Balancing tenant and landlord rights: Will new Qld laws prevent you from evicting a tenant?
Occasionally we hear of an ‘out of the box’ change to property laws being proposed and this one should concern every owner of a Queensland rental property.
A review of our tenancy laws is underway and tenants’ advocates are said to be warming up for a debate on a landlord’s right to issue a “notice to leave without grounds”. The Act gives an owner protection to end a tenancy for breaches such as non-payment of rent, damage etc. But it currently also allows a landlord to simply decide (after any fixed term agreement is completed) that they would like to ask the tenants to vacate. No reason needed – you own the property so you have the right to decide who can live there.
Tenants’ reps argue this “contributes significantly to tenants’ feeling of insecurity” and undermines the sense of belonging in their home, and the Qld Government now has it on their list for consideration. Their recent housing discussion paper says the Act review will “identify options which will increase the affordability and security of rental accommodation, such as ways of encouraging longer-term leases, minimum condition standards for rental properties and reviewing provisions around notices to leave without grounds.” This same topic came up in the last review in 2012, but we had a different government then.
Interestingly the length of time a tenant stays in a Queensland rental home is steadily increasing. At the end of the 2015 financial year this averaged 15.5 months for a house, up 2 months over the previous 5 years. And our inner-Brisbane property managers have landlord clients willing to offer long agreements (two years plus), especially to keep good tenants in their properties. A landlord with a long-term investment plan and a happy and secure tenant is a great combination that we all strive for. In my 25 years in property management I’ve seen huge changes in the balancing of tenant/landlord rights and a vast majority of landlords know the importance of keeping a good relationship with their tenants. Landlords rightly see themselves as small businesses, providing a product into a competitive marketplace, and they need to offer and maintain an attractive dwelling, at reasonable rent and on reasonable terms or they’ll see it left empty.
But sometimes things happen. Sometimes people aren’t reasonable. A tenant skirts around the legal requirements and can’t be asked to leave through any breach. A landlord is driven to frustration by unreasonable demands (real or perceived). So when does a landlord go from property investor to housing provider? When should their rights as property owner be set aside to provide greater security to tenants?
The reality is there are already many, many provisions in legislation that do just this. For example, landlords can’t act vexatiously in evicting, even on a “without grounds” basis. Landlords don’t want their property to sit vacant so there’s a huge financial incentive to keep a tenant happy and put up with a certain amount of grief. But should the law lock me in past that point? In many countries there are wider-reaching rights for tenants, but these are also nations where governments house a huge proportion of the population. Council flats and swathes of social housing are the norm. In Australia we leave it to investors like you and me to supply the vast majority of rental accommodation.
Please share your views. Should investors’ rights as property owner be trimmed? Is there a social contract that comes with buying a rental home? Or do we already have the balance right?