Election Platform 2017 – Make Renting Fair in Queensland

You would have to be living under a rock if you don’t know that a state election will held on November 25.  Tenants Queensland is reminding all political parties that tenants’ rights matter.  Over  Election-platform-doc-02.pdf one third of Queensland electors rent their housing in the private market, and as house prices rise more of them will be renting for longer.  It is important that whoever wins government continues to improve the legal protections offered to tenants and make renting a secure and respected tenure.  We’ve asked for the parties for  responses to our six key law reform issues, we’ll let you know what they are as they come in.

Tenants Queensland believes the following are six things will improve the lives of all Queensland renters.

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by requiring lessors to always give a reason for terminating their tenancy.
  2. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by developing and enforcing minimum standards for rental properties.
  3. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by allowing tenants to keep pets.
  4. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by making it easier for tenants to get their bond money returned.
  5. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by ensuring tenancy agreements are fair.
  6. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by continuing funding for independent tenant advisory services

Here’s the detail:

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by requiring lessors to always give a reason for terminating their tenancy.

Currently, when lessors end a tenancy they don’t have to give the tenant a reason.  They just have to give two months’ notice of their intention to end the rental at the end of a fixed term or at any time during a periodic tenancy.   This is unfair because it means tenant can lose their home needlessly.  It is also unfair because the fear of eviction often prevents tenants from exercising their rights – for instance, they may be reluctant to ask for needed repairs, or they may allow the owner to enter their property without notice, because they fear that upsetting the owner will leave them without a place to live.

Tenants Queensland believes that to Make Renting Fair, lessors should be required to provide tenants with a reason – a ‘just cause’ – for ending the tenancy.  Reasons could include the owner needing the property to live in themselves significant repair or renovation work, change of dwelling purpose, or serious or persistent breaches of tenancy conditions by the tenants.  This would be fair for owners – they could still do what they needed to do with their property – but also fair for tenants.

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by developing and enforcing minimum standards for rental properties.

At the moment, lessors are required to keep their properties in liveable condition, but it is not clear what this means and it can sometimes be hard for tenants to get repairs done.  Recent changes to tenancy law allow the government to develop a set of enforceable minimum standards, and the next step that needs to be taken is to develop these detailed standards.

Tenants Queensland believes that to Make Renting Fair, these standards need to be clear, comprehensive and specific.  They need to ensure that properties are safe and healthy to live in, that tenants have access to important amenities in their home, and that the requirements are clearly expressed in tenancy laws rather than vague references to other legislation.

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by allowing tenants to keep pets.

If you own your own home, you are free to choose whether you have a pet, provided you abide by local government regulations.  It’s not fair to deny tenants rights that others take for granted and it means tenants who do own pets are at risk each time they have to change tenancies.  There is also no need for it – like home owners, tenants have to comply with local government regulations about the keeping of pets, and they are required to repair any damage at the end of their tenancy.

Tenants Queensland believes that to Make Renting Fair, lessors should be prohibited from excluding pets from their properties without good reason.

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by making it easier for tenants to get their bond money returned.

A bond is the tenant’s money, held in trust during the tenancy, to provide security for a lessor in the event that a tenant leaves a property with damage or unpaid rent.  It is possible for a lessor to prevent the return of a bond to a tenant by making a claim without presenting evidence, before the tenant even knows the process of bond return.  This forces the tenant to go through time-consuming dispute resolution processes to get their bond back.  Some tenants just decide it is not worth their while to dispute the claim or are in desperate need for the return of at least some of their money to assist their move.

Tenants Queensland believes that to Make Renting Fair, lessors should not be able to claim the bond for 14 days from the end of a tenancy with only agreed bond return forms and those from tenants accepted.  The underlying assumption should be that tenants receive their bond back unless there is reasonable evidence of damage or unpaid rent, with the onus on the lessor or agent to dispute the return of the bond.

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by ensuring tenancy agreements are fair.

Most tenants sign a written tenancy agreement, and legally this agreement has to be in the form specified by the Residential Tenancies Authority.  This places some restrictions on what lessors can demand of tenants and ensures tenants are aware of their obligations.  However, these agreements are often weighted in favour of the lessor.  For instance, lessors can place restrictions on the number of people who can reside in a property, even if their stipulated number leaves empty bedrooms.  They can also add items to the lease which may be considered unfair under Australian consumer law, but tenants are unable to resolve these issues as tenancy disputes.  Additionally, lessors are not required to disclose important facts to the tenant prior to signing, for example whether there is asbestos in the property.

Tenants Queensland believes that to Make Renting Fair, tenancy law should require lessors to disclose specified facts about rental properties and prevent unfair contract terms , in line with Australian consumer law requirements.

 

  1. Make Renting Fair in Queensland by continuing funding for independent tenant advisory services.

Tenants are at a disadvantage in most disputes with lessors.  This is their home, so they have a lot to lose, and most rental properties are managed by Real Estate agents who are trained professionals and manage many properties, so they have a better knowledge of the legal process.  Many tenants are on low incomes, so can’t afford to pay for legal advice. Free independent tenant advisory services help to even this situation up by providing tenants with expert help to understand their rights and responsibilities and assist when they get into a tenancy dispute.

Since 2015 the Queensland Government has funded the Queensland Statewide Tenants’ Advice and Referral Service (QSTARS) to provide this advice.  Recently the government committed to extending this service for five years, but this commitment can still be overturned in future by withdrawing the funding.  To Make Renting Fair, Tenants Queensland believes that this funding should be guaranteed for the term of the next parliament.

 


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