Monday, October 9, 2017

More news from down the Hume

There's been massive news out of Victoria over the weekend, with the Andrews Government pledging to make renting fair!


The announcement refers to an "unprecedented package of tenancy reforms" that includes doing away with the Victorian equivalent of unfair evictions, preventing discrimination against tenants with pets, and cracking down on rental bidding. All of these sound pretty good to us here on the Brown Couch, and we look forward to seeing further details as these proposals are implemented by amendment to Victoria's Residential Tenancies Act 1997. Early details are available here.

Of course, not everyone was happy with this announcement. ABC online reports:
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) said the changes would force up costs, which would be passed on to renters. 
"Rents will go up, people will leave the market, there'll be less supply and that's only going to push people out of the rental market and make it more difficult for those who are seeking to rent premises cheaply," chief executive Gil King said.
But our colleague from the Tenants' Union of Victoria, Mark O'Brien, wasn't having any of it:
"Every time there's reform of the residential tenancies law, the institute claims it's the end of the world as we know it and that's never what occurs," he said.
O'Brien's view is supported by a great deal of research, which suggests property investors tend to be motivated by financial considerations rather than tenancy laws.

Still, it's a line the investor lobby and landlord advocacy groups like to trot out at times like this and we expect a similar conversation will emerge in New South Wales when at last the results of our own review of renting laws make their way towards Parliament. We've been expecting this would occur before the year is out, but now that's looking unlikely. This means we've still got time to convince our own government they should be following Victoria's lead to make renting fair - you can lend your support to our claims here.

But it also means our own landlords' and real estate agents' groups will have more time to practice their lines about tenants' rights leading to all sorts of doom and gloom for renters. "Careful what you wish for," they might say. "The changes will force up costs, rents will go up, people will leave the market, there'll be less supply and that's only going to push people out of the rental market and make it more difficult for those who are seeking to rent premises cheaply".

The thing about all this is that there's not much stopping rents from going up as it is. For a quick refresher on why this is, have a look at our earlier post about why rental affordability continues to deteriorate.

But back to the specifics of the claim. The Real Estate Institute of Victoria seems to have skimmed over their suggestion that rents will go up to offset an increase in landlords' costs. Perhaps they've cottoned on that such claims are a furphy, because even though most landlords would go out backwards without them rents are a function of what tenants can pay rather than what landlords' choose to spend when buying and holding property. Or perhaps they just don't think the Victorian proposals will add significantly to their costs so they've steered clear of any further detail. Either way, they've put their emphasis on the slightly different argument of "people will leave the market, thereby reducing supply".

We should keep an ear out for this one in New South Wales, too. It's the idea perhaps that fair renting laws will take all the fun out of property investment, so landlords will take their money and spend it on other, much simpler things. Keep in mind the same argument was made when our current laws were drafted in 2009/10, and the private rental market was hands down the most likely place for a property in New South Wales to turn up in following sale or construction between the 2011 and 2016 Census events.

Still, given the prices property owners could expect at the moment it stands to reason some might be tempted to cash out. Some might even use the prospect of law reform as a cover for their decision. Rest assured they'll be factoring in capital gains before all else, and nobody likes to sell before hitting their targeted windfalls unless they really, really have to.

Those who do sell will be doing immediate damage to their sitting tenants - just as any landlord does when selling for any other purported reason. That is, unless they sell to another investor who is not so concerned about law reform (or other purported reason), and will keep the tenancy going. Given it's mostly an investors' market at the moment this scenario is becoming more and more likely. But, on the off chance an investor cashes out by selling to a first home buyer, the net impact on supply will be zero if the buyer is leaving the private rental market in order to take up home-ownership. And if a whole lot of investors suddenly decide to sell up all at the same time, prices might start to come down a little and first home buyer activity might find some renewed vigour.

It's the landlords who take their properties with them when exiting the market that are the real problem. These are likely to be in the very small minority, since most landlords run at a loss for tax purposes, and rely on any rental income to cover their main costs which includes the interest on their loans. Nevertheless, this risk could be easily countered with a vacant property tax, the likes of which the Victorian Government has also recently proposed. The revenue from such a tax could be used to fund new social housing dwellings.

Despite what we can expect to hear from the investor lobby in the coming months, the NSW Government would do well to start taking notes on Victoria's tenancy law reform proposals.

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