Monday, October 20, 2014

Children in rental housing

It's NSW Children's Week 2014, and on Wednesday Australia observes Universal Children's Day. Both are occasions to 'celebrate the right of children to enjoy childhood' and to 'consider those conditions in society which affect the lives and future of our own children.'

About a quarter of all persons living in rental housing in New South Wales are children aged 14 years and younger. The rate is even higher amongst Aboriginal households: about half of all Aboriginal persons living in rental housing are children (14 years and younger).

The NSW State Government promotes NSW Children's Week and Universal Children's Day, and we'd like it to keep in mind how these children may be affected by tenancy laws.

In particular, when the government allows tenancies to be terminated without grounds, on 90 days notice (or just 30 days notice, when at the end of a fixed term), it makes the housing of children needlessly insecure.

And when, as the landlord of the State's 110 000 public housing tenancies, it thinks about 'getting tough' and evicting tenants, it should consider that they are getting tough on vulnerable children too. 

We're thinking in particular of where there's been a 'use of the premises for an illegal purpose' – most often, but not always, drug offences. Housing NSW already undertakes 'illegal use' termination proceedings, including where it means people not involved in the illegality – including kids – may lose their housing. Under the current law, you can at least ask the Tribunal not to terminate, considering the circumstances of the case (eg kids would lose their housing; court has seen fit to order non-custodial sentence; offence not actually committed by tenant), and the Tribunal will make up its own mind. 

We understand, however, that the NSW State Government is currently considering a proposal to change the law in this regard, such that when Housing NSW takes these proceedings, the Tribunal would have no choice but to terminate. This change would produce serious injustice, particularly where children and other blameless persons would be evicted into homelessness. 

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