Rental laws are a big issue in strata, with more than half of apartments being occupied by tenants, meaning half of apartments are owned by investors. That’s a lot of people directly affected by these regulations.
And it seems every time NSW and Victoria renew their residential rental laws, they are trying to outdo each other.
Last year, both parliaments agreed to sweeping changes to their respective residential tenancies acts.
Foremost among these were provisions that tenants could terminate their tenancy immediately, without penalty, if they were leaving to escape a violent partner. In NSW that ruling came in earlier this year and will be in place in Victoria by July 2020.
Other NSW changes should be operative in a few months, once the appropriate regulations have been determined. They include:
- Minimum standards for properties’ habitability
- Permitting tenants to make minor changes (such as fixing picture hooks)
- A limit on the number of rent increases for an ongoing lease to one a year
- Set fees for breaking leases early, based on the remaining time on the agreement
- Making it easier for tenants to get repair orders from the Tribunal (NCAT)
- Compelling landlords to fix smoke alarms
- New rules around taking (and publishing) photos and videos during inspections, especially where the tenants’ possessions are visible
- Preventing tenancy database operators from charging tenants to access their own information.
- Penalising landlords and agents if they don’t provide a tenant with a property condition report at the start of the tenancy.
Needless to say, landlord websites have been awash with complaints that everything is now supposedly so skewed in favour of tenants, that investors will leave the market in droves. This is unlikely.
However, the big reform demanded by tenants’ advocates – the end to “no cause” terminations of leases – is not part of the NSW plan.
Whoosh! Thundering up the inside, here comes Victoria which is introducing an end to “no cause” terminations, in its own series of rental reforms which are gradually being introduced between now and July next year.
Their changes range from the socially significant to the mostly cosmetic, including changing the terms “landlord” and “tenant” respectively to “rental property provider” and “renter”.
They too will eventually bring in protections for victims of domestic violence but, in the meantime, they have already introduced laws enabling the suppression of addresses of crisis accommodation from the public Rooming House Register, which will improve protection and support for family violence victims.
Like NSW they are introducing minimum standards of habitability, limits on the frequency of rent rises, rules about photography and advertising, and allowing minor alterations like installing picture hooks.
But among their 130 reforms, the “no cause” change – with a few logical exceptions – is the biggie as far as long-term tenants are concerned.
And they also go beyond the NSW proposals with issues such as default permission for pets in rented properties, creating a blacklist of non-complying landlords and rental agents (to mirror the blacklist of “problem” tenants), and banning rental “auctions”, where prospective tenants are encouraged to offer more than the advertised rent.
There are myriad other changes proposed for both states’ rental laws and you will find more details on the NSW Fair Trading Housing & Property web pages and engage.vic.gov.au/fairersaferhousing for Victoria.
And if you fear an exodus of investors will reduce the rental housing stock, “putting the flat on Airbnb” is probably not a valid reason for terminating a lease in either state.
We’ll be looking at impending changes to interstate strata and property laws in coming weeks.
This column first appeared in the Australian Financial Review.