Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Limits of Rights and Protections: Housing as an Essential Service

This article by Leo Patterson Ross of the Tenants' Union of NSW and Mark Riboldi of Community Legal Centres NSW was published in the September issue of Parity, "Marginal Housing: Where to From Here?". We are pleased to have been given permission to republish here, and encourage you to consider subscribing to Parity for coverage of all aspects of homelessness; its causes and consequences and the policies, programs and services developed to prevent, respond to and, end homelessness.


Public policy relating to renting and tenancy is typically approached through two competing conceptions: consumer protection and human rights - are we regulating an economic exchange or ensuring that everyone has a roof over their heads? The problems resulting from these, governments resistant to enforceable rights mechanisms and not all tenancies being commercial transactions, mean too many people are denied adequate housing. Perhaps it’s time to explore a different way of framing this issue: through the lens of access to housing as public service provision.

Governments across Australia tend to approach tenancy as a subset of consumer protection, with Residential Tenancies Acts across the country being in the consumer affairs portfolio or equivalent. This implementation is inconsistent: under Australian consumer law, most residential tenancy landlords are not recognised as being ‘in trade or commerce’. At the same time, many marginal rental landlords, such as boarding or rooming houses, are recognised under the consumer law, though enforcement is rare.

The way renting is regulated through consumer affairs typically misunderstands the basics of the relationship between landlord and tenant. It generally conceives of two parties with roughly equal incentive coming together to create a contract. In a parallel example, a customer who walks into a TV shop will happily walk back out again without a TV if the price is not right, the product not suitable, or the salesperson not helpful. In terms of renting, landlords have the same financial incentive to make a ‘sale’ as the shop-owner, however tenants have a much greater need for shelter than the prospective TV watcher does for the latest episode of The Bachelor. This imbalance diminishes the ability for landlords and tenants to negotiate on equal terms and therefore to make renting fair government must intervene in the ‘market’ interactions.

Another problem caused by treating housing as a market place is the competition created between multiple parties seeking to live in a particular home. For potential ‘winners’, the lines of 30, 40, or more applicants creates the feeling of intense competition. But the reality is it only ever takes another applicant to be richer, whiter[i], or otherwise less of a ‘risk’ than you, for that home to remain out of reach. This environment pushes the ‘losers’ into increasingly substandard accommodation.

In comparison to this typical legislative approach, most housing advocates take a rights-based approach to housing, building on the right to housing enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and more fully explored in the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights[ii] and Civil and Political Rights[iii].

A key component of the right to adequate housing not implemented in Australia, which is not at all addressed by a consumer affair approach, is legal security of tenure. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights explains: “Notwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.”[iv]
 
With Australia’s general lack of constitutional or legislative rights frameworks, these rights to housing suffer from being neither recognised nor legally actionable in Australian jurisdictions, except in limited circumstances for public housing tenants in Victoria and the ACT. An unenforceable right is barely a right at all, and it’s questionable how many people think of the right to housing in the same way the think of the rights to freedom of assembly or speech. Framing issues around rights is additionally challenging: advocates and experts tend to talk about rights as individual objects existing on paper, created by lawyers; this is dissonant with the everyday reality of people’s lives, and from the right to housing as something that is innate or enacted by caring communities. From a housing advocate’s point of view, shifting both public opinion and government policy from a consumer affairs to a human rights framework may be a mountain too high and steep.

Another problem is that public discourse and campaigning around ‘renters’ rights’ in Australia focusses heavily on people in more formal residential tenancies – namely standard arrangements between landlords and tenants, typically brokered through real estate agents. Far less attention is given to the rights of residents in other forms of renting, particularly marginal housing forms like boarding and rooming houses, lodgings in private residences, public housing and residential parks tenancies. In every jurisdiction except the Australian Capital Territory multiple forms of marginal housing are not covered by legislation. Even in the ACT, effective coverage is limited.

This unfortunate phenomenon is understandable. Residential tenancies impact a broader proportion of the population, affecting social groups with greater social capital and power than the frequently more marginalised residents of, for example, boarding houses. Broad support is important for successfully shifting public policy and governments, which tend drag behind both academic consensus and popular opinion. In terms of renters’ rights, this makes it crucial for advocates to frame the issue in a way that is inclusive of marginal renters.

To achieve this, and to break the dissonance between housing as consumer affair or human right, an alternate conception may be to refocus on housing as the provision of an essential service, in a similar way that we look at education, health and transport. In the Australian context, all of these to varying degrees operate in a mixed public service / private provider policy environment, where public debate revolves around how much should be accessible free-of-charge. Such an approach may be more palatable to lawmakers turned off by the concept of human rights enshrined in legislation.
Importantly however, it also comes without the degradation of purpose that can accompany pragmatic solutions to thorny issues, such as the current trend towards not-for-profit housing as a response to a public housing approach governments have underfunded into failure.[v]
 
Recognising housing as an essential service offers a number of advantages in terms of advocating for improved conditions for people in marginal housing. While there is fierce political debate about how best to supply essential services, no credible decision-maker in Australia would be willing to argue that simply having a lower income should exclude a person from having access to clean water, healthcare or a high school education.

A public service approach would necessitate state and federal Ministers for Housing to ensure that the housing supply chain was functioning properly, and that the ultimate use of the shelter was regulated appropriately. This would require a realignment of the ministers currently responsible for planning, social housing and renting regulation.

Recognising housing as an essential service means sensible legislative reform to ensure that laws around renting are no longer a patchwork of coverage with cracks for marginalised people to fall through. Under this framework all renting contracts, whether an inner-city boarding house, a lodging in a family home, or a mainstream residential tenancy would then include:
· protection from unfair and arbitrary evictions, and
· requirements that homes be of adequate comfort and safety, and
· effective and accessible dispute resolution mechanisms, including of eviction decisions.

Housing as essential service cuts across the prevailing legislative framework of renting as commercial transaction. If we can reframe housing as an essential service, we will be less likely to accept the current restrictions to access, the arbitrary cut-offs through evictions and the overpricing of supply, particularly in the informal sector. While Australians are generally accustomed to private entities delivering public services, people are becoming increasingly aware that the corporate ‘efficiencies’ and ‘choice’ provided by profit-driven entities do not necessarily equate to quality services, take for example recent criticisms of the private health insurance rebate, the underperformance of for-profit superannuation funds, or the concerns about unscrupulous players in the aged care sector which sparked the recent Royal Commission.

Reframing housing as an essential public service will be a challenge, but it’s clear that we need to find effective ways to shift the political discourse and legislative framework away from housing and renting as simply consumer transactions. Rather than a move away from a rights-based approach, we suggest exploring a different way of advocating for these rights that is both inclusive of marginal renters and builds on the existing support for a various public and community delivered services as foundation stones for fair, vibrant and inclusive communities.

[i] MacDonald H., Nelson, J., Galster G., Paradies Y., Dunn, Kevin M & Dufty-Jones R. (2016) "Rental Discrimination in the Multi-ethnic Metropolis: Evidence from Sydney", Urban Policy and Research, 34(4), 373-385
[ii] Article 11, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx
[iii] Article 17, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx
[iv] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: General comment No. 4: The right to adequate housing (art. 11 (1) of the Covenant) (1 Jan 1992). Available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/TBSearch.aspx?Lang=en&TreatyID=9&DocTypeID=11
[v] Emma R. Power & Tegan L. Bergan (2018): Care and Resistance to Neoliberal Reform in Social Housing. Housing, Theory and Society.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

NSW is close to ending unfair evictions - how and why we should do it for the economy

This week, the NSW Legislative Council will vote on amendments to the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Review) 2018 bill to decide whether to keep unfair 'no grounds' evictions, or replace them with 'reasonable grounds'. Here's what they'll be arguing about.

The ALP and the Greens both have proposed amendments aimed at the issue of 'no grounds' evictions. The ALP amendments restrict s84 and s85 to a list of reasonable grounds that would be added by regulation. This allows for a consultation process to work out what that list should be.

The Greens amendments approach the issue differently. Their amendments allow for two reasonable grounds - an owner or their close family moving in, and significant renovations - as well as allowing for a landlord to nominate any other reason. This any other reason just needs to be one that requires the use of the premises for something other than a residence - for instance, perhaps they want to convert it into a bed and breakfast - for a six-month or more period.
The Greens amendments also address the issue of landlords dishonestly using a reasonable ground by including a section on 'wrongful evictions' with penalties for the landlord and potential compensation for the wrongfully evicted tenant, and strengthens the retaliatory provisions.

It will be up to the cross-bench to say yes or no to making renting fair. Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party has an amendment aimed at allowing pets in rental property and is most likely to support making renting fair.

If both the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party vote for an amendment that the ALP and Greens also support, then the amendment will pass. The Christian Democratic Party has already flagged their support for addressing the issue, saying that the government reforms fall short for NSW's most vulnerable if ' no grounds' evictions aren't addressed. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party is yet to declare its intentions. These cross-benchers have received more than 1100 emails from people supporting the Everybody's Home and Make Renting Fair campaigns in the last few weeks. These emails come from all across NSW and have really shown how much support these changes have.

We already know older women, and children are being harmed by the ongoing existence of unfair evictions, but there's another big group who are missing out - tradies.

The Unsettled survey last year found that 30% of tenants were living with ongoing maintenance issues, and 8% of had outstanding urgent repairs. The Curtin survey from last week similarly found 35% of properties with internal maintenance issues and we know many tenants don't report repairs because they are scared and many more because they know the work just won't get done. This is costing the NSW economy a significant amount.


There are around 850,000 bonds in the Rental Bond Board. If we apply those outstanding repairs figures, assume very conservative figures of just $500 per regular repair and $1000 for urgent ones that's almost $200million that is currently being held back from tradies' wages, and parts retailers, distributors and manufacturers and flowing on to the broader economy. Some of these repairs will eventually be done, but many won't, and the sooner the government enables the work to be done, the sooner the broader community will feel the benefits. Don't even get us started on unproductive days off work and longer commutes which harm the economy in a number of ways. Unfair evictions hurt us all.

If Parliament doesn't make renting fair tonight, the outstanding repairs, the fear and anxiety, will continue - but now instead of a long-standing piece of legislation it will have been an active vote by Members of Parliament to have it remain so.

We continue to have faith they will make the right decision for the people of NSW. It is most likely the amendments will be debated tomorrow before lunch - we'll be watching!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Renters can't get no satisfaction - but we try and we try

This week the Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre published a new survey about the private renting sector. The survey reports some important but unsurprising results around the unaffordable and unstable nature of the sector. However it found some unexpected results and it is this which the authors concentrated on.

Let's dig in to these results, but first we invite you to keep in mind this line from the excellent English book of 2016 "The Rent Trap."


This goes a long way to explain how on one hand the survey found that "only" 6% of tenants reported their premises being in poor or terrible condition and 14% were unsatisfied with the experience of renting. On the other hand:
  • 35% reported the place needing maintenance internally,
  • 27% externally,
  • 21% of renters reported their properties were affected by mould, 
  • 30% had inadequate security
  • 12% reported their homes did not even have smoke detectors installed.

26% of those renting from a real estate agent reported either repairs only occurring after constant reminders, or never being carried out by the landlord or agent at all. The discrepancy between such poor results and the satisfaction level demonstrates the adjustment renters have already made to their expectations.

That so many were willing to still describe their relationship with their agent or self-managing landlord (69% and 81% respectively - a good moment for self-reflection from the real estate industry if they felt inclined!) as good or excellent says a lot about how little many tenants expect from the relationship. It also leads in to one of the big issues with the survey methodology - definitions. We could offer feedback on many aspects of the survey, but let's not turn this into a full review!

What is an "average" relationship with a real estate agent? What is a lease? 

Several parts of the survey with "surprising" results are based on language which is not necessarily universal.
An average or even a good relationship with an agent may mean different things to different people. Is an average relationship the colloquial, and largely negative usage? Is it what a person expects everyone else is experiencing, or compared to my previous, really horrible relationships? Or is it, as this scale suggests - a halfway point between good and poor? The different definitions may give quite different results. For some, a good relationship may simply mean they have not yet had a bad experience.

There is a very large drop-off from "average" ratings to "poor" and "terrible". People experiencing poor and terrible relationships are much more likely to have either been forced to move or chosen to move to avoid the relationship. So the current improved relationship masks a previous negative relationship. This would go a long way to explaining the high proportion of positive relationship. Unfortunately the researchers divide people into being forced to move or choosing to move. However, a move by choice does not appear to allow for a person who is informally forced to move because of a poor relationship, lack of repairs, or other issues. 

A lease is probably most commonly understood by tenants to be a formal written contract, and particularly a fixed-term contract. In a legal sense it refers to the temporary transfer of particular property rights from one person to another in exchange for rent. Respondents answering a question about renewing a lease might have been thinking of the fixed term, rather than leaving the home, which would change the way a person would answer the question. In many states it is routine for the fixed term to continue on into a periodic, continuing or non-fixed (language varies across the country!) lease whereas in Queensland almost all tenants are in rolling fixed term contracts.
Some of the questions around leases and decisions conflate the two and ask questions asking, for instance, why a lease was not renewed.  If a respondent was thinking of the initial written contract, again this may throw up odd results.

Are we satisfied?

In many ways, we are left with more questions than answers about the research. Digging a bit deeper into the data would likely do a lot to tease out the meaning behind the responses, but unfortunately it's not really available to do so. One key factor which would seem to have been relevant was responses from different income ranges. Unfortunately none of the responses (not even affordability!) did so. 
Satisfaction is a tricky thing to measure. It may have been better to concentrate on the measurable experiences - how many properties in poor repair, how many tenants left to deal with repairs themselves, how many moves tenants are forced into moves, both formally or informally. This gets away from language differences and would ultimately give a much clearer idea of the renting experience.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What you need to know about renting reform in NSW: Part 2

We're back with more information about the Residential Tenancies Amendment bill and what it will mean for renters in NSW. If you haven't already, check out Part 1. Many of these proposals are good, or have potential to be so. Whether they strike the right balance will often depend on whether unfair 'no grounds' evictions remain in the Act. Others have short-comings which will need to be revisited in the future.

Disclosure of information to tenants


Currently the Residential Tenancies Act 2018 mandates that a landlord must not make false representations, must disclose any planned sale and mortgagee repossession actions and give tenants an information statement before they enter into an agreement.
The proposal before government is two-fold. First there is an expansion of the information to be provided so that prospective tenants of strata schemes be given a copy of the by-laws for that scheme and also be advised if a strata renewal committee has been established for the scheme before entering into a residential tenancy agreement. We welcome this proposal.
The second is that a tenant can vacate without penalty if a landlord breaches section 26 - they can either serve a notice of termination and vacate, or seek orders ending the tenancy early from the Tribunal. However, a tenant will not be able to seek any compensation as a result of the landlord's failure to disclose information.

Our recommendation
Our recommendation is that all of section 26 (proposed and existing) be made a term of every agreement and that tenants should be able to seek compensation for the landlord’s failure to disclose in the circumstances outlined in the existing legislation, i.e for false representations, disclosure of sale or mortgagee actions and information statements to be given to tenants before the tenant enters into the agreement, as well as in the above proposed circumstance in regard to strata.
This must be made into a term of every agreement in order for it to have any meaningful impact. Our experience is that currently the disclosure requirements are not well adhered to and where non-disclosure is discovered, tenants often have little option but to accept it. As it stands, whilst a tenant can vacate without penalty if disclosures do not occur, they are unable to seek compensation for the landlord’s failure to disclose. The potential losses to the tenant could be considerable and include – moving costs, reconnection fees and any other losses that would not be recovered under the current proposal.

Access generally by landlord to residential premises without consent

Currently there is no reference in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to landlord taking photographs or making visual recordings of tenants’ homes for any purpose. To date the standard advice to tenants has been that if a tenant requests that a landlord desist from taking photographs and they ignore such a request, then the landlord may place themselves in breach of section 50(2) ('Tenant's right to quiet enjoyment') of the Act and face a penalty of up to $1,100 if prosecuted in the Local Court. They may also face a claim for compensation awarded to the tenant in the NCAT.
The proposal before the government is that the landlord can access the residential premises without consent for the purpose of taking photographs or a video recording for the purposes of advertising the residential premises for sale or lease no more than once in the period of 28 days preceding the commencement of marketing the residential premises as long as the tenant is given reasonable notice and a reasonable opportunity to move their possessions out of the frame of the photo or visual recording.
The landlord or agent can publish the photos taken with the tenants written consent - the tenant cannot unreasonably withhold that consent. If in the landlord or agents opinion the tenant refuses consent unreasonably, they will either - apply to NCAT for orders requesting consent be given, evict the tenant for the breach of unreasonably withholding consent, or if they are unsure (or can't be bothered) of whether it was unreasonable, evict the tenant for no grounds. Even tenants with strong reasons to withhold consent for publication will be in a vulnerable spot.
If the landlord or agent goes ahead and publishes anyway, there is a $2200 fine that may be applied. However under current practices Fair Trading is very unlikely to apply such a fine. For the entirety of 2017-18 Fair Trading issued penalties to just 9 people for 10 offences under the Residential Tenancies Act. This lack of enforcement operates to undermine the effect of penalty provisions in the Act.

Our recommendation
We do not support this proposal as it discourages negotiation between the parties and may result in possessions that cannot be reasonably moved out of frame being photographed. Whilst the proposal does take survivors of domestic violence into consideration and allows these tenants to withhold consent in circumstances where domestic violence exists, the definition of domestic violence may be too tight. Even for survivors of domestic violence the proposed system will mean that tenants will most likely need to apply to the tribunal for protection and may not be able to prevent publication of identifiable photographs.

Guidelines relating to reasonable times for repairs

Currently there are no guidelines relating to reasonable times for repairs. Whilst urgent repairs are defined there is no timeframe for these or general repairs and maintenance to occur other than that landlords are required to act with reasonable diligence. ‘Reasonable diligence’ is not defined.
The proposal is to add guidelines for reasonable time frames for repairs to occur. It is not known yet exactly what format but it is likely it will determine time frames based on the seriousness of the needed repair - unsafe electrical work will be a shorter time frame than aged paintwork.

Our recommendation
In the absence of any proposed guidelines it is difficult to comment other than to say that this proposal has the potential to be a very good change if the guidelines are done well and reflect the real time frames for a landlord acting with diligence. If they are not done well the proposal has the potential to be harmful to tenants as it will actually delay required repairs.

Fair Trading inspections and rectification orders

Currently many of the complaints to NSW Fair Trading about renting are in relation to repairs. While Fair Trading can take the complaint and talk to the landlord or real estate agent, there is no mechanism that allows for Fair Trading to either inspect the premises or tell the agent they must carry out the necessary work.
In a nutshell the proposal before the government is that a landlord or tenant can make an application to Fair Trading to investigate a concern about the premises. For landlords this will be because they believe the tenant has caused damage to the residential premises. For tenants, whether the landlord has breached their repairs and maintenance obligations under the agreement. A landlord rectification or a tenant rectification order can then be ordered with time frames for work to be done. This Fair Trading issued order will be used as the basis of an NCAT order for non-compliance.

Our recommendation
This has the potential to be a very good change but operational and funding decisions will determine if the potential is realised. There is a risk of the scheme draining other parts of the renting system by taking funds that could be spent on improving other aspects.
Several years ago Fair Trading implemented a dispute resolution system which has had positive results in relation to repairs - it is amazing how many agents will ignore a tenant asking for repairs, but when the same information comes from the regulator, it is taken seriously. However there is still a number of major hurdles for tenants, including the ever-present threat of eviction.
Fair trading inspections and rectification orders could particularly have good implications for social housing tenants who are not as susceptible to retaliatory evictions but increasingly face other barriers to enforcing their rights - such as limited resources and energy.
Likewise, the new mechanism could have the potential to free up the time of invariably overworked tenant advocates in under-resourced and underfunded services who often end up providing the time and resources to run such cases.
The scheme would be much improved if rectification orders were kept in a register, and were binding on the landlord even if the current tenant leaves. Currently tenants move in to premises with no reliable information about the condition of the premises. The condition report and a visual inspection is rarely a good guide to the real condition and history of the premises. A searchable register of rectification orders made regarding a property would be an authoritative and simple way to begin resolving this information asymmetry.

Minor alterations

Currently the Act provides for tenants to make alterations with the consent of the landlord. A landlord cannot unreasonably withold consent for alterations of a minor nature. These types of alterations are not defined.
The proposal is for regulations to prescribe the kinds of alterations that are of a minor nature in relation to which it would be unreasonable for a landlord to withhold consent.

Our recommendation
Clarifications and the signal sent from government are potentially a good step but it does not substantially change the current system. We await consultation on the changes, though there are some obvious issues which need to be included.
The system would be improved further by allowing tenants to make the minor alterations without needing to first seek landlord's permission, but rather give the landlord opportunity to state what is inappropriate. For instance, an improved disclosure statement or condition report which allows a landlord to state that a particular wall is not appropriate for nails or screws of more than a certain size. Another alternative is for tenants to give a notice of intention of alteration rather than a request, where a landlord must raise an objection for some good reason within a reasonable time frame.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Striking the right balance on evictions in NSW

On the day of debate around the proposed amendments to Residential Tenancies Act 2010 the Hon. Matt Kean, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, made a number of statements that formed the basis of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Domain.

In this article, titled, ‘Better Regulation minister Matt Kean hits back at rental law critics’ by Tawar Razaghi the Minister made two statements we'd like to correct.

1. “The data suggests that over 95 per cent of people were not concerned about no-grounds terminations.”
The data the Minister is referring to is the Unsettled report, published by Choice, National Shelter and the National Association of Tenants' Organisations (of which TUNSW is a member). We say it suggests no such thing.

There is very little data on the broader question and this is a big part of the problem for public policy debate. The government also has a proposal we put forward to implement a way to measure eviction rates and the reasons for evictions through the bond claims system, using a simple 3-question survey on the claim form, and we encourage them to take it up.

While the primary fear of renters who took part in the Choice research was rent increases (which is hardly a surprise given the number of tenants currently in rental stress), the secondary fear is not specifically identified in the data but it is there, if you look hard enough:

“Worryingly, we found that renters with more experience in the market were less likely to complain when something goes wrong which illustrates the entrenched culture of fear among renters. This is all the more of a concern when you consider the rising number of long-term renters across Australia,” said Ned Cutcher, then the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations spokesperson.

There is new research from our evictions survey which we have distributed to parliamentarians today that show that the rate of concern is much higher. Here's a sneak peek:



This now sits alongside the lived experience of tenants and academic expertise recommending a course of action to replace no grounds evictions with a reasonable grounds system. Minister Kean and the Government should accept this evidence.

It is clear that the single most important reform to ensure that the renting system is fair and that the right balance has been achieved is by ending no grounds evictions. The parliament should do that now.

2. “I respect the sacrifice that mum and dad investors have made to purchase an investment property, and we’re not going to make it impossible for them to move into their home if they wish to do that.”


Firstly, if a mum and dad investor has purchased an investment property then this is not their home. They already have a home or principal place residence. The concept of private property rights is a bundle - one of which is the right to occupy and use the premises as a home. That right was transferred to the tenant through the lease. So their investment property is somebody else’s home, and removing that person from their home shouldn't be done lightly.

Nonetheless, if an property investor ceases to have another home and needs to make use of their investment property as a home, then the proposed amendments will allow them to do this. One of the Tenants’ Union’s proposed expanded list of grounds for termination includes ‘premises to be used by the landlord or a family member as principal place of residence’. This is a feature in the ACT and Victorian reasonable grounds lists and appears in many international rules as well.

Secondly, respectfully, Minister Kean, mum and dad investors can also be mum and dad renters. The two are not mutually exclusive. But even those mum and dad investors who are not simultaneously mum and dad renters are not necessarily opposed to the removal of no grounds terminations.

Another sneak peek in the evictions survey - 55% of landlords who took part in the survey agree that there should be a reason given when ending a tenancy. As Russell told our recent NSW Parliamentary event:



So the Hon. Minister Matt Kean we implore you to, in your own words, “go back to the drawing board on no-grounds evictions” as the data and evidence is most certainly there to support removing it. Work with Parliament to strike the right balance and make renting fair!

Monday, October 1, 2018

International Older Tenants' Day


Artwork from a great essay by Anwen Crawford, 'Nowhere to go – older women and housing vulnerability', Right Now, 4 October 2016. She writes: ‘The number of older women who are rental tenants in Australia is growing, and these women ... are increasingly vulnerable to poverty and homelessness ... Housing affordability and security for rental tenants will only become a more pressing issue as Australia’s population continues to age.’
This year International Tenants’ Day coincides with International Day of Older Persons and is celebrated on Monday, 1 October.

On 22 May 1986 the Council of the International Union of Tenants met in Paris and designated the first Monday in October as the ‘International Tenants’ Day.’ The date chosen was made following a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly for a World Habitat Day, first celebrated in October 1986. Read more here. So, this year is the 33rd International Tenants´ Day.

Resolution 45/106, passed by the United Nations General Assembly on December 14th 1990, declared 1st October to be the International Day of Older Persons.

The United Nations 2018 theme aims to:
  • Promote the rights enshrined in the Declaration and what it means in the daily lives of older persons;
  • Raise the visibility of older people as participating members of society committed to improving the enjoyment of human rights in many areas of life and not just those that affect them immediately;
  • Reflect on progress and challenges in ensuring full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by older persons; and
  • Engage broad audiences across the world and mobilize people for human rights at all stages of life.
Accordingly, the International Union of Tenants has chosen the theme: “Sound, safe and suitable housing for elderly people” as this year’s theme for the International Tenants’ Day 2018.

There are currently an estimated 962 million people aged 60 or over in the world, comprising 13 per cent of the global population. It is predicted that this figure will have risen to 2 billion by 2050. Such huge numbers are likely to create many challenges, not least in housing the growing number of older people.

The International Union of Tenants has identified the following sub-themes for this International Tenants’ Day:
• An adequate supply of suitable, safe and sound housing for the elderly at affordable rents.
• The right to social and housing assistance to ensure a decent existence for elderly people who lack sufficient resources.

• A tenure neutral stance expressed through public policy could achieve wide availability of suitable rental housing alternatives for elderly people.

• Adaption of housing to suit the elderly. Many elderly people suffer from health and/or mobility problems. Therefore, many older people may have to leave their accommodation. Policies should support home adaptation for safe living without increasing the rents to a level where they become unaffordable.

• Urban environments should by designed as an inclusive urban environment by providing accessible services for the elderly. Public meeting places, shopping facilities and elderly care should be available locally.

• Understanding of the new developments in society and providing solutions for the growing number of single households. People may value privacy but not necessarily loneliness. Housing should be suitable also for the many people who live on their own.

• Prevention of accidents that happen in the everyday lives of elderly people (the majority represented by falls).

• The rate of financial effort related to housing increases from retirement age onwards. Many pensioners’ income is very low and/or has decreased whilst housing costs have risen and therefore housing policy must consider support structures for those tenants, including elderly people that may otherwise live in housing poverty or become homeless.

• Suitable facilities. Identifying the needs of people growing old at home and technical adaptations that may be carried out and new technologies that may be used. Tenants are particularly vulnerable as they may have no equity which they can release to finance adaptation of their homes.

• Ensuring that housing is sound and free of hazards and that they are suitably heated or cooled and maintained.

• Preventing vulnerability, in particular energy poverty and protection from crime and abuse.

• Including elderly people in decision making processes through the creation of participatory structures at national and at local levels. The planning of new housing developments and the adaption of existing housing should be supported by consultation processes with stakeholder groups.
You may read their full media release here.

So how is Australia doing on this International Day of Older Tenants?

Back in March of this year, The Brown Couch published ‘A longer lease on life’ here. It says that today across Australia more people are renting for longer periods. The reality for older renters is described by words such as : Overlooked, A distinct financial disadvantage, Condemned, Vulnerable and Financial stress … and that’s just for starters.

In July of this year Isabelle Lane at the New Daily wrote: 'Older Australians are falling off the housing ladder and face spending their retirement as renters, with the situation expected to worsen for coming generations.'

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute provides an excellent analysis of the situation facing older, low income tenants in the private rental sector. They also points to some current research. Check it out here.



Emma Power of Western Sydney University writes for The Conversation: 'Life as an older renter, and what it tells us about the urgent need for tenancy reform.'  The article is based on research findings presented in a talk by the author at an event, 'Fair for Everybody: Reforming Renting in NSW', hosted at Parliament House on Wednesday 26 September 2018.

So, on International Older Tenants’ Day, let’s particularly celebrate the contributions of older tenants whom we know. They may be a member of a tenants’ group, an activist in social housing or an advocate for the rights of residents in a land lease community. They are the back bone of the struggle for a fairer housing system. Often they are quiet about what they do day-in and day-out. But they are part of a worldwide movement!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Renting laws debated in parliament

Yesterday was a huge day for renting law in  NSW.

At lunch together with Everybody's Home, we organised an event today at Parliament bringing together renters, housing academics, campaign supporters, and MP decision makers.


We heard from Keith – a renter who has lived in seven homes over the last ten years.
"I am sick and tired of being forced to move. I’ve figured out that each time we move it has cost us around $3000. No grounds evictions have totally disrupted my family’s life."
Dr Emma Power spoke about her research on the experiences of older women renters and the hardships they face. Russell Rodrigo, a property investor, spoke about how the proposed reforms are actually in landlords' interests - because they will foster better relationships and improved stability.
Russell, Dr Emma Power, Dr Chris Martin and Keith Young.

Then at around 5pm the fun really started. The debate started for the Residential Tenancies Amendment. As expected, the Government spoke to their bill and emphasised the positive steps it is taking.

Labor spoke strongly for the need to end unfair no grounds evictions and made clear that while there other issues in our renting system, that getting the fundamental fix of ending no grounds evictions would be the focus of their work on this bill.

Jenny Leong for the Greens moved 20 amendments to the bill raising a number of issues that so many tenants raise. Her amendments ranged from big ticket items like pets and rent increases, to more focussed improvements to the current bill, like a number of additional minimum standards.

The three Legislative Assembly Greens were joined by Alex Greenwich of Sydney to vote and support these amendments. With independents Joe McGirr of Wagga Wagga and Greg Piper of Port Macquarie. joining them for some issues, like supporting an end to blanket bans for tenants to keep pets.

Labor did not support these various amendments in the current bill, but made several commitments throughout the night to return to many of these issues and we look forward to discussing those issues with them soon.

Once the Legislative Assembly completed their deliberations, the bill was immediately raced over to the Legislative Council. The parties made generally the same points again. But significantly, Paul Green speaking for the Christian Democratic Party stated:
We believe this bill, for the most part, strikes a good balance... However, I encourage the Government to acknowledge the challenges faced by tenants regarding no grounds termination and implore it to approach such terminations based only on reasonable grounds. I have contacted the Government about this matter but is chosen not to go that way. I give an early indication that we will listen very carefully to consideration of amendments moved by Labor and The Greens in Committee. We feel that we are compelled to do so, given the Government has fallen short of supporting some of the State's most vulnerable people.
We applaud the CDP for making this statement. It reminds us all that good law-making is the responsibility of all within Parliament. A commitment to that responsibility is not confined to any one party, or any one approach. 

But with that, the debate was adjourned - it will be back on October 16. This is a crucial time for renters rights in NSW. Get involved with the Make Renting Fair campaign to hear about how you can help bring this thing home.