Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday spoilers - who to call for tenancy advice during the break?

That's it from us for another year - we'll be back in 2016 with more on the review of the Residential Tenancies Act and the inquiry into the management of public housing repairs and maintenance contracts. We'll also be keeping an eye on developments concerning the social housing portfolio over on our other blog the Clearing House.

The Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services will also be taking a break, with the majority of services closing between December 21st 2015 and January 4th 2016. Some services will be closed for longer, pushing out until as late as January 11th in some areas.

Battling the dark side on your own - how does Finn make it look so easy?

But because the forces of darkness don't always take a break, we'll be running our annual Christmas Hotline until Wednesday January 6th. An experienced advocate will be available each weekday, excluding public holidays, between 10:00am & 1:00pm and 2:00pm & 5:00pm.

If you need advice about a tenancy dispute during this time, give us a call.

Tenants' Union of NSW Xmas Hotline

 phone (02) 8117 3750 


1800 251 101

Monday, December 21, 2015

No holiday cheer for social housing

Hear ye, hear ye! By proclamation, and just in time for the holiday season, the NSW government's antisocial behaviour laws have commenced.

You can read more about the substance of the changes in our previous briefings, and see them as written in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.

If you are approached by your social housing provider about anti-social behaviour, don't hesitate to get in touch with your local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service. This is a new process for your landlord, and there is a lot to keep an eye on.

There are no more hearings set down for 2015, but these laws can potentially affect all undecided social housing cases that are in the Tribunal at the moment as well as any new matters that may arise in the new year. FACS- Housing NSW has not yet published their policies concerning the use of these new laws for public housing residents, and we also haven't yet seen any policies from community housing providers.

We'll keep you updated as these laws are implemented in the new year.

In the meantime some holiday reading for us all from the Queensland Mental Health Commissioner who commissioned a report on the impact of the three strikes policy implemented in that state in 2013.
The summary of its key recommendations are:

  • Better planning to meet social housing needs, provision of alternative housing solutions and monitoring outcomes for tenants with complex needs
  • Improved communication with tenants about the anti-social behaviour policy and consideration of additional steps to reduce confusion between “strike” and “breach” processes
  • Combining enforcement with prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation support
  • Adopting a more systemic approach to supporting tenants with complex needs and integrating with other support services.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homelessness and Renting in Sydney

This week two reports regarding homelessness, from opposite sides of the world - Sydney and England - were released. We explore today what lessons we can learn and use to inform the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 review.
The most striking aspect of the Sydney survey was that of the 516 homeless people surveyed in the inner city, 65% only needed some short term support and housing they could afford. This means that for many people, the solutions for their homelessness lie in resolving our housing affordability issues.
Meanwhile in the UK government figures were released showing that the biggest single trigger for homelessness across England was insecure private rental. Of the 15 000 households (including single people) across England that identified as homeless in Jul-Sept 2015, 31% had become homeless because an "assured shorthold tenancy" (the equivalent of a fixed-term agreement in NSW) had come to an end and the landlord evicted the tenant.
Whilst the Sydney study didn't ask those kinds of questions, it is not a stretch to consider that a significant number of people experiencing homelessness in NSW are in that position merely because they were not able to access stable, liveable and affordable housing.
One easy way to address the stability of our renting system is a change to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to remove the option to end tenancies without grounds, and instead provide an expanded list of grounds. This could include circumstances where the landlord requires the property for another legitimate purpose, or where the property is to be renovated such that vacant possession is required. The question should be: does the landlord’s purpose require the recovery of vacant possession, or could it be achieved without displacing a sitting tenant? Given the potential impact of eviction on tenants - as indicated in these surveys - this question should be taken seriously.
Another way of promoting stability in housing is to ensuring that rent increases take into account affordability concerns, as well as ensuring the increase is justifiable when considering the general cost of living and comparative value of dwellings. Our proposal to require the landlord to bear the obligation to prove an increase is reasonable if it is above the CPI increase will make sure these decisions are fair and reasonable.
To read more about the review and our proposals, check out our quick guide to the review!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Public housing repairs - an inquiry

It's been awhile since we talked about repairs and maintenance in public housing. The last time we brought it up was way back in 2013, when the Land and Housing Corporation was in the midst of reviewing arrangements with its contractors.

Back then, signs were ominous that change might come - at least in the way the Government procures the work it deems necessary, if not in getting better outcomes from the work itself. We've even heard that their new repair and maintenance contracts were trialled in a couple of different areas, and are set to be rolled out more broadly. But as yet, nothing seems to have come of that. We're hoping to hear from the Land and Housing Corporation soon, with an update on where the process has gotten to.

Of course, in the meantime we've had the NSW Auditor-General's report into making the best use of public housing and we've seen more of a focus on the need to renew the public housing portfolio than to repair it. But thankfully not everyone seems to singing from that particular sheet.

Recently the Legislative Assembly's Public Accounts Committee has called an inquiry into the management of public housing repairs and maintenance contracts. Its terms of reference look useful:
That the Committee inquire into and report on the management of public housing maintenance contracts in NSW, with particular reference to:
a) The current repair status and physical condition of the public housing stock managed by Housing NSW;
b) The costs of maintenance of the current public housing stock, variations in expenditure trends over the previous five years and projected expenditure for the next five years;
c) The nature and administration of maintenance contracts, including private sector arrangements;
d) Methodologies and processes for ensuring consistent public housing maintenance standards across NSW, including quality assurance, effectiveness, efficiency and contract supervision;
e) Statutory obligations on tenants to take care of properties and report maintenance needs in a timely fashion;
f) Measures to meet the special maintenance requirements of aged and disabled tenants;
g) Any other related matters. 
If you're living in a poorly maintained public housing dwelling, now is a good time to put pen to paper to make something of it. Submissions are due on February 5th 2016.

See the inquiry website for details.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Renting laws in review - the case for change

In case you've missed it, our renting laws are under review.

The last time this happened was way back in about 2007. We made a number of recommendations that would improve stability, liveability and affordability for tenants and other renters in New South Wales.

Some of these were ultimately taken up and are working relatively well, or just need a tweak to get them working a little bit better. Others were rejected outright - such as our suggestion to introduce 'just cause evictions', and do away with landlords' ability to end tenancies without a reason.

At the time, Fair Trading said:
The review does not find sufficient justification for NSW to become the first State to introduce "just cause" only evictions. To do so would have serious implications on the rental housing market. In any event, trying to list all valid reasons would be a difficult or impossible task. Landlords should retain the ability to issue notice without stating a reason. However, there needs to be a greater deterrent against the issuing of notices without grounds, when the landlord really wants to end the tenancy because the tenant has allegedly breached the agreement. This is a matter of natural justice, and tenants should have the right to defend themselves against any claim being made.
(... you can read more about that here).

In the aftermath of that review, the law was eventually changed. Not only did landlords retain the ability to issue notices of termination without needing to state their reason, tenants lost the right to prevent eviction by drawing the Tribunal's attention to the circumstances of the case. We made quite a fuss about it at the time - you can read more here.

As was alluded to in Fair Trading's earlier review, the idea that strengthening tenants' rights would have 'serious implications on the rental housing market' is an oft-drawn bow. Even when getting down to the minutiae of rights and obligations, any suggestion that landlords can't simply do what they like with their property - or worse, that they'll have to spend a bit of money in order to manage their investment - leads to cries of foul. This, too, is something we've talked about before - you can read more here.

But the changes that were, and the changes that weren't made to renting laws in the wake of the last review need to be considered in a new light: the residential housing market is no longer what it was.

The proportion of renter households in New South Wales is growing at a faster rate than the population generally. It was 27.5% in 2001, up to 30.1% in 2011. Various data suggests this will have increased again - perhaps quite substantially - when the next Census occurs.

  • Tax data shows that between 2009-10 and 2013-14, almost 85,000 properties were added to the New South Wales rental market.
  • Lending and finance data from the ABS shows that NSW's landlords borrowed almost $70 billion in the 2014-15 financial year - up from around $51 billion the previous year and $35 billion the year before that - to fund their investment in property.
  • Only a small percentage of this borrowed money is used to fund new housing supply - almost all of it goes towards purchasing established homes.
  • Vacancy rates have been hovering at around 1.6% for Sydney.
  • By comparison, the number of renter households in New South Wales grew by 43,000 between 2006 and 2011 according to Census data.

And at the 2011 Census, almost 40% of renter households were families with children.

The housing market continues to be dominated by investor landlords, and an absence of new owner-occupiers entering the market means more people are renting for longer. The need for stability, liveability and affordability for renters only ever grows in importance.