Friday, September 25, 2015

Top tenant 'mistakes' include knowing the law

Anybody foolish enough to spend time on the internet (you know who you are!) will know we are firmly ensconced in the age of the listicle. Newsworthiness, inanity, and even the number of things listed are irrelevant considerations - 29 Essential Albums Every 90's Kid Owned is what gets the clicks. Indeed, the medium has already reached a higher plane, arriving at the ironic, self-referential listicle.

So with the number of long-term tenants sharply on the rise, it is perhaps no surprise that tenancy law has now entered this brave new world of journalism. Earlier this week, Fairfax Media brought us The 10 mistakes landlords and tenants make.

Next time on The Brown Couch: 27 hilarious but true reasons why Taylor Swift's cat who grew up in the 90's will restore your faith in humanity

The tenant errors nominated do include genuine missteps that often leave renters high and dry - such as failing to provide notice before vacating, or not keeping records of communications with the other side. 

But two 'mistakes' did stand out as somewhat curious:

"Not reporting necessary repairs to the property manager"

"Feeling uncomfortable about asking for changes to the lease upfront"

Self-defeating fools! Of course, tenants are entitled to have repairs for which they are not responsible addressed by the landlord - and tenants are in fact obliged to report damage to premises as soon as practicable after becoming aware of it! And, like most any other contract, the parties to a residential tenancy agreement are free to renegotiate terms. Why oh why - Tell me why! - do tenants work against their own interests in this way? It categorically does not make sense. 

Except, wait...

Could it actually have something to do with the fact that landlords are presently empowered to issue tenants with a notice of termination for literally no reason? And that they can pull the pin at any point - either for the end of a fixed term or with 90 days' notice in a periodic tenancy? Could it be that the Tribunal is required to enforce a valid notice so issued? And that mechanisms for tenants to dispute 'no grounds' notices as retaliatory are notoriously difficult to use?

Of course it does. The threat of arbitrary termination in this manner hangs over the head of every tenant. Renters know their housing is inherently insecure, as our 2014 survey showed. And this naturally influences their approach to landlord-tenant relations. The consequence is that tenants are too often reluctant to enforce basic and fundamental legal rights for fear of putting their landlord offside. It is only too easy for a landlord to be rid of an irritating tenant that insists upon all that he or she is entitled to. And better still, very low vacancy rates mean a replacement will be found almost immediately. 

Perhaps tenants aren't so foolish after all.

It is for these reasons that The Tenants' Union argues for the abolition of no-grounds termination provisions from the Residential Tenancies Act. Instead, we say landlords should have access to an expanded list of legitimate termination grounds, such as needing the property to reside in personally. 

It also goes to show that the media isn't the best source of guidance on where you stand as a renter. For that, you should contact your local tenants' advice service - and of course sign this petition to ensure these vital but underfunded services continue to have the capacity to take your call. 

Read more about the Tenants' Union's opposition to no grounds terminations in our report on five years of the Residential Tenancies Act, available here.

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