The history of the Tenants' Union

A focus on housing-related poverty uncovered by a government inquiry into poverty in the 1970s provided impetus for activism to protect the interests of renters.

People concerned with unfair housing conditions began to articulate a new agenda for housing justice, which led to campaigns for fairer laws, the formation of the Tenants' Union of NSW and the development of funded services to advise and assist tenants.

The Tenants' Union began as a volunteer-run activist organisation working for legal protections against evictions, high rents, the poor state of rental housing and discriminatory practices and unfair treatment by landlords and their agents.

Since its formation in 1976, the Tenants' Union has achieved or contributed to:

  • the establishment of the Rental Bond Board in 1977
  • law reform campaigns resulting in the passing of the Residential Tenancies Act 1987, the Residential Parks Act 1998 and, more recently, the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and Boarding Houses Act 2012
  • setting up and funding of advisory services for tenants under the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program (TAAP) in 1986–87 and 1993
  • informing tenants about their rights and obligations through the publications Your rights as tenant in NSW (first published 1976) and the Tenants' Rights Manual (first published 1980).

Today, the Tenants’ Union continues to:

  • advocate for reforms to laws and policies affecting tenants (for example through policy and campaigns, and strategic litigation)
  • support tenants’ advisory services through its resourcing of TAAP-funded services (through legal support, training and IT management, among other functions)
  • produce publications on tenants’ rights

Tenant activism: the emergence of the Tenants Union of NSW

Robert Mowbray, founding Secretary and a life member of the Tenants' Union of NSW wrote this short history.

Unfinished Business: The story of the Tenants' Union of NSW 1976-1996 

Paul Mortimer, then Training and Resource Officer at the Tenants' Union, wrote Unfinished Business to celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 1996 It documents and evaluates the history of the Tenants' Union to that date.

Download it here or contact us if you would like a high resolution copy.

My House, My Home: 40 Years of the Tenants Union of NSW (2016)

2016 marked four decades of the Tenants' Union. We held a series of events and activities in to celebrate, and also published a special edition of Tenant News.

We also produced this 40th Anniversary video. It sketches in our history, showcases the work we do now, and looks at the work still to come.