Get rid of fixed leases for renters: Union

Get rid of fixed-term leases, freeze rent costs, and let renters have pets.

That’s how the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania recommends making the market fairer for renters as opposed to landlords, in its submission to the Select Committee on Housing Affordability, beginning Tuesday.

“[These] reforms will put tenants on a more level playing field,” principal solicitor Meredith Barton said.

“Everyone deserves the right to a safe, secure and affordable home, whether or not they are lucky enough to be owner-occupiers.”

The union is advocating for ongoing leases rather than what is now the norm: fixed six or 12-month agreements. This would prevent eviction on the basis of lease expiry, end the looming threat of rent increases at each renewal, and mean tenants would be able to move out of a rental without paying rent until the lease is up or another tenant is found.

“The effect of the abolition of fixed term leases would be to incentivise landlords to try and keep their tenants happy by making improvements and/or lowering the rent, as they will not be compensated if the tenant leaves,” she said.

“Tenancy should be viewed as the provision of a basic need rather than as a simple contractual arrangement for a discretionary or luxury good or service.

“Stability and certainty must be protected so that tenants are able to assert their rights without fear of eviction.”

The union advocates for the government to intervene in rent increases – either by freezing rents for a fixed period, as has been done in Berlin, or fixing rent rises to the rate of inflation, as is done in New York City.

They also call for the law to be changed to be weighted in favour of tenants when it comes to pets. Ms Barton points to Victoria, where tenants are automatically allowed pets unless their landlord is successful in seeking an exception.

“The RSPCA recently reported that 15 per cent of all cats and dogs surrendered to them were as a result of their owners moving and being unable to take their pets with them,” she said.

However, in its submission, the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania takes the opposing view when it comes to the legislation laying out tenants and landlords’ rights.

REIT president Tony Collidge and chief executive Mark Berry jointly state that legislation is one reason for landlords moving towards Airbnb rather than making their properties available for renting – alongside the higher profitability of Airbnb, and bad experiences with long term tenants.

“[With Airbnb] the landlord has control of the property and lettings,” they said. “They are not at the mercy of the current tenancy legislation which dramatically impedes their rights.”

“It is interesting to note that many Airbnb owners would sell their properties before moving to long term rental.”

Between 2001 and 2016, rent nationwide increased 121 per cent, house prices increased 267 per cent, and wages increased 85 per cent.

At least 54,000 households are renting in Tasmania.

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