Thursday, August 1, 2013

Happy tenants

This headline on a media release from yesterday caught our eye:

Landlords do the right thing  
3 out of 4 Aussie tenants are happy with their landlords

Apparently, an online survey by domain has found that more than 73 per cent of tenants say they have a 'good relationship' with their landlord.

It's nice to hear that so many tenants and landlords are getting on. Still, the fact that 27 per cent of tenants surveyed say that things are not good is a problem. And it's a particularly difficult problem because of some facts about renting.

Let's consider what you might do if you're not happy with the service you're getting from your landlord. You might try to use your power as a consumer: that is, threaten to take your business elsewhere unless things improve. For most consumer relationships, this is as easy as going to the next shop down the road – but it is not so easy in relation to tenancy. For a tenant, taking your business elsewhere means moving, and incurring all the financial, logistical and emotional costs that moving house entails.

As consumers, tenants are distinctly disadvantaged, which is why we have laws like the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 that prescribe contractual rights for tenants and afford legal remedies for breach – without them, tenants could get hardly rely on their hampered clout as consumers to get decent service from landlords.

So, if you're not happy, you might use the law. We certainly encourage you to – but we also understand why tenants are often reluctant to do so. In New South Wales, as in almost every other Australian jurisdiction, landlords are still allowed to give termination notices without grounds. This legal trump card undermines all the other positive things that residential tenancies legislation does for tenants. When unhappy tenants ring their local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service for advice about getting repairs done or otherwise enforcing their contractual rights, so often they also ask about the prospect of a no-grounds notice. And of course, there would more unhappy tenants who do not even make the call for advice, because they're discouraged by the spectre of a no-grounds termination notice.

The Residential Tenancies Act does allow the Tribunal to refuse termination and possession orders to landlords who use termination notices in retaliation against tenants who assert their rights – and if you do assert your rights, and you do get a termination notice, your local TAAS will be very pleased to advise you on how to make that argument to the Tribunal.

But how much better it would be if landlords had to state a good reason for giving a notice of termination, and be prepared to back up the reason. That's not really a very big ask, and would be no skin off the noses of the majority of landlords who conduct themselves reasonably.

Only the relative few bad landlords would be put out by such a reform. And all tenants would be happier.       

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