Rental properties and drug use – tenants’ rights at a new high?
Hot on the heels of Canada’s announcement it will join a number of US states in legalising recreational marijuana, one of our landlord clients reached out to me. “Could this happen here and are there tenants’ rights to smoke or get high in my property?” Interesting question and it’s one that touches on a popular topic at the moment: balancing landlord and tenants’ rights.
Generally a landlord in Queensland has an obligation to give tenants “quiet enjoyment” and “not interfere with the reasonable peace, comfort or privacy of the tenant in using the premises.” But the law, (for now at least), allows a landlord and tenant to agree there will be no smoking inside. Tenants can’t use the home for illegal purposes, and similarly can’t create a nuisance or interfere with their neighbours’ peace and comfort. I’m not sure how the legislators deal with smoke drift when it has the potential to drug a neighbour but you’d hope that’s considered a nuisance!
Drug use in rental homes isn’t new and meth labs are a real issue in some pockets of our state. So much so Queensland Police work with our Real Estate Institute, training property managers to identify labs. Meth use and manufacture causes enormous contamination of the property that’s very hard to undo. We had one client strip their Spring Hill cottage right back to bare walls and floors as the only way of ridding the house of the drug. A recent promo from one testing service suggested up to 26% of the Brisbane homes they visited had meth residue detected.
No-one is suggesting meth use will be legalised, and the law continues to protect landlords from illegal behaviour in their property. But let’s look back to that question of quiet enjoyment. Where is the line? Currently a landlord can prohibit keeping of pets for example, but the Queensland government is reviewing this. The argument posed by tenants’ advocates: It’s none of a landlord’s business what happens at the home as long as it’s looked after (and there’s a 4 week bond to protect them). If the law’s not being broken why can’t a tenant do what they like?
I’ve now worked in property management for 27 years and the law’s shift in balance toward tenants has been really tangible over that time. And – unpopular though it may be to say – I think there’s been some positives in this. A home is a sacred place and tenants need to be able to call their rented house/apartment etc their home. I believe we all need that security and the vast majority of landlords respect this. In fact the vast majority of landlords have long ago worked out that happy and secure tenants are hugely important to their investment. Each side respects the other and both sides win. (Despite what tenants’ advocates may think of us, property manager don’t like turnover of tenancies either – our fees to find new tenants rarely cover our costs.)
But what is constantly forgotten in the balance debate is the choice a landlord has of where to invest. If this State Government legislates to further limit landlords’ rights, many will choose to not buy property. The returns on other investments can be healthy and with none of the complexities of tenancy laws. Around a third of Queenslanders rent so these private landlords are critical to providing housing supply.
A good example of lawmakers not using common sense? We’d love to help more tenants with pets secure a home and many of our landlords could change their view on this. But the law says we can’t agree with the tenant to pay more bond – and the current bond limit doesn’t even fully protect a landlord from rent arrears. So why would a landlord take that extra risk of property damage?
Why would the government interfere in the rights of a tenant to mutually agree on a higher bond with their landlord? It’s almost like the Government doesn’t really understand the concept of “quiet enjoyment”…