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Rental crisis worsens as spotlight is put on renter’s rights

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Property and Commercial Lawyer, Andrea McGarry, discusses the current rental crisis and what reforms are being considered to try to improve the situation.

Renters left out in the cold as demand for accommodation outweighs supply

We’re hearing from many of our clients, family members, and friends about how difficult it is to find a suitable and affordable rental property in this market. The rental market is not unlike the property market at the moment, with high demand and only a steady supply of properties.

Domain’s latest quarterly rental report,  showed median asking rents have surged more than 15 per cent in the past year, putting what was once affordable accommodation, out of reach for many people. In some areas such as Byron Bay, Bellingen, Port Hedland and Noosa, rents are reported to have increased more than 25 per cent.

With more people taking to social media to seek out any rental availabilities after being unable to locate rental properties online or by visiting their local real estate agent, tenant advocacy groups are calling for more to be done to protect renter’s rights and keep them in their homes for longer.

Tenancy Law Reforms

Draft laws which were introduced to parliament in June 2021, proposed changes to residential tenancies legislation in Queensland to make it harder for landlords to end leases.

At a time when more Queenslanders are renting and rental properties are in short supply, there is a strong focus on protecting the rights of tenants.

There are two key focusses in the new law reforms, which anticipate making it harder for landlords to end leases without grounds and make it easier for tenants to find suitable pet-friendly properties to rent.

Although this is a step in the right direction, tenant advocacy groups have stressed that these reforms are nowhere near enough and more needs to be done.

Some of the key changes in the tenancy law reforms are as follows:

Greater acceptance of pets in rental properties

It is reported that only 10 per cent of rental properties in Queensland are pet friendly. With 85 per cent of people either owning a pet, or having the desire to adopt a pet, this imposes a significant restriction on the lifestyle of Queensland renters.

The present legal position in Queensland in relation to allowing pets in rentals is quite simple – the decision is purely at the landlord’s discretion. However, there are growing calls for this to change.

The Animal Welfare League of Queensland reports that lack of proper accommodation was the second highest reason for the surrender of dogs, and the third highest reason for the surrender of cats, with a 32 per cent increase in pet surrenders due to homelessness since COVID-19 began to spread throughout the country. The Animal Welfare League believe people with pets should be treated fairly and deserve peace of mind when relocating with a pet, without having to sacrifice their much-loved fur baby in order to secure a rental property.

The Greens have proposed a Bill which they are hopeful will get the support of the government. The Bill would bring Queensland in line with our southern counterparts in Victoria and ACT.

In Victoria, a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to consent to a tenant having a pet, provided the tenant adheres to the application process. Any “no pet” blanket ban clauses within leases are no longer valid.

Late last year, we commented on the decision in New South Wales concerning Angus the Schnauzer. The changes to blanket bans on animals in strata came into effect earlier this week. This victory was a welcome change for owners in strata buildings however, unfortunately for tenants who are renting, permitting a pet is still at the landlord’s discretion.

With all this in mind, it is clear there is a push across many states for renters with pets to be treated more fairly and for oppressive blanket bans on pets to be removed.

Rent bidding and rent hikes

Currently outside of any fixed term tenancy agreements, a landlord can give notice to increase rent by any amount they wish.

The Greens proposed a Bill in June 2021 to see rent increases capped to once every two years, and by no more than CPI each year.

In the Bill, the Greens also sought to ban rental bidding, where prospective tenants compete against each other and offer above asking price in an attempt to gain an advantage and secure a property.

This type of behaviour has been on the rise given the shortage of available rental properties and increase in demand during the pandemic. With desperate house hunters prepared to compete for a property, some are offering well above the advertised price, as well as offering lump sum amounts paid in advance.

In Queensland, rental bidding is illegal. This means that landlords cannot initiate rental bidding by advertising a price range or inviting prospective tenants to make an offer. Although rent bidding is illegal in Queensland, if a prospective tenant offers more than the amount advertised, the property manager or owner of the property may accept their offer.

New minimum standards introduced

As part of new rental laws introduced by Queensland Parliament in June 2021, new minimum standards are now mandatory which include:

  • Locks on doors and windows
  • Ensuring properties are weatherproofed
  • Ensuring properties are structurally sound
  • Properties must be mould free
  • Properties must be vermin free
  • Kitchens must have a working cooktop and oven
  • Toilets must be in working order

Although it may seem like common sense for the above to be a minimum standard when someone is paying to live in rental accommodation, there are many rental properties that people are paying a high price for, that are not fit for living in. With renters afraid of ruffling their landlord’s feathers, many tolerate the poor living conditions and are grateful for a roof over their head, even if it is covered in mould.

These new standards are meant to take effect from September 2023, giving landlords two years to make the necessary repairs and alterations to their properties.

How can Attwood Marshall Lawyers help?

We have a dedicated team of experienced property and commercial lawyers who can assist with providing legal advice to tenants, landlords, body corporate committees, and real estate agents, to ensure contracts, agreements, and by-laws are up to date and in line with current legislation.

If you are involved in a dispute with a landlord or tenant, we also have a dedicated commercial litigation and dispute resolution team who frequently handle property disputes and can help you resolve your matter in the most cost-effective and efficient way.

With conveniently located offices at Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Robina Town Centre, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, you can visit a lawyer at a location near you. Our Robina Town Centre office is also open Thursday night until 9pm and Saturday morning until 12noon.

To get professional and prompt advice, contact Property and Commercial Department Manager, Jess Kimpton, on direct line 07 5506 8214, email jkimpton@attwoodmarshall.com.au or call our 24/7 phone line on 1800 621 071.

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