Over 2 million people rent their homes in NSW. That’s one in every three households.
Many of these are families, as well as an increasing number of older people, and people sharing homes.
They could be evicted without a reason.
It’s time things changed. Let’s make renting fair!
More people are renting and they are renting for longer. A third of all private renters are long-term renters who’ve been renting continuously for 10 years or more. As home-ownership becomes more unattainable, a growing number of people imagine they’ll be renting for life.
Renters deserve safe, secure and affordable housing. But the reality is that rental laws in NSW aren’t fair. Renters don’t experience the same security and comfort in their homes as homeowners. Many are constantly worried about losing their home and feel they are powerless to assert their rights.
The cause of this insecurity is unfair evictions.
What is an ‘unfair eviction’?
Currently if you rent your home in NSW you can be evicted without being given a reason. Sections 84 and 85 of the NSW Residential Tenancies Act 2010 allow a landlord to issue what is called a ‘no grounds’ eviction notice at the end of a fixed term lease or once the lease is outside of a fixed term.
A significant number of renters who receive a ‘no grounds’ eviction notice are evicted in retaliation (for asserting a right) or because of discrimination. Worse still, when a landlord applies to the relevant Tribunal (the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal) for termination orders following a ‘no grounds’ eviction notice, the Tribunal has no choice – it must terminate the tenancy, regardless of the circumstances of the case or the hardship it would cause. The Tribunal can only refuse to terminate if you prove that the termination notice is retaliatory – which can be very hard to do.
Existing provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (section 115) that are supposed to offer protection against ‘retaliatory evictions’ are notoriously weak. Of all the decisions published by the Tribunal, only once have they refused an eviction by declaring it to be retaliatory.
What is the impact?
National surveys of renters undertaken by CHOICE, National Association of Tenants Associations and Shelter in 2017 and again in 2018 found that around 10% of Australian renters have experienced a ‘no grounds’ eviction during their time renting. Renters in NSW are even more likely to receive one. This means that of the 2 million+ people who rent in NSW, at least 160,000 renters have or will lose their home for no reason while renting.
Being forced to move brings with it significant personal, social and financial costs. When someone gets evicted they talk about being hit with huge moving costs, having to pay higher rent in their next property, and being forced to move further away from work and family each time they are forced to leave. Children may have to change schools, which can be traumatic and expensive. Kids lose old friends and can find it difficult to make new ones, as well as the costs involved in new uniforms, text books and more.
For renters on low incomes or with complex needs the consequences can be particularly grim. They may accept less stable, less secure, unsuitable or substandard accommodation and are at a much higher risk of being evicted directly into homelessness.
Lack of security also means renters are much less likely to assert their rights because they are worried about repercussions. When the Tenants’ Union of NSW and Marrickville Legal Centre surveyed renters in 2018, more than three quarters of respondents said they had put up with a problem or declined to assert their rights because they were worried about an adverse consequence. A clear majority of renters identified the possibility of a ‘no grounds’ eviction was a serious source of anxiety.
The NSW Productivity Commission recently identified evictions as having a significant direct cost to the NSW economy - citing NSW Treasury's estimate that the over 23,000 renting households forced to move each year result in total direct costs of $116 million per annum, primarily due to the relocation costs incurred by renters.
When someone is evicted it hurts the whole community. Communities lose neighbours and friends. They lose workers, volunteers, community members - the local footie coach, the much-loved local librarian, their kids’ best friends. Unfair evictions hurt us all.
What can we do about it?
There is an easy and simple fix. Current provisions in tenancy legislation allowing evictions for 'no grounds' (i.e. no reason) should be removed and replaced with a range of 'reasonable' grounds for ending a tenancy (tenancy agreement).
'Reasonable grounds' would include situations where:
the renter is in breach of their lease, or
the landlord wants to move in, or
the premises are to be extensively renovated, or
the property is to be put to a different use.
Renters would be able to put those reasons to the test if necessary. When hearing an application for an eviction (on whatever grounds) the Tribunal should be able to decline to evict someone after considering the case, and deciding that the reasons are not made out.
And a range of measures could be introduced to ensure a landlord is held accountable for the reasons they provide, such as penalties for extreme misconduct like misleading the Tribunal, or a restriction on re-letting for a specified period.
Amending tenancy legislation in this way would mean that landlords would be able (and required) to be transparent about their reasons for ending a tenancy, and renters would be protected against an unfair eviction.
Will this work?
Replacing current ‘no grounds’ evictions with a comprehensive list of reasonable grounds (reasons) for ending a lease is fair to landlords and would provide protection for renters against ‘unfair evictions’. It would mean all renters have greater peace of mind and security, and could confidently ask for repairs and assert their rights without worrying about receiving an eviction letter in the mail.
We know this works in other places. Australia is out of step with most of the world in terms of the protections and security that it provides to renters. We are one of only 4 countries in which most renters can be evicted without being given a reason (a ‘no grounds’ eviction).
Across Australia, we have seen other states and territories try to improve security for renters with solutions such as longer notice periods for unfair evictions as a disincentive to their use. In the ACT the notice period for a ‘no grounds’ eviction can be as long as 6 months, but renters there are still being evicted for unfair reasons. The only way to prevent this is to replace ‘no grounds’ evictions with a list of reasonable grounds.