As we move closer to polling day, renters are continuing to face cost of living pressures in the form of increased rents and high energy costs. They will be looking to how parties plan to address the problems renters face, and this may well be a deciding factor on how they vote. Parties and politicians on all sides need to be talking about how they are going to go about fixing the rental housing crisis.
Have you seen a housing policy you think we've missed? Please let us know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Liberals and Nationals: Ban rent bidding
Introduced change: In the lead up to the NSW election, the NSW Liberal Party introduced protections against the solicitation of rent bidding into the Property and Stock Agents Regulation 2014. The changes mean that a rented premises must be advertised for rent at a fixed amount (rather than a range). An agent must also not solicit or otherwise invite an offer of an amount of rent that is higher than the advertised amount. In a March 3 announcement, the NSW Liberals and Nationals committed to putting a focus on compliance and enforcement of their recently introduced rules against solicited rent bidding.
Tenants’ Union’s response: While movement on the issue of rent bidding is positive, there are several shortfalls to this approach. Firstly, as changes were introduced to the Property and Stock Agents Regulation 2014 rather than by legislation, the rules apply to real estate agents but not to landlords. Legislative changes to curb rent bidding need to be made to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 so that rules apply to landlord behaviour, too.
The second, and larger, issue is that these rule-changes do not apply to unsolicited rent bidding. This is where a renter may 'choose' to offer more rent than the advertised amount without solicitation. In the context of the current rental crisis, renters can feel pressure to offer above an advertised amount, sometimes beyond their means, out of desperation to secure a home. In order to genuinely curb rent bidding, unsolicited as well as solicited rent bidding should be banned, i.e., agents and landlords should not be allowed to accept offers of rent above the advertised price. Read more on our blog.
Labor: End secret rent bidding
The proposal: Labor plans to legislate an end to 'secret rent bidding', meaning that where a renter offers more than the listed price for a rental, this is disclosed to all applicants who then have the chance to match the offer.
Tenants’ Union’s response: It is positive that Labor explicitly proposes to legislate protections against rent bidding via the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to ensure rules apply to landlords. However, as with the Liberal and National Government's changes made via regulation in late 2022, they propose to ban only solicited rent bidding, and would not regulate against unsolicited rent bids.
We are also concerned the approach to disclosing bids would formalise and potentially entrench 'rent auctions' as part of the application process. There are no other essential services where the pricing is run as an auction by the end user consumer because people are at real disadvantage when it comes to securing a service that is so fundamental like health, energy, water or food.
Labor: Portable bonds
The proposal: Under Labor's portable bonds plan, the NSW Rental Board will allow bonds to be transferred directly to another property so tenants are not out of pocket in the immediate term when they move.
Tenants’ Union’s response: The costs associated with moving between rental properties (especially following eviction, where the move is not the renter’s choice) can be very expensive – we estimate around $4,000 on average for the household. This does not include the up front bond required to secure the property.
In addition to the other costs involved in a move, the requirement to come up with often large sums of money to cover a new bond many weeks before their old bond is returned to them can place significant financial strain on a household. Where renters don’t have sufficient savings, they can be forced to opt for short term loans that cause further financial harm, such as using payday lending services, or other unsustainable debt options. We support changes to the bond system, including the introduction of a portable bonds scheme as these may help relieve the financial burden of moving between rentals from renters.
Greens: Portable bonds
The proposal: Allow people to transfer their bonds directly from one property to another.
Tenants’ Union’s response: This is a positive move towards easing some of the financial burden on renters moving house.
Liberals and Nationals: Bond rollover scheme
The proposal: The Liberals and Nationals have committed to implementing a bond rollover scheme.
Tenants’ Union’s response: This is a positive move towards easing some of the financial burden on renters moving house.
Greens: Introduce two year rent freeze
The proposal: Immediately introduce a two year rent freeze while an independent body to regulate rents is established and appropriate rent controls are implemented.
Tenants’ Union’s response: Currently the private rental market is largely unregulated in relation to rent setting. The landlord is limited to one rent increase within a 12 month period for those on periodic tenancies, but there is effectively no limit on how much the rent can be increased if other rents are also increasing rapdily. A renter can challenge a rent increase as excessive at Tribunal but they carry the onus of proof, and the Tribunal will generally only consider whether the increase is excessive in comparison to current market rents. Renters who challenge excessive rent increases are largely unsuccessful, and additionally face the threat of eviction when they do so.
The proposal to freeze current rents for a period of two years is one that should be considered seriously as an interim measure while more permanent mechanisms for fairly setting rents is developed and implemented.
In relation to the longer term reform required we advocate for a model that provides where a rent increase exceeds a set threshold (for example, a reasonable rent calculated with reference to CPI or other factors as determined by an independent agency), the onus should be on the landlord to show the increase is not excessive at Tribunal unless the tenant explicitly consents to the increase.
Greens: Establish an independent body to control and regulate rents
The proposal: Establish an independent body to control and regulate rents. The body will be empowered to set limits on the percentage increase, amount and frequency of rent increases.
The independent body would also play an oversight role to clamp down on unsafe and exploitative practices of landlords and agents in the NSW private rental market. This would include:
- stricter regulation of tenancy databases and lease applications;
- banning of third party platforms and rent bidding;
- ensuring adequate penalties were in place and applied for landlords who breach their responsibilities to tenants.
Tenants’ Union’s response: Housing is an essential service, and as such Government has a responsibility to regulate to ensure access, and step in when the market is failing. In the context of soaring market rents and increasing financial cost of living pressures generally, we advocate for Government to introduce fair limits on rent setting.
We have previously recommend establishing an independent agency that is resourced to collect, provide analysis on, and publish relevant data relating to house prices and market rents. This agency could also play a role in determining and making recommendations on reasonable rent increases in a given period - both during and between tenancies.
In relation to penalties, while these should be regularly reviewed to ensure the current penalty provisions are adequate, this must be accompanied by stronger compliance and enforcement. Fair Trading has consistently low rates of compliance and enforcement of its penalty provisions under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. The regulator, and/or a body responsible for enforcement must be empowered - and resourced - to take a more active role in relation to compliance and enforcement of breaches.
Liberals and Nationals: More Housing across NSW
The proposal: Planning assessments, mostly at local councils, will have an additional $89 million spent to avoid delays. There will also be $73 million spent to accelerate the zoning of housing precincts in Sydney and regional areas.
Building 270 new homes for key workers in regional NSW, including in Glen Innes, Deniliquin, Jindabyne and Cooma amongst other towns.
We will also upgrade more than 15,800 social homes to improve the quality of properties and our Together Home Program will deliver 120 new homes for rough sleepers.
Tenants’ Union’s response: We consider it necessary to ensure there are sufficient homes for the community and delays in zoning and approvals can contribute to a shortfall on this front, though costs of development are also a significant factor. It is important that decisions are still made in a rigorous and equitable way that considers the communities needs including affordability, infrastructure and amenity but ultimately Sydney is a particularly low-density city and this should be lifted.
The authors of a recent study looking at the effects of zoning deregulation in Auckland, which found a significant impact on affordability of property prices and rents concluded that "Increased supply of housing is a necessary (albeit not sufficient) first step towards achieving housing affordability through a market led supply response". We recommend this recent dive into zoning and affordability debates by Prosper.
Public and community housing homes should be maintained at a high level that ensures the health and dignity of the renters living there, and reflects the importance of these common assets.
Labor: Addressing housing supply; Build to rent: Boosting housing supply in the regions
The proposal: Labor will increase the supply of housing in the regions and deliver more affordable rental housing, starting with a pilot Build to Rent program on the South Coast developed by Landcom, the government developer.
Any properties built on surplus government land will be subject to Labor’s mandatory requirement for 30 per cent of dwellings to be used for social, affordable, and universal housing and the policy indicates greater use of government agencies like Teacher Housing or Homes NSW to manage properties.
Labor will also require the Greater Cities Commission to set housing targets especially rebalancing the targets to areas of population growth and transport hubs, and states a greater focus on reducing planning red tape.
Tenants’ Union’s response: A significant increase to the stock of public and community housing will not only provide additional affordable rental homes for the renters who will go on to live in them, but will also put downward pressure on rent prices in the private rental market.
The most recent estimates of current unmet need for genuinely affordable housing for people living on the lowest 40% of incomes is 144,000 households in Sydney and 77,000 households in regional NSW. The shortfall is projected to grow by another 100,000 households by 2041. Whether through building new premises or repurposing and repricing existing premises, this is the benchmark all policies need to be aiming for.
The housing and homelessness sector calls for a greater annual build of social housing until social housing makes up at least 10% of total housing stock - this is what is needed to meet projected need by 2041.
Planning for population growth, and ensuring all part of cities increase the density of housing with well-planned and designed homes is a crucial part of ensuring everyone in the community can access a good quality home.
Labor: New Homes NSW agency to address housing crisis
The proposal: Labor will merge the Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC), Aboriginal Housing Office (AHO) and DCJ Housing into one entity.
Homes NSW will be a single, one-stop social and affordable housing agency, bringing together all of these touch-points in a single authority to manage the delivery of social housing in NSW.
Aboriginal Housing would sit within this agency but would maintain distinct leadership, self-determination, and control for the delivery of Aboriginal housing by Aboriginal people.
Tenants’ Union’s response: There have been issues with the separation of agencies since the dissolution of the Housing Commission. Greater communication between the different parts of government responsible for public and community housing may address some points of frustration.
It is important to note that many of these issues have been as a result of the public housing system being starved of funds both via restrictive eligibility practices which limits rental income, and insufficient expenditure to cover the gaps. This has been used to argue public housing is an inherently flawed system and devalue it as an asset. Addressing these issues is the more pressing concern than the particular departments of government.
- Greens: Massive investment in affordable housing
The proposal: The Greens promise to invest in and build significantly more public, social and affordable homes. Some of the ways in which they plan to do this is:
Requiring big property developers to include at least 30% ongoing affordable housing in all new large private residential developments; Banning the sale of public housing and public land that can be used for housing; Legislating a requirement that at least 10% of all dwellings in NSW must be public and not-for-profit social housing;
Tenants’ Union’s response: To meet the required amount of genuinely affordable homes in NSW there is a need for a significantly increased investment deliver more social housing homes and a range of strategies to meet it. Funding at least part of the cost through an empty homes levy and through developments helps address concerns about the ongoing resourcing required for such a commitment. Additionally we recognise the Green's proposal to legislate a quota of at least 10% of total housing stock would help keep successive governments on target - there will be 4 more elections after this one before 2041.
Diversifying our housing system through encouraging and resourcing initiatives like co-operative housing is also helpful to provide people with a range of options and ways of creating communities and homes.
- Funding and enabling local councils to meet affordable housing targets;
- Supporting not-for-profit community housing initiatives, including co-ops; and
- Introducing an empty homes levy for homes empty over 6 months, with funds going towards creating more public, social and affordable homes.
Labor: Ending unfair evictions
The proposal: Replacing no grounds evictions with clearly outlined grounds on which a lease may be terminated. Labor propose tasking the Rental Commissioner with creating the reasonable grounds for ending a lease.
Tenants’ Union’s response: Ending no grounds evictions from NSW tenancy law is a long awaited and much needed reform. NSW Labor has committed to acting on this as a priority if they form Government after the election.
However, it is not yet clear that no grounds evictions at the end of fixed-term tenancy agreements will be removed (that is, removing section 84 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010). We await confirmation from NSW Labor on this., though a private member's bill from a previous shadow minister did seek to include end of fixed-term tenancy agreements. The Tenants’ Union supports ending no grounds evictions for renters both on periodic leases and no grounds evictions at the end of a fixed-term lease. We outline our reasons in two parts on our blog: see part 1 and part 2.
Liberals and Nationals: Ending 'no grounds' evictions for renters on periodic agreements
The proposal: Replacing ‘no grounds’ evictions with a set of ‘reasonable grounds’ for terminating periodic lease agreements based on community consultation. The March 3 announcement of this commitment means there is now cross-party support for this change.
The NSW Liberals and Nationals also committed to extending notice periods for end of fixed-term leases from 30 to 45 days.
Tenants’ Union’s response: While ending 'no grounds' evictions during periodic agreements is a big step forwards for rental security, continuing to allow 'no grounds' evictions at the end of fixed-term agreements leaves a big loophole in place for landlords and real estate agents. A majority of renters (71%) currently experiencing ‘no grounds’ evictions receive these at the end of a fixed term tenancy. We have also seen landlords and their agents in other jurisdictions take advantage of this omission, shifting renters on to shorter fixed term tenancies to ensure they can continue evicting for no reason. Addressing the continuing lack of security renters face requires removing the ability for landlords to end tenancies without a genuine reason, including for those renters on fixed-term agreements.
Extra time to find a new rental home can be helpful for renters evicted at the end of a fixed-term agreement, especially with the unprecedented low vacancy rates we’re seeing at the moment. However, within fixed-term leases renters can’t leave early without facing a break fee, so this extra notice won’t necessarily help renters. There will be some work at point of implementation to address this problem and ensure renters can leave once notice is given.
Greens: Ban unfair evictions
The proposal: End 'no grounds' evictions.
Tenants’ Union’s response: As Above - this is a much needed reform. We also note that while the Greens' policy platform does not specifically discuss removing no grounds evictions at the end of fixed-term leases, the private member's Bill to remove 'no grounds' provisions introduced to NSW Parliament in September 2022 by Jenny Leong, the Greens' Housing spokes, demonstrates their commitment to removing no grounds evictions whether at the end of a fixed term or during a periodic tenancy.
Liberals and Nationals: Better cater for tenants with pets
Consultation commenced. The Liberal Party have not yet made an election announcement relating to pets and renting. However, Minister Dominello requested Fair Trading carry out a consultation on the issue of pets in rental homes at the end of last year, and has stated that the NSW Liberal Party are currently considering the responses to that consultation.
Ahead of and during the consultation period, Minister Dominello spoke in favour of reform to the rules surrounding pets and renting in NSW. The community responses to Fair Trading's consultation are overwhelmingly in favour of reform to make it easier for renters to keep pets.
Labor: Streamline the application process for renters with pets
The proposal: Introduce an easier, fairer and more transparent to apply to have pets in a rental property. NSW Labor's proposed change will introduce a standardised form for tenants to lodge with their landlord requesting permission to keep a pet. A detailed response will be required within 21 days, and if the renter has not heard from their landlord in that time, their request will be automatically approved. This would fall under the jurisdiction of Labor’s proposed NSW Rental Commissioner.
Tenants’ Union’s response: This model looks similar to the rules surrounding pets and renting in place in Queensland. A model like this would be a great improvement on the status quo for renters with pets in NSW. However, it would still leave renters with significant barriers to renting with pets.
The Tenants' Union of NSW recommends a model where a landlord can only refuse permission or challenge the keeping of a pet if they, the landlord, obtain a Tribunal order allowing them to do so. This is a model similar to those that apply in Victoria, the ACT and the NT. Read this explainer for more information on our preferred model for regulating the keeping of pets in rental properties.
Greens: Let renters have pets
- The proposal: The Greens' housing election platform states: 'Let renters have pets — so it’s their choice not the landlords'
Tenants’ Union’s response: At this stage we do not have further detail on the model of reform the Greens propose to implement. From the stated intent the model the Greens propose to implement would ensure the renter is able to make a decision about keeping a pet in the rental property, and the ability for the landlord to refuse consent would be limited or removed altogether.
Liberals and Nationals: Introduce controls on how renters’ data can be stored and used
The proposal: Under direction from Minister Dominello the Fair Trading Commissioner recently published guidance for agents on how renters’ personal information is stored, used and destroyed. In addition the current NSW government has committed to developing enforceable guidelines and an opt-in digital ID to be used for rental applications, removing the need for renters to provide other documents such as bank statements and driver licences. It is likely these guidelines will be published and enforceable via the Property and Stock Agents Act 2002, limiting application to real estate agents only and not landlords.
Tenants’ Union’s response: We are hopeful these proposed reforms will be more effective at protecting renters’ privacy. Having guidelines on the types of data that can be collected and the ways in whichit can be stored is important. However, the detail is still unclear and will be important.
In addition, there is a clear need for greater regulation of the various kinds of additional information and documents collected by landlords and their agents during application which are used to assess
- capacity to pay
- how likely they are to fulfill the obligations of the tenancy agreement (i.e. be a 'good tenant').
The recently published guidance provides a starting point for a further conversation about what appropriate regulation of the application process should look like.
Labor: Creation of a Rental Commissioner
The proposal: Establishing a Rental Commissioner to be an “advocate and voice for renters” by working closely with government, consumer affairs, stakeholders and renters to:
- Lead consultation and drafting of legislation to introduce reasons for eviction;
- Implement Labor's proposed portable bonds scheme;
- Oversee a ban on secret rent bidding;
- Identify barriers to increasing housing supply for renting;
- Identify practices and gaps that erode the rights of renters;
- Identify options for longer term agreements, giving security and certainty to both renters and owners;
- Initiatives including educational resources for renters and owners to increase knowledge of their rights;
- Gather data on renting and survey renters to help inform future policy making; and
- Identify ways for renters to more easily access energy efficiency initiatives.
Tenants’ Union’s response: The proposal to implement a Rental Commissioner is an acknowledgement of the significant number of people renting, and the need for serious consideration of the barriers they face in in accessing safe, secure, affordable homes and the need for concerted advocacy with decision makers and government agencies to address and remove these.
NSW Labor does not set out the powers a newly established Rental Commissioner would have as an “advocate and voice for renters”, the processes by which they will work differently to current government agencies in gathering data, identifying problems and opportunities for reform, &/or the resourcing that will be provided the Commissioner for their work.
The establishment of a commissioner could be a positive development. However, more detail is required to assess whether this would simply delay reforms by restarting the process of identifying problems that are in fact already well established, or if they could play a genuinely effective and timely advocacy role in driving change in our NSW rental system.
Labor: New data protection requirements for real estate agents
The proposal: Renters provide a wider range of documents than ever before, including identity documents such as driver’s licences, years of work and rental history, and bank statements. This is an increasing cybersecurity risk, with little regulation about how this data is stored and protected.
NSW Labor will work with Fair Trading, renters, and industry to develop a system that allows legitimate data to be collected to verify rental applications but protects renters against potential data breaches.
Tenants' Union's response:
As noted above we welcome a commitment to regulate the collection of renters' personal information and documents to better protect renters’ privacy.
Greater regulation of storage and protection of renters' data is needed, along with the setting of appropriate limits on the various kinds of additional information and documents collected by landlords and their agents during the application process.
Greens: Increase regulation of short-term holiday letting
The proposal: The NSW Greens' approach to regulating short-term rental accommodation includes five parts:
- Stop non-hosted short-term letting of houses built after 1 January 2018 in an LGA until the vacancy rate hits 3%
- Require development applications for houses to be used as non-hosted short-term holiday letting, as required for other businesses
- Give local councils planning powers to decide when and where Short Term Holiday Letting can operate in their LGA
- Allow councils to place a bed tax on Short Term Holiday Letting to fund local services.
- Require non-hosted Short Term Holiday Rentals to be used as emergency accommodation during a natural disaster.
Tenants' Union's response: The Tenants' Union has consistently called for greater regulation of short-term holiday letting, noting the impacts on people's stability of housing and availability of homes.
We have also called for local councils to be the primary decision makes in considering whether new developments and change of use from existing residential homes is in the community interest. This requires potential changes to the current planning laws and resourcing of councils, but is required because local areas have specific needs in balancing housing affordability and availability with employment from tourism.
Ensuring holiday lets can be used in the recovery from natural disasters is consistent with considering shelter and renting as an essential service, and gives greater ability to respond rapidly. In the Northern Rivers we saw people initially sheltered in holiday lets but then evicted in the lead up to holiday periods before homes were available to them.
Liberals and Nationals: Longer leases
The proposal: Introduce a new, optional standard lease agreement with three and five year terms, to improve uptake of long-term leases and improve the ability for tenants to ‘make a home’. These standard forms will be developed in consultation with industry.
Tenants' Union's response: While renters need greater security, this is not an effective way to go about achieving it. Landlords already have the ability to offer longer leases of up to 99 years, but currently don’t often offer longer fixed leases primarily because it retains their ability to easily regain vacant possession over the premises. This gives greater ability to sell or re-let the property to take advantage of market conditions.
We understand keeping renters on shorter fixed term tenancies allows landlords and real estate agents to increase rents more regularly whether for increases or via eviction. While some protections are in place that are intended to limit rent increases to once per year, this does not apply to fixed-term contracts, and so landlords can shift renters from a periodic tenancy onto a 6 or 12 month fixed term tenancy and at this point also increase the rent in the new fixed term agreement, allowing a second increase within the 12 month period. This acts as an incentive towards shorter fixed terms.
It appears to us unlikely that non-financial incentives would be effective, and greater stability for renters is best regulated through removal of no grounds evictions and the provision of costs for maintaining stable homes, or financial costs for maintaining shorter tenure. This is best judged not on the length of the lease, but on the actual time a person can remain in the premises absent a breach of agreement.
Labor: Review of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT)
The proposal: NCAT should be an accessible and transparent process to help renters and property owners resolve issues or disputes.
Applications to NCAT can be a long and expensive process, and decisions made by the tribunal can be inconsistent. NSW Labor will conduct a review of the application process, case resolutions and hearing proceedings.
Tenants' Union's response: Too many renters attending Tribunal report a poor experience.
In 2019 the NSW Department of Justice undertook a statutory review of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013, the Act that established the NCAT and informs its operation. The Review Report, including 15 recommendations, was published in January 2022. The review and resulting recommendations were unfortunately limited and have not adequately addressed the ongoing problems renters experience in relation to the process of accessing the Tribunal to resolve disputes. We continue to have significant concerns regarding:
- Member behaviour and conduct, including consistency in decision making
- Procedural problems
- Problems with Conciliation
- Transparency and accountability including the sharing of data and publication of decisions.
We welcome Labor's recognition of these problems, and the commitment to look again at what reforms are needed to ensure NCAT is working well and ensuring access to justice for renters.
Labor: Additional $1 million for NSW Tenancy Advocacy Services
The proposal: Provide an additional $1 million for tenancy advocacy services, and extend funding arrangements to a five year contract - to help ensure the crucial services continue to operate and families are supported through tough times.
Tenants' Union's response: We welcome the commitment of additional funds for the Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Program. An additional $1 million per annum will help restore funding to the program to delivering the same amount of service hours as funded in 2008, though this will not address the population growth since then. It is worth noting that the Program is funded by two sources, the Rental Bond Board and Property Services Account, which are restricted in what they can fund and does not negatively impact government's budget otherwise.
This would be a positive step forward towards fully restoring much needed tenancy advocacy services to the community.