This is how state governments will change tenancy laws in 2020

New laws will make it easier for tenants to own pets.

New laws will make it easier for tenants to own pets. Photo: Getty

State governments are responding to the surge in long-term renting by introducing a raft of new reforms aimed at boosting the rights of tenants.

Tenants’ advocates have welcomed the proposed changes but argue governments should go even further by abolishing ‘no grounds’ evictions.

Landlords have said the reforms will discourage investment and consequently drive up rents.

NSW, Victoria and the ACT have already legislated changes.

While the exact reforms vary from state to state, all three governments will limit rent increases, make it easier for tenants to make minor modifications, and allow domestic violence victims to immediately terminate a contract free of charge.

Queensland plans to introduce similar laws later in the year. Western Australia and the Northern Territory are currently reviewing their regulations. And South Australia and Tasmania made small changes a few years ago.

(Lists of reforms are included at the bottom of this article.)

Better Renting executive director Joel Dignam said the reforms were a “positive step in the right direction”.

But he told The New Daily they were overshadowed by the looming threat of a no-grounds eviction, with most tenants feeling too insecure to confidently assert their rights.

“As long as no grounds terminations can happen, tenants are worried,” Mr Dignam said.

“So even if the law says they can ask for a pet, they might not ask for a pet because even if the landlord has to say yes, the landlord can then terminate their tenancy for no reason.

“So that fundamentally undermines the security of the tenancy contract.”

All states currently allow landlords to evict tenants without cause once a fixed-term agreement expires – so long as they provide the required notice.

But Victorian landlords will lose this power in July, when 130 new reforms come into effect. And Queensland landlords might lose it, too, if the state government manages to pass its proposed changes.

Propertyology director and landlord Simon Pressley said such changes went against Australia’s historic commitment to private property rights.

He told The New Daily increased engagement between landlords and tenants would have led to better outcomes than “heavy-handed legislation” – which he said would discourage investment and push up rents.

“Pets are a good example. The reality is pets can cause damage to a property. The legislation can say whatever it wants about pets, but that’s a fact,” Mr Pressley said.

“So I think it is completely wrong for any state government, at any time, to say, ‘we’re going to pass some legislation that removes the right of the asset owner to say yes or no to pets’.”

Mr Pressley said he considered applications from pet-owning tenants on a case-by-case basis and had had good experiences in the past.

Pet owners often offered to pay an extra $5 a week to cover the increased financial risk, he said, while many stayed put for longer, to avoid repeating the “frustrating” process of finding a pet-friendly home.

But he said individuals who lease such an expensive asset should be entitled to “put some conditions about how it’s used and when it’s returned”.

“This is what the industry should be doing, specific to pets: Engaging in that discussion and getting landlords to see that it’s not all about risk. There’s also some opportunity there,” Mr Pressley said.

“But the tenants need to get off their high horse. They don’t have the right if they don’t own the property.”

Key changes in NSW (Applicable to leases signed after March 23, 2020)

  • Landlords must make sure their rental property is “structurally sound”; contains private bathroom facilities; and provides adequate lighting, ventilation, gas and electricity.
  • New penalties for landlords who fail to maintain smoke alarms.
  • Landlords will no longer be able to unreasonably stop tenants from making renovations of a “minor nature”.
  • Set break fees for tenants who cancel a fixed-term agreement.
  • More information can be found here

Key changes in VIC (Applicable to leases signed after July 1, 2020)

  • Landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without cause once a fixed-term agreement expires (i.e. banning no grounds evictions).
  • A new blacklist will name and shame dodgy landlords.
  • Tenants will be allowed to make minor modifications without their landlord’s consent.
  • Rent increases outside fixed-term agreements will be limited to one per year.
  • Landlords can only stop tenants from keeping a pet if they obtain an official order from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
  • More information can be found here. 

Key changes in ACT (came into effect on November 1, 2019)

  • Rent increases outside fixed-term agreements are limited to one per year.
  • Rental agreements cannot prohibit pets completely.
  • Landlords can only refuse consent to tenants who wish to make minor modifications if they obtain approval from the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Minor changes include: Installing picture hooks, setting up a herb garden, and affixing blinds to a window.
  • More information can be found here.

Key proposed changes in Queensland (under consultation)

  • Owners will be asked to provide reasonable grounds for denying tenants the right to own a pet.
  • All rental properties will need to meet new minimum standards.
  • Landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without cause once a fixed-term agreement expires (i.e. banning no grounds evictions).
  • The government will make it easier for renters experiencing domestic and family violence to end tenancies without the usual notice requirements.
  • More information can be found here. 
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