ACT Looking To Introduce Major Renting Reforms As NSW’s Crisis Worsens

The ACT is proposing a raft of progressive rental reforms, while in NSW tenants are being forced to vacate as prices skyrocket across the state.

rental laws nsw act

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Twelve years ago, Karen Warren, a 71-year-old Australian grandmother and pensioner, was forced to sell her family property after becoming a widow.

She started renting and has been living in her two-bedroom unit rental property in Merimbula, nearly a six-hour drive south of Sydney, ever since. She has been paying $240 per week rent and has never missed a payment over her 12 years of renting the property.

“I’m a widow. I had nowhere else to go at the time,” she tells Junkee. “I decided to rent because of being a widow. You just don’t know what’s going to happen — whether you’re going to stay in the same area — so I decided to rent out this unit. And I’ve been here ever since.”

A few weeks ago, despite her stellar renting record, she was given 90 days to leave her rental by her property manager because she refused to pay $450 per week. This sudden and exploitative increase in rental costs is known as rent bidding and is common in states like NSW that have fewer numbers of vacant properties. If Karen was to comply with the rent increase, it would use up the majority of her $1,100 fortnightly pensioner allowance. The decision to increase her weekly rent has therefore left Karen potentially on the brink of homelessness.

“The estate agent came and looked around the property and turned around and said, ‘oh you can get $450 for this’,” she recalls. “I knew what was coming.”

“My pension will be virtually gone in a week if I pay $450 a week for a property that’s $900 out of my pension. I get $1,100 a fortnight on my pension. That’s it. Therefore, I’d have to live on $200 a fortnight and that includes having to pay for petrol, having to pay for food, electricity and then anything else.”

“People can’t afford rent here,” she continues. “I feel sorry for the younger ones, and I feel sorry for the patients and disabled. I’m disappointed and I’m heartbroken that I have to move out of my house, of my unit. Twelve years is a long time.”

She says she is not the only person who approaching homelessness in her family. Karen’s 20-year-old granddaughter, Kayla, works as a disability support worker in Merimbula. Kayla was recently given 24 nights of crisis accommodation at a local Merimbula motel; her grandmother says this is a sign of the area being too unaffordable for young people living in the area.

“They get minimum wage working at McDonald’s and places that don’t pay astronomical hourly rates,” says Karen. “So how the hell are young people going to rent a house around here?

“They’ve got no hope in hell, even if they want to work, which a lot of them do. They can’t. They’ve got to either stay with the parents or move out of the area… in 24 days, and then she’s going to be out soon … she’s talking about going in a tent in the caravan park. It makes me sick to the stomach that society can let people do what they’re doing.”

The ACT Is Cracking Down

In the ACT, the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2022 is currently being drafted, with the aim to present the bill to the legislative assembly later this year. If the legislation is passed, the ACT will become the most progressive and leading state for renters. The bill will take aim at no-cause evictions, rent bidding, and will introduce mandatory living standards that will increase accessibility for elderly and disabled renters.

“I’m heartbroken that I have to move out of my house, of my unit. Twelve years is a long time.”

ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury says the reforms are intended to make things fairer for all parties caught in the rental market. “Everyone deserves a safe and secure place to live,” he told Junkee. “With these reforms, we are striking the right balance of improving tenants’ rights and security of tenure, while also enabling landlords to continue to manage their properties effectively.

“Almost a third of Canberrans rent, so it is vital that we create a fairer, safer rental system. During our community consultation on our proposed reforms, tenants told us about the fear and uncertainty of receiving a no-cause eviction notice and the disruption that it can cause to their lives.

“They told us that ending no-cause evictions will make them feel more secure in their homes and that they can raise maintenance or other issues with their landlords without fear of or an actual eviction.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2021 there were nearly 9.8 million households in Australia — 31 percent of those were renters, 26 percent from private landlords and three percent from state or territory housing authorities (the remainder of households are in other renting situations).

NSW Is Lagging Behind

Jemima Mowbray, Policy and Advocacy Manager for Tenants’ Union of NSW, says vacancy rates are at record lows in NSW across the state. “At the moment the private rental market in metro Sydney, but also across regional NSW, is facing extremely low vacancy rates,” she told Junkee. “NSW sits at around 1.4 percent, but especially in regional areas it can be much lower, it has hit record lows in the regions.

“NSW is certainly being left behind in terms of reforms to improve tenancy laws on this front.”

“This means an incredibly competitive market for any renters trying to secure a new home — especially at an affordable price. Rents are increasing significantly.”

Jemima says there has been a 10.6 percent increase in NSW rents over the past year. Areas of NSW such as the Central Coast, Central West and Murray, and the Richmond-Tweed have seen increases of 13 percent or higher. Rents in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney increased by over 13 percent, the Ryde area has seen an increase in rents of 14.9 percent over the past year.

“NSW is certainly being left behind in terms of reforms to improve tenancy laws on this front. Recognising their harm, Victoria almost succeeded in getting rid of these provisions in 2020 — limiting their use only to the first fixed-term tenancy.

“ACT is at the moment pushing through an excellent reform to scrap ‘no grounds’ evictions completely. We’d love to see NSW step up and push through reforms to get rid of these provisions. It’s long overdue.”

The ACT’s Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill legislation will be presented to the assembly later this year.

Kearyn Cox is a Noongar Yamatji freelance journalist. You can find him on Twitter at @cox_kearyn.