessness caused by no-cause evictions.

If you don't have housing security, you won't complain about a mouldy bathroom, you won't challenge rent rises, and you'll feel lucky to have a roof over your head - no matter how shabby that shelter is.

Tellingly, Ms Brennan has regrets.

"I wished I had never let the mould show," she said.

"I should have just kept fixing it myself because then at least I would have a place to live."

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