Jo Haylen is NSW Labor MP for Summer Hill
Michael has just moved to Marrickville from Darlinghurst. He’s a little daunted to leave his usual haunts, but excited for the extra space and the promise of new adventures in the badlands of the inner west.
It was a difficult move: not because the movers he hired were bad (they were); not because it was a hassle to move his utilities over (it was); it was a hard move because he found himself stuck between two bad landlords, both of whom have shown little respect for him as a tenant.
He is in the process of pursuing his former landlord in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an exorbitant gas bill caused by a burst line (which he had reported to his landlord as soon as he smelled gas).
And now he’s getting nowhere with his new landlord after discovering sweaty patches of black mould in the fresh paint and new carpet less than a fortnight after moving in.
Initially, Michael was relieved and grateful to have found this place. He had searched for months, limited by his slightly below-average price range, slightly above-average standards, and most of all, his cat. Almost every house on the market restricted pets.
Now, this new house is feeling more and more like a nightmare. He has called the real estate agent a number of times and they haven’t called back. He is too afraid to push his landlord lest he be evicted from his home. They had clearly slapped on a coat of paint and laid down new carpets to avoid any issues leasing the place. Now he’s stuck between a rock and a wet place.
The sad fact is that in each instance, the cards are stacked against him. Our current tenancy regulations give landlords the upper hand, unfairly so. Specifically in Michael’s case, landlords are able to prohibit pets from their rental properties, the enforcement of their obligations in terms of basic maintenance are weak, and most gallingly of all, tenants can be evicted without grounds.
It’s clear we need to put some balance back into the rental market. The Left is leading the push to do just that. Just as it was the Left who led on housing affordability reform like negative gearing.
We’re fighting for an end to no-grounds evictions. NSW remains the only Australian jurisdiction where tenants can be evicted without cause. Really, this is at the heart of every other unfairness in our State’s rental market. It means that tenants are effectively powerless to pursue their other rights, whether it is to challenge unfair rental increases or to demand basic maintenance, even in the instance of dangerous blooms of mould.
I have even been informed of cases where landlords have evicted tenants for exceeding their original occupancy limit by having the gall to fall pregnant. The Left knows that ending no-grounds eviction must be at the centre of any policy to restore balance to rental rights.
A recent report from the Tenants Union of NSW notes that 77% of renters said they were too scared to report repairs for fear of retaliatory eviction. That means we are allowing renters to live in substandard and even dangerous housing for the simple reason that they are unable to afford to buy their own home. It means our system is broken.
We know that as the Government continues to spin its wheels on housing affordability, more and more people in NSW are renting, particularly in Sydney, Newcastle and the Illawarra. Renters are looking for greater certainty and security, the kind of security that comes from knowing they can’t be turfed out because their landlords don’t want to fix a problem, or want to make more money,
or without having to give a reason at all.
The Left also understands that renters want to be able to make their house a home. That is why it is so important for us to change the Residential Tenancies Act to allow renters to have a pet, and to make basic changes like hanging artwork or planting a garden.
There is no reason why Michael or any other tenant shouldn’t be able to live in a home with their companion animal if there are no other reasons for them not to, such as council regulations or restrictions enforced by a body corporate or strata board. So, too, should renters be able to expand their family or alter their circumstances in terms of whom they live with so long as they inform their agent or landlord.
So, too, should renters be allowed to make basic aesthetic changes to a home they intend and plan to live in for a substantial period of time, so long as they return it to its original state when they leave or negotiate with their landlord to leave it as is when they do.
These are small changes that will have a big impact on renters. They even the deck whereas the deck is now firmly in favour of landlords. Rental survey after rental survey shows that rental affordability continues to rise, with a single woman on an average salary no longer able to afford to rent on their own anywhere in Sydney. Demand for rental properties continues to rise.
That makes it hard for renters like Michael.
The system conspires to keep renters susceptible to bad landlords who are out to make a quick buck and at any cost.
Now, I say that as a landlord myself. Like most other landlords, I do my best to treat my tenants with fairness and respect. But the laws that govern tenancies should be designed to lift the standards of the landlords who don’t respect their tenants.
People like Michael deserve a fair go. The NSW Left is fighting for him and for renters across NSW.