Tenants need peace of mind so it’s time to make renting fair

This opinion piece appeared in The West Australian on Monday, 25 July. It is written by Michelle Mackenzie, Chief Executive Officer at Shelter WA.

Across the media we are seeing heartbreaking stories of individuals and families unable to find an affordable and secure rental home.

More and more people are reaching out to services for support because as spending increases on rent they have little left for basic necessities. Across the State people have become homeless, living in their cars or staying with relatives or friends, as they cannot find an affordable place to rent.

Rental Reforms

A suite of solutions is needed to make renting a better experience. One key solution is the rental reforms proposed in WA that will make the experience of renting a house safer and fairer for everyone, whether they are a tenant or a landlord.

“You can be evicted without any grounds.”

For several years the WA Government has been consulting on changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, which governs the WA rental system. Consumer Protection has delivered a package of moderate but significant reforms that will bring WA in line with other States which already have these protections.

First and foremost is improving the way we handle the end of tenancies and the eviction process.

Currently in WA, you can be evicted without any grounds, provided you are given two months to find somewhere else to live.

When queues are out the door for rental properties and the vacancy rate at a historic low, we know that anybody facing eviction will be doing it tough to find another rental home that is affordable, close to where they need to live or even liveable in some cases.

Ensuring there is a good reason before somebody is asked to leave their home is a critical step to reduce the trauma of evictions. There will still be protections in place for landlords such as those selling or returning to their homes or if a first fixed-term tenancy doesn’t work out.

Pets

Another positive reform, and one close to my heart, is to ensure that renters have the right to keep their pets.

Our furry friends are part of our families, and the research shows the health, mental health and social benefits of having a pet. Allowing pets by default will ensure an end to the incredibly sad stories of beloved pets being given to rescue shelters.

“Without fear of reprisal or penalty.”

Importantly, the rental reforms will enable tenants to make minor modifications to their homes without fear of reprisal or penalty.

When people feel happy at home everyone wins, and so permitting a few paintings or some new shelves is a small price to pay for the increased security, social cohesion and sense of investment that tenants will naturally feel in a house they have made a home.

The Cost of Living

The cost of living is a topic on everyone’s lips right now, as prices of staples from groceries to gas bills and petrol soar. Making sure rents cannot be increased without warning and are limited to the start or end of a lease agreement period, will introduce security for tenants and stability for landlords who both know what to budget for. Ensuring that renters are able to plan financially will provide peace of mind at a difficult time.

These reforms are about making people, families and our communities safer.

They will prevent poverty. They will prevent homelessness.

Removing no-grounds termination, even though it is used infrequently, will improve the security of people who rent.

This, added to the ability to make minor modifications, have pets and regulate rent increases will improve the feeling of “home” considered so important for renters. It may well lead to fewer lease breaches as a result.

Eviction Laws

Being secure in a dwelling and having a sense of home in turn reduces the likelihood of tenancy breaches, reducing costs for landlords.

“There are about 700,000 renters in WA. Reforms are overdue.”

There is no evidence that changes to the laws governing evictions have had any negative impact on the rental market in other states. Last year, Queensland legislated to remove no-grounds termination except in special cases such as landlords needing to sell or return to their homes. Tasmania has had a system similar since 1997. In Victoria, reforms that came into force in March last year made no-cause eviction legal only at the end of the first fixed-term agreement, precisely what is proposed for WA.

There are about 700,000 renters in WA. These reforms are overdue.

They are about making everyone feel more safe, secure and stable in their homes, for which they are paying rent.

Renting Fairer

Home is where the heart is, it’s where families can grow up safe and strong, it’s where we seek refuge from a world that is sometimes uncertain or frightening.

Housing also keeps people healthy, physically and mentally. WA has the opportunity to join the rest of the nation in making renting a better experience for all.

These legislative changes will make renting fairer for every West Australian. This is a strong and proud legacy for any government.