Tenants' Union policy priorities

The Tenants’ Union of NSW works for change to ensure renters are able to access safe, secure and affordable rental housing.

  • We work closely with our members, networks and stakeholders to identify and understand the problems and barriers renters experience, and to develop and advocate for the implementation of solutions.
  • Our systemic advocacy work includes submissions, consultation and engagement with government, government departments and regulators, as well coordination or support of law reform and advocacy campaigns in priority areas. 

We are currently reviewing our policy priorities. If you would like to know more, you can follow us on our socials or send us an email via contact@tenantsunion.org.au

 


1. Just Renting – law reform for housing justice

Why should tenants feel that they have to put themselves down when they talk about their homes? Part of the reason is our tenancy laws.

"Oh, we’re just renting."

Our laws allow landlords to terminate tenancies without grounds: this is unfair and makes all tenants insecure. 

Our laws allow excessive rent increases and other fees, and interference in tenants’ decisions about how to live their own lives.

Our laws don’t do enough to raise the standard of rental housing and make it safe.

And it’s even worse for people in marginal rental accommodation – some of the most vulnerable members of the community – who are excluded from our tenancy laws altogether.

The Tenants’ Union of NSW is for Just Renting – reformed tenancy laws that deliver greater justice in rental housing.

More information

 


2. Social housing

Governments have failed to properly finance public and community housing. Prior to the COVID-19 health crisis close to 200,000 eligible applicants across Australia were waiting for social housing. In NSW the wait times for public housing currently range from between 2 and 10+ years across the state. In the Greater Sydney area wait times are consistently 5 years or longer, and in the inner west and Eastern suburbs 10+ years. This lack of social housing stock increases not only the risk of homelessness for vulnerable renting households, but it acts as a barrier for people developing a pathway out of homelessness.

Public and community housing in NSW, and across Australia, is often described as experiencing ‘residualisation’. This model regards public and community housing as ‘housing of last resort’, placing restrictions on eligibility when resources are restricted, and seeking to encourage renters to exit as soon as possible. The current NSW Future Direction for Social Housing policy adopts this approach. This ‘residualised’ model of public and community housing has created significant problems for the sustainability of the social housing system. The effect of housing only very low income or pension dependent households is that the system has been starved of funds to adequately maintain itself, let alone expand in line with need. 

Significant investment is required to deliver greatly increased supply of public and community housing sufficient to meet the housing needs of low income households. Expanding eligibility for public and community housing would increase sustainability of the system by increasing the rental income generated. 

We seek renewed investment by governments to make the public and community housing system – and public and community housing neighbourhoods – sustainable again

We know the most important factor contributing to long term positive outcomes for renters in public and community housing is the security it provides. The policy of fixed term tenancies and ongoing review of eligibility introduced after 2005 undermines this security and should be discontinued. 

Public and community housing tenants are also increasingly being treated differently at law. In October 2015, NSW Parliament also passed the highly contentious Residential Tenancies and Housing Legislation Amendment (Public Housing – Antisocial Behaviour) Act. This enacted a three ‘strikes’ notice system, under which ‘social housing landlords’ (public and community housing providers) can issue notices to tenants when they believe the tenant has breached the tenancy agreement, but the breach is not serious enough to terminate the agreement. DCJ (formerly FACS) Housing’s policy is to issue strike notices against tenants for alleged antisocial behaviour (for example, hosting a loud party where bottles were thrown onto the street).

The Tenants' Union is opposed to legislation that places additional, unfair burdens on public and community housing tenants. We are opposed to using residential tenancy law to enforce draconian 'law and order' policies. 

 

See also

 


3. Action for housing affordability

The high cost of housing is a critical problem across Australia and especially in New South Wales.

It is a two-fold problem for tenants. Some tenants are frustrated purchasers who are priced out of the owner-occupier market. Many other tenants – particularly those in low-incomes – are stressed by the lack of affordable rental housing.

Just over a million low income households rent in the private rental sector. Of these households:

  • 66 per cent are paying more than they can afford, with more than 30 percent of their weekly income being spent on rent.
  • Almost 25 per cent are in housing crisis (paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent).

The problem:

Our tax settings encourage speculation in housing, and make affordability problems worse

The solution:

Reform negative gearing

Reform capital gains tax

Reform State land tax

More information

See also

 


4. Tenants' money – tenants' services

The problem: 

Tenants don’t get enough of the benefit of the interest earned on their bonds.  

The solution: 

Increase funding to Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services, and increase interest payments to tenants individually.

Over $1.5 billion of tenants’ money is lodged as bonds at the NSW Rental Bond Board. This money generates tens of millions of dollars in interest each year: about $57 million in 2019-20. The NSW State Government decides how this money is spent. 

Most of the money – more than two-thirds of the total – is paid to NSW State Government agencies, primarily the NSW Department of Finance and Services, and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

A small portion is used to fund the TAASs.  Other smaller amounts go to other community services (such as financial counseling services, and the No-Interest Loans Scheme) and affordable housing programs. 

A tiny amount is paid as interest to individual tenants when they claim their bonds at the end of their tenancies.

After these payments, the Rental Bond Interest Account retains a surplus. Accumulated surpluses now amount to more than $65 million.

Total funding to TAASs has not increased in real terms for over 15 years – despite the number of tenants growing by 50 per cent over that time.

This has left TAASs stretched thin. Increasingly, tenants are missing out on the services they need and deserve.

We call for funding to TAASs to be increased now by $5.2 million per annum. This would restore the real value of funding to the TAASs, and properly provide for an additional Aboriginal TAAS, duty advocates at the Tribunal, and support for older tenants and residential park residents. Going forward, funding for TAAS should grow in line with the number of tenants.

We also call for more of the interest to be returned to tenants individually.

This is affordable – after paying its share, the interest account would ordinarily still be in surplus. And it’s fair: after all, it’s tenants’ money.

 


Notes

[1] Productivity Commission (2019) Vulnerable Private Renters: Evidence and Options,Commission Research Paper, Canberra; Australian Productivity Commission, Vulnerable Private Renters: Evidence and Options, September 2019, https://www.pc.gov.au/research/completed/renters/private-renters.pdf

[2] This grant is matched by a grant from the Property Services Statutory Interest Account, which holds interest generated by money in real estate agents’ trust accounts, including money paid by tenants. The Tribunal and other agencies receive grants from this account too.