To kick things off, Fair Trading NSW has released a high level discussion paper, seeking input on a range of issues. The paper includes background and commentary on a number of known areas of concern for both landlords and tenants, and raises 42 specific questions for consideration. It also invites comment and discussion on any issues not raised. Submissions are invited, with a closing date of January 29th 2016.
As you might imagine, the Tenants' Union of NSW will have a couple of things to say. We've previously outlined our key concerns with the Act in a report we circulated in July: 5 years of the Residential Tenancies Act. But we'll be talking with as many people as we can between now and the end of January to make sure our submissions reflect the views of tenants, advocates and all right thinking folk across the community(!)
To that end, we'll pull out a few of our favourite questions for discussion on the Brown Couch over the coming months.
To start with, here's question number 33 (with background commentary):
Commentary: There have been suggestions that 'no grounds' terminations be removed and that the landlord be required to provide a grounds for termination from a prescriptive list of possible reasons. This proposal would need to balanced against the view that landlords are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit.
Question 33: Should landlords be required to provide a reason for terminating a tenancy? If so, what types of reasons should be considered?It's interesting that Fair Trading sees the need to balance this proposal against the view that landlords are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit. We see no such need. Quite simply... a landlord can deal with a property as they see fit, subject to the terms and conditions placed upon them by a regulatory scheme such as the Residential Tenancies Act. The Minister for Fair Trading now has an opportunity to consider those terms and conditions, and reform them for the better. We say he should.
There is a distinction to be made here: property owners are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit. If, in dealing with their property, they choose to become a landlord, they opt into a scheme that is regulated in a particular way by law. This law, it is said, intends to balance the "competing interests" of those who buy and sell property as a means to acquire wealth, and those who live in it. But these interests are often more in conflict than competition, so finding the right "balance" has always been tricky...
Let's be clear, property owners are under no obligation to become landlords. They are entitled to deal with their property as they see fit, but... usually they can't afford to hold property without collecting any rent. They need it to put towards their holding costs - most notably the interest on loans they've taken out, so they can become a property owner.
Tenants, on the other hand, are finding it ever more difficult to take that leap. For some, becoming a property owner is not even an option, and they see a future of renting, renting and renting some more. But even where a household rents as a matter of choice, there is no good reason to say their landlord should treat their home as though it were a vacant property.
Once a landlord invites a household to take possession of a property, granting a right to occupy, they've begun trading in more than just bricks and mortar. They've begun trading in other people's security as well. They've started trading in other people's well-being. Other people's aspirations. Other people's hopes and dreams.
... and they're relying on them all to acquire wealth through property.
If we take that as our starting point, we can't see the controversy in asking landlords to take one or two things into consideration before deciding how to deal with property. The best way to do this is to get rid of their ability to end tenancies without grounds, and give them an expanded list of reasons that they can use instead.
Now - we've got some ideas about what those reasons should include, and more importantly what they shouldn't and how they might be tested to ensure they are genuine when relied upon. But we'll leave it at that for now, because we'd like to hear from you.
Drop us a comment if you've ever been hit with a no-grounds notice of termination. We'd love to know the real reason behind it...