Brisbane landlords

Qld’s new rental laws: what landlords must know about 2021 legislation

The politicians can dress up these new rental laws any way they like. They will still mark a loss of property ownership rights for landlords. And likely rent hikes for tenants.

Landlords will be unable to ask your tenants to move out of your property unless you follow very tight criteria – get it wrong and you might be accused of retaliation and have a tribunal overturn your decision. You won’t be able to refuse a pet without an approved reason. You must maintain your property to new minimum standards, and your tenant can spend up to 4 weeks rent on an emergency repair (up from the current 2). There’s a raft of new rights for tenants.

A person’s home is a sacred place and the vast majority of landlords know they need to look after their tenants and respect their home. Provide them a maintained property and quiet enjoyment. But these new legislated limitations on investors will undoubtedly drive some of them away from property and reduce our rental supply. There is nothing in them for landlords – only further protections for tenants.

Rents can only rise as a result.

rental lawsThe Queensland government last Friday introduced their Housing Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, bringing a long period of consultation and proposals to a head, with the bill now before the parliament. For clarity – this bill has gone into the committee process and could take 6 or more months to be law. But it’s the ALP’s bill so it’s going to pass.

In late 2019 the former Housing Minister proposed some of our state’s most extreme and controversial rental reforms and some say we should celebrate them being dumped. But this current bill still has plenty of concern for landlords, and is just Stage One of the reforms.

Here’s some of the current bill’s details:

1. Asking your tenant to move out: If they have a fixed term lease (the usual 6 or 12 month agreement) you can give them a notice to leave (NTL) before its expiry. We argue property owners deserve the right to choose who lives in their property. But if their lease has rolled into a ‘periodic tenancy’, with no fixed term, you’ll no longer be able to issue that notice to leave without grounds. You’ll have limited, tightly controlled grounds to ask them to vacate.

You can give them notice to leave if you’re putting the place up for sale and would like it vacant, or have a contract subject to vacant possession. But don’t try using this as a ‘work-around’ – if you aren’t genuine and re-rent it within 6 months you could face a fine of $6,700!

There’s also NTL provisions for major renovation (where it can’t be safely occupied), demolition and for immediate family to occupy. NB immediate family is not your niece or best mate.

2. Tenants will be able to keep a pet unless you have a valid reason, and you’ll have only 14 days to decline or it’s a deemed acceptance.

You can say no if it’s likely to cause more damage than the bond would cover. Or if the property doesn’t provide what’s “necessary to humanely accommodate the pet”, such as fencing or open space. You can decline if your body corp by-laws don’t allow pets, or if there’s a health and safety risk.

Landlords can put “reasonable” conditions on a pet approval, making reference to the type of pet and nature of the premises. For example, a pet normally living outdoors could be required to stay outdoors. Fumigation and professional carpet cleaning can be required.

Importantly pet damage won’t be considered fair wear and tear – any and all damage will be the tenants’ responsibility, but you can’t ask more rent or for a larger bond to manage that risk.

3. There’s new minimum standards for a property before it can be offered for rent, to be introduced from September 2023. To be fair, none of these so far raise major concerns for any reasonable landlord, although the devil will be in the detail and we’d expect the legislated list to grow.

The property must be weatherproof, structurally sound and “in good repair” (let’s see the arguments over that wording!). All windows and doors must have functioning locks or latches (unless you’d need a ladder to reach) and there must be curtains or other privacy coverings in all rooms where tenants are “reasonably likely to expect privacy”.

You must keep your investment property free of vermin, damp and mould, unless the tenant is responsible for it. And if you have a kitchen, it must have a cooktop.

4. Beware “retaliation“! If your tenants ask you to fix things, to reimburse them for emergency repairs or they make a claim to tribunal or a complaint about you to the RTA, be careful. If you then give them a breach notice, increase their rent or refuse to offer them a new lease you may be accused of acting in retaliation. The tenant can ask a tribunal to set aside your notice to leave, for example, forcing you to keep them  in your property indefinitely.

There is often a power imbalance in the rental market: a tenant is fighting for quiet enjoyment and a right to stay in their home – we believe they deserve recognition of this. But this section of the bill screams of potential for conflict where a tenant plays this to their (unfair) advantage.

Interestingly the government believes retaliation only occurs when a landlord seeks some kind of retribution against a tenant. There’s nothing in the bill protecting landlords from the reverse.

The summary? New Housing Minister Leeanne Enoch clearly does see some need for balance. She says, “At a time when more Queenslanders are renting, and renting for longer, we need to encourage market growth to help increase the number of rental properties in Queensland, while also protecting the rights of tenants.” This bill stops a long way short of the disaster that was the 2019 proposal.

But you just need to see the reactions of landlords in 2019 to know these new laws will still induce some investors to leave the market. Sell up their rental properties to invest in shares or other places with far fewer risks.

Because this legislation is a part of an ongoing erosion of landlords’ rights. Deputy Premier Steven Miles, writing in October 2020: “Stage 2 of our Roadmap will look at issues relating to lease terms, bonds and rents, entry practices and accountability.”

We can only wonder what more is yet to come…

The Bill is now open for public submissions before July 13th so click through to make your voice heard! And please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Like more detail on the draft legislation? Spend 15 minutes with our team discussing the key issues in this video: