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Renters' rights

PROTECTIONS FOR RENTERS DURING COVID-19

With COVID-19 pandemic and growing economic recession, I have been fighting to make sure no one is made homeless just because they've fallen on hard times. 

In March, I wrote to the Premier, Leader of the House and Housing Minister calling on Parliament to sit to pass laws for: 

  • A rental holiday for those affected by the crisis
  • A repayment holiday and protection from foreclosure for homeowners and landlords who cannot pay their mortgage
  • A real moratorium on evictions

In April, Labor finally introduced temporary tenancy protections, including restrictions on evictions and a process for rent deferral or reductions. Unfortunately the laws were amended last-minute in response to a well-funded scare campaign by the real estate lobby, which mean they were full of loopholes. I prepared amendments to ensure real rent reductions, a moratorium on unnecessary inspections, and an evictions ban with no loopholes, but was prevented from speaking on the Bill.

As the expiry date for those protections approached, I called for an extension of the laws until at least the end of 2020, noting they coincided with the Federal Government's cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. I was shocked when Qld Labor decided to extend the evictions moratorium for commercial but not residential tenancies

COVID-19 has highlighted the dangerous power imbalance between renters and landlords, and the harmful ways in which our housing system is designed to maximise private profit, while failing to give everyone a home.

Here's what I'm fighting for long term.

Right now, 47% of households in Maiwar rent. My family is one of them. 

For many, home ownership is increasingly out of reach. Now, an ever growing population and mix of people, including families, are choosing renting as a long term solution, or are stuck, renting when they would much rather buy. 

So what’s the problem?

1. The rent is too damn high!  

In every single major population centre in Queensland, rents have grown faster than median wages over the last 10 years. The situation is worst in regional Queensland, but across the State, 34% of renting households are in “rental stress”. Seven percent of poor households are currently paying 75% of their income to their landlords. To make matters worse, current laws mean tenants are vulnerable to unregulated rent increases at the end of every fixed term lease.

2. The current laws in Queensland prevent renters from feeling secure in their home and putting down roots. 

If you’ve ever:

  • Had to leave because your lease wasn’t renewed;
  • Struggled to find a home because nowhere would allow a pet;
  • Worried about making a rental feel like home because a picture hook on the wall might jeopardise your bond;
  • Put up with shoddy maintenance jobs and low living standards in a rental because you don’t want to piss off your landlord by complaining… 

Then you know what I mean.

What do we want?

  • A “Right to Remain”, meaning all tenants would have access to unlimited leases, which can only be terminated with 12 months’ notice by the landlord, and only on reasonable grounds. To to this, we need to end “No Grounds” evictions. 
  • Rent controls: We need a reasonable cap on rent increases so that landlords can only increase rents every 24 months and never by more than inflation across that time. 
  • Minimum standards: Landlords must be required to maintain rental homes at a minimum standard prior to and during the tenancy. In 2017, the Queensland Parliament has already passed legislation to allow the Housing Minister to create minimum standards but the government still has not acted to implement that legislation. 
  • Right to minor improvements: Tenants should be able to make minor renovations to their property without permission from the landlord, including putting nails in the wall, installing furniture hooks for safety or putting up shelves. 
  • Ban No Pet clauses: Tenants should have the right to have a pet in their rental property. 

Many of these policies have already been implemented throughout the world, in places like Berlin, Paris, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and even Tasmania and Victoria. 

What’s next?

After huge pressure from the Greens during the 2017 State election, the Queensland Labor State government agreed to review our rental laws. In late 2018, they received more than 135,000 submissions from the public.

In November 2019, the Government finally announced some proposed changes and further consultation. Unfortunately, they've chosen to split the reforms into two stages, and aren't dealing with crucial rent controls for at least another year. 

The proposed "Stage 1" reforms include:

  • Ending “no grounds” evictions by landlords. This means landlords would need a reason to end a tenancy, such as nonpayment of rent, major renovations, or moving in themselves. Many renters, especially already vulnerable folks, say they fear losing their lease if they exercise their tenancy rights (like requesting repairs) because of retaliatory “no grounds” evictions. 
  • Letting tenants end the tenancy agreement if they’re escaping domestic and family violence, a co-tenant is deceased, or if the property is not in good repair, unfit for human habitation, or doesn’t comply with Minimum Housing Standards. 
  • Requiring landlords to keep rental properties to minimum standards of safety and amenity, and improve renters’ ability to request emergency repairs.
  • Letting renters make minor modifications to the property without asking the landlord’s permission for disability, security, and health and safety.
  • Allowing landlords to refuse pets only on reasonable grounds

Unfortunately, with the proposed reforms: 

  • Renters still can’t even hang a picture or plant a garden without asking the owner for permission (but permission would be deemed granted if the owner didn’t respond within 7 days)
  • Landlords can now make you pay extra to keep a pet
  • There are no changes to address skyrocketing rents

Ending “no grounds” evictions will mean nothing without rent caps. Landlords could all too easily raise the rent to unaffordable levels to force a tenant out. I’ll be pushing hard for stage 2 reforms to include provisions that only restrict rent increases accordance with CPI, and only once every 2 years.

You can read my submission on the reforms here. Disappointingly, the Labor State Government broke their promise to bring these laws forward during this term of Parliament, which means the outcome of the 2020 election will likely determine whether they are delivered at all. Either way, I will actively seek real protections for renters in Parliament - stay tuned.