Bidding on rental properties could be restricted in the ACT after the government introduced a discussion paper on residential tenancy reforms on Friday.
- The rental reforms aim to strengthen tenancy laws in the ACT
- The discussion paper has been welcomed by advocates who say Canberra renters are suffering
- But there are concerns the laws will reduce the number of rental properties in the ACT
Changes proposed include removing no-cause evictions, introducing stricter minimum property standards and giving tenants more freedom to grow their own food.
The move has been welcomed by those who have pointed to an “acute housing crisis” in the ACT, while others have said the strengthened laws could force many landlords to sell up altogether.
Reforms aimed at rental bidding wars
Canberrans are being asked to comment on the proposed reforms, which Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said were designed to “create a fairer, safer rental system for all Canberrans”.
One-third of residents in the ACT are renters, and Canberra remains the most expensive Australian city to rent a property.
Mr Rattenbury said the government was reforming the laws to ease that pressure.
“Removing no cause terminations will give tenants certainty their tenancy can only be ended for a proper reason, as well as giving them greater confidence that they will be able to assert their rights under the agreement without fear that this may lead to their eviction.”
He said they would also ban bidding on rentals because there was currently no legislation preventing them from telling prospective tenants that someone else had made a better offer, and encouraging higher bids.
“It is also not transparent and can waste potential renters’ time. While there has not been obvious evidence of this practice occurring regularly in the ACT, we want to hear from Canberrans about why and if rent bidding needs to be regulated.”
Couple living with mould for months
Briony and Riordan Dose have been renting for about four years in Canberra, and for the past 18 months have been dealing with a leak in their ceiling they say has not been addressed.
“It is now very damp in our room and there’s a lot of mould — we’ve got mould on the walls and I think the mould is starting to appear in the carpet too,” Ms Dose said.
They said they had raised the issue a number of times but had received little in the way of reply.
The couple have young children and are concerned about the health impacts the mould may have.
“The rental market in Canberra right now is very hot, and I think even for this place there were multiple people who signed up to view it,” Ms Dose said.
Mr Riordan said he felt there was little responsibility placed on real estate agents and landlords to address issues.
“There’s little leverage … to fix problems in a timely way,” he said.
“It just seems like there’s no responsibility or consequence for them not upholding their part of the lease agreement.”
Renters face reprisals, advocates say
Better Renting executive director Joel Dignam welcomed the reforms, and said renters deserved to live with a sense of security and safety.
“I think that’s something people have been looking at for a long time,” he said.
“There are so many people in Canberra with experiences of cold rental properties — that they can’t have people over during winter, they’re going to bed early, to try to stay warm — it doesn’t have to be like that, it’s not actually a natural state of affairs.”
He said some landlords might forget that by renting their homes out they were effectively running a business and had responsibilities to those who lived there.
“It’s really important, that just like we have minimum wages, we say there’s a minimum standard your home should offer you, and we’re going to regulate that to ensure its met.”
The ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) said the reforms were needed to help thousands of people renting in Canberra.
“Too often we hear of private rental properties in poor repair, but the insecure nature of tenancies and the vulnerability of tenants means that tenants are not able to hold landlords to account and ensure that properties are well maintained,” ACTCOSS said in a statement.
“It is also important to ensure that tenants can easily rely on this legislation for protections without incurring significant legal costs or risk reprisal through rent increases or eviction.”
Reforms could see landlords sell up: institute
But Real Estate Institute of the ACT chief executive Michelle Tynan said there were concerns landlords would sell their properties in the face of the reforms, further reducing the number of rentals in Canberra.
She said the Real Estate Institute was not aware of the proposals until Friday morning when they were announced.
“There needs to be an awfully rather intense and, and scrutinised look at the outcomes — we don’t know what the minimum standards will be,” she said.
“So to ask people for their consultation now, without an outcome of what it may look like is, I think is a little bit putting the cart before the horse.”
She said bringing in no-cause evictions was not necessary, because the law already allowed for tenants to appeal evictions.
“But what’s not mentioned in any of this, the information I have in front of me,” she said.