Friday, November 13, 2015

Tenants steal the show at Parliament!

This week was an important one for our More Bang for Your Bond campaign.

For over six months, we have been campaigning for an increase in funding for the 19 Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Services operating across NSW. These services are funded with tenants' money, via the interest accumulated by bond monies held by the Rental Bond Board. Much of this interest is retained by the Government in surplus. But tenants' services have had no increase in real terms for over 12 years, despite a 25% increase in the number of tenants in the state over that time. And so the services are now stretched thin, forced to turn back those needing help on a regular basis. So with the backing of over 1500 supporters, we took the campaign to NSW Parliament - formally presenting a petition to bring funding up to speed with the needs of the rental market in 2015.

The presentation ceremony featured speeches from our Executive Officer Julie Foreman, as well as Dr. Geoff Lee MP (Member for Parramatta and Parliamentary Secretary), Jenny Leong MP (Member for Newtown), and David Mehan MP (Member for The Entrance). But by consensus it was our tenant speaker, Milly Morison, who stole the show. Milly's words perfectly capture the experiences of countless tenants across the state, and the vital role played by the service that assist them.

We are grateful to Milly, and proud to republish her speech in full here. 

Milly's speech:

Thank you all for coming today. I would like to take a moment to thank the Tenant’s Union of NSW and the network of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services throughout NSW, for all the help that they have given me during my time as a renter.

I would like to give you a bit of background as to why I am so grateful for their help. A couple of years ago I was renting a house directly through the owner. We were on a periodic agreement when the owner fell ill and required the house back. He wanted to give us two weeks’ notice to vacate, so of course, we panicked. Finding a house in the Sydney rental market is challenging under the best of conditions. I called my aunt who told me about the Tenants Union, so I gave them a call. The friendly gentleman on the phone gave me some advice and told me there was more detail on their website. There I found a wealth of information and Factsheets, which I have been using as my essential manual ever since. The information contained told me the minimum required notice was 30 days. Armed with this information I was able to negotiate with the owner so we weren’t going to end up homeless, which was a real possibility as I had just quit my job and my housemate was a casual waitress.

In our next house we needed additional housemates to cover the rent. The new tenants did not want to be on the lease, and I wanted the extra rooms set up as short term leases. The website helped me set-up sub-lease agreements and provided a sub-lease template. It helped me to navigate the nitty gritty details and maintain a positive relationship with the real estate agent. With the help of the Tenants Union everyone was looked after and no one got the raw end of the deal.

When I moved out of that house I transferred the tenancy to the two remaining housemates and again, the information provided by the Tenants Union was invaluable. They wanted to have their dog on the lease and at first the owner refused, but we were able to write a letter using information provided in the Companion Animals Taskforce submission that changed the owner’s mind. They were allowed to have the dog and I was able to move out.

Most recently I was living in a house and I had a falling out with my co-tenant. I gave her my four weeks’ notice but things got ugly very quickly and she refused to return my bond. The Rental Bond Board holds the bond for the whole house and don’t return portions of the bond to individual tenants. If one tenant leaves it needs to be negotiated between the two parties. So it felt that she suddenly had control of all my money. My local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service walked me through, step by step, how to communicate with the real estate agent, how to behave in such a way that I was in the right, when I should give my keys back, what to do about a condition report and documenting the house upon exit. TAAS gave me all of the tools that I needed to get my bond back and because of their handholding I was able to successfully retrieve my money without having to take it to the tribunal.

Throughout my experience as a renter, a tenant, a share house mate, I have needed the assistance of the Tenants Union and the TAAS and I have regularly called upon their support in all of those sticky situations. I have used the Factsheets for all those niggles and I watch with interest their advocacy for tenants’ rights.

Mine is not an uncommon story. My rental history is a cardboard cut-out experience shared by many other renters around NSW. I have trouble imagining how people manage these issues without the support of the Tenant Union and Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services and I cannot state strongly enough how vital they have been as my aids through the rental world.

Fair Trading's review of the Residential Tenancies Act also asks for comments on how interest on tenants' bond money should be spent. Let them know directly here!

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