Friday, December 18, 2015

Homelessness and Renting in Sydney

This week two reports regarding homelessness, from opposite sides of the world - Sydney and England - were released. We explore today what lessons we can learn and use to inform the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 review.
The most striking aspect of the Sydney survey was that of the 516 homeless people surveyed in the inner city, 65% only needed some short term support and housing they could afford. This means that for many people, the solutions for their homelessness lie in resolving our housing affordability issues.
Meanwhile in the UK government figures were released showing that the biggest single trigger for homelessness across England was insecure private rental. Of the 15 000 households (including single people) across England that identified as homeless in Jul-Sept 2015, 31% had become homeless because an "assured shorthold tenancy" (the equivalent of a fixed-term agreement in NSW) had come to an end and the landlord evicted the tenant.
Whilst the Sydney study didn't ask those kinds of questions, it is not a stretch to consider that a significant number of people experiencing homelessness in NSW are in that position merely because they were not able to access stable, liveable and affordable housing.
One easy way to address the stability of our renting system is a change to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to remove the option to end tenancies without grounds, and instead provide an expanded list of grounds. This could include circumstances where the landlord requires the property for another legitimate purpose, or where the property is to be renovated such that vacant possession is required. The question should be: does the landlord’s purpose require the recovery of vacant possession, or could it be achieved without displacing a sitting tenant? Given the potential impact of eviction on tenants - as indicated in these surveys - this question should be taken seriously.
Another way of promoting stability in housing is to ensuring that rent increases take into account affordability concerns, as well as ensuring the increase is justifiable when considering the general cost of living and comparative value of dwellings. Our proposal to require the landlord to bear the obligation to prove an increase is reasonable if it is above the CPI increase will make sure these decisions are fair and reasonable.
To read more about the review and our proposals, check out our quick guide to the review!

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