Jenny Leong introduces bill to Parliament to end unfair no grounds evictions in New South Wales

Jenny Leong introduces bill to Parliament to end unfair no grounds evictions in New South Wales, on 13 October 2022:


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (13:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today on behalf of The Greens I am introducing the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Prohibiting No Grounds Evictions) Bill 2022 to finally put an end to unfair no-grounds evictions in New South Wales. New South Wales is in a rental crisis that is worsening by the day. Every single day, renters are being hit with massive rent increases. They are too fearful to negotiate or ask for basic repairs because of the constant threat of being evicted. The rental vacancy rate is at record lows and rents have skyrocketed up to 40 per cent this year in some Sydney suburbs and as much as 30 per cent in regional New South Wales. Renters in this State are desperately in need of security. They need stability and they need urgent rent relief right now. With the bill before us in the Chamber, we could deliver all of that by Christmas.

Forget the cost of lettuce. The cost of rent is by far the most significant expense in people's weekly budget. The number of households experiencing moderate or severe rental stress is on the rise. The latest census data shows that a third of renters are in rental distress. This means they are paying 30 per cent or more of their household income on rent every week. Rising food and energy costs pale in comparison with the pointy end of this cost-of-living crisis. A recent report commissioned by Housing All Australians warns that more than two million lower income rental households will be in serious housing stress by 2051.

We know that the current no-grounds eviction provisions, which allow landlords to evict tenants at the end of a lease or during a lease with no reason whatsoever, are a key driver of this problem. Currently, tenants in New South Wales who meet all of their responsibilities and pay their rent on time can be evicted at the end of their lease without any reason. Tenants on an ongoing periodic agreement face even more insecurity. They can be asked to vacate the property with just 90 days' notice, again without the landlord having to give any reason. If a landlord believes that they can get more rent from a new tenant, they can simply terminate the lease of the existing tenant with no-grounds and no good reason. We are seeing this play out in real time in regional communities as Sydney's worsening unaffordability crisis is driving people from the city into the regions and causing chaos in the housing affordability crisis in the regions.

A recent report commissioned by the rental review site Rent Rabbit found that 20 New South Wales regional communities are deeply experiencing the rental crisis, with tenants in severe rental stress. Communities from Port Macquarie to Narooma, Swansea, Wagga Wagga, Tamworth and Tweed have rising rents and low vacancy rates. No-grounds evictions are driving and increasing this crisis because landlords know that they can just boot out tenants for city renters who they know will pay more because it will seem like less rent compared with what they had been paying in the city.

All of this cost comes at a great price to our society and our community. Many New South Wales renters do not know where they will be living from year to year or, in some cases, from month to month. This instability creates a huge amount of stress, particularly for children who are forced to move schools, elderly people or people who rely on local health and support services. It prevents renters from being able to put down their roots in their neighbourhoods and communities and contribute to our society. The Tenants' Union estimates that evictions cost the average renter more than $4,000 and that up to 30 per cent of renters will face an eviction through no fault of their own. The risk of eviction, particularly into homelessness, is especially high for people who are experiencing personal crises or other stressors.

The Greens recognise that in certain circumstances it is reasonable for a landlord to terminate a rental agreement. Contrary to what some on the other side may say and suggest to me at times in this Chamber, we recognise that there are cases which would have completely legitimate and reasonable grounds for a tenant to be evicted. The bill prescribes those genuine grounds and sets them out quite clearly. The first of those grounds is that the landlord themselves or a close family member of the landlord intends to live in the property for more than 12 months. The second of those would be that the landlord intends to carry out renovations or repairs that will make the property uninhabitable for a period of more than four weeks and has ensured that all the necessary permits and approvals have been acquired. The third would be that the premises would be used in a way or kept in a state that it cannot be used as a residence for at least six months. The fourth would allow any other grounds prescribed by regulations set out by the Minister.

The reason for that is because we know that there is always a risk that when we bring a crossbench bill to this Chamber that people will want to say, "What about this bit? What about that bit?" and say we have not consulted on these grounds. What we are saying is the urgency to act on this crisis and pass this bill before Christmas means that we want to give the power to the Minister to be able to set in regulations additional grounds, if required. If any member of this place is hearing the reasonable grounds that we are putting forward and wishes to advocate for other grounds to be included, there will be the space and opportunity to do that, but that can be done at a time after we have acted in response to the urgency of the crisis renters across the State are facing.

Those are the grounds set out under this bill that would be considered reasonable to terminate a lease. This bill would prevent unfair no-grounds evictions taking place. We know right now across this State of New South Wales, there are a whole lot of very unreasonable ways that landlords are kicking tenants out. It is not reasonable for a tenant to be kicked out of their home because they attempted to negotiate with the landlord or agent about the cost of their rent rise or dared to question the idea that they were subjected to a rent increase. That is absolutely unreasonable for a tenant who has requested essential repairs and maintenance because of a massive hole leaking water into their bedroom and onto their bed, or because their entire study is covered in mould from a damp issue or because their oven does not work. It is unacceptable for tenants who make requests for basic maintenance repairs to not do so because they are fearful of eviction as a result of making that maintenance request.

It is unreasonable for a landlord or real estate agent to put off repairs knowing they can wait until the lease expires, evict the tenants, raise the rent and get a new tenant in—and then start that process again. They know the rental market is so hot right now that they can kick someone out at the end of their lease, bump up the rent another $30 a week to make more money and then do the same in six or 12 months' time. Those are not reasonable grounds for someone to be kicked out of their home, which could force a child to move schools or an elderly person to find a new GP. Those are not reasonable grounds to subject renters to exorbitant costs of moving every six to 12 months.

Those are not hypothetical examples and no member in the Chamber can ignore those stories. Once upon a time they may have been stories in the heart of Newtown, in which 50 per cent of people rent, but those stories are being covered each day inThe Daily Telegraph and other Murdoch press. Those stories are as real and live in northern, western and southern New South Wales as they are in Erskineville, St Peters or Darlington. Everyone across the State may experience the housing crisis and members of Parliament have the opportunity to make a change to offer security to everyone before the year's end.

The other key provision in the bill provides remedies for tenants who are wrongfully evicted. New sections 85A and 85B make it a requirement for landlords to ensure that residential premises are used in accordance with the grounds on which an eviction is made, and empower the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to compensate tenants if a landlord breaches the grounds of an eviction, including directing the landlord to use the property as per the grounds set out in the eviction, and/or reinstating a residential tenancies agreement to tenants who are wrongfully evicted, and/or paying compensation to a tenant to cover the costs associated with a wrongful eviction.

People who live in rental properties are not second-class citizens; they are families, children, individuals, retirees, students, migrants and young people. Those rental properties are their homes. Those people should be able to put down roots in a safe, secure and affordable house. They should be able to connect with their community without facing the ongoing stress and uncertainty of knowing that opening an envelope from the letterbox or an email could result in the uprooting of their entire family and life because a landlord wants to make an extra $30 or does not want to fix their oven. We must recognise the two million people in New South Wales who face that stress every day. We should not be putting that stress on our communities, and we can act right now.

Housing affordability is worsening and home ownership rates are declining. Many people are renting for longer than ever before. Generations of people know that they will rent for their entire lives. It causes them stress knowing that they will be renting for their entire lives under that level of insecurity and lack of power. They do not know whether the place they call home now will be the place they call home in a couple of months. We must act on that. We have a moral obligation to resolve that issue. The 2021 census data tells us that over two million people rent in New South Wales in the private rental market. That is two million people who live with chronic insecurity and a power imbalance that have become features of renting in New South Wales. That balance must be tipped back and righted.

Introducing reasonable grounds to end unfair no-grounds evictions is the start to re-establishing that balance. It shows respect to those two million people in New South Wales. The issue is not and should not be controversial. Ending no-grounds evictions is a sensible and practical reform that the Tenants Union' of NSW has been pushing for years. In 2018 the Make Renting Fair campaign was backed and pushed for by a coalition of unions, social services, local councils and community legal centres, and the former Labor leader committed NSW Labor to that policy. Last week in question time Labor members interjected during an answer from the Premier, confirming that they also back ending no-grounds evictions. Even the Treasurer, then fair trading Minister Matt Kean, acknowledged that we need reform. In 2018 he said:

No grounds evictions, retaliatory evictions, all these things are currently undermining renters' rights in NSW.

It is time to get it done. We cannot wait until the next Parliament. We can provide renters with protection now. I acknowledge the Tenants' Union for its assistance and support in drafting the bill. I urge all members to seek a briefing from the union on the bill to understand why it is essential. I acknowledge in the gallery members of the Healthy Homes for Renters campaign. It is wonderful that they are unintentionally present in the gallery at the time of my second reading speech on the bill. I urge all members to look deeply at the bill. We could pass it before Christmas. The community needs the bill. At the end of this term of Parliament, members can come together and deliver for the two million renters who live in New South Wales. I commend the bill to the House.

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