Landlords curbed in crackdown on tenant blacklists

A loophole allowing landlords to list tenants on ”bad tenant databases” for any reason is to be closed in the coming shake-up of home rental reforms which landlords say will do little to improve their position.

But the Tenants’ Union said the new laws, which come into effect on January 31, included ”commonsense” reforms which were ”a long time coming”.

The new laws would create a dispute resolution process which, for the first time, would enable tenants to get a tribunal order to remove their name from commercially run databases, the Tenants’ Union said.

In other changes, landlords would be required to offer all tenants at least one fee-free way of paying their rent.

Landlords and real estate agents would be under an obligation to disclose ”material facts” about the premises, including if a violent crime had occurred there within the past five years.

Bonds would be capped at a maximum of four weeks’ rent, and landlords must give longer notice periods for tenants to move out: 30 days if they wanted the tenants out at the end of their lease.

If the lease had expired, the ”no grounds” notice period would be increased from 60 days to 90 days.

”Generally it’s an improvement,” Chris Martin, of the Tenants’ Union, said. ”The changes don’t really recast the balance of power between landlords and tenants in a radical way; they really just fix some problems.”

Tenants would have more rights to make minor changes such as installing child safety locks on windows, connecting pay TV or adding picture hooks to walls; but they must get written permission from the landlord, who would not be able to ”unreasonably refuse” such requests. Disputes of this nature could be resolved by the tribunal.

The grounds on which a landlord could refuse a new co-tenant or sub-lessee would also be narrowed.

The reforms would cut red tape to make it easier for landlords to dispose of goods left behind by vacating tenants.

Landlords would gain the right to show premises to prospective tenants or buyers at least twice a week without the tenant’s consent if necessary.

Landlords worry the reforms remove their ”absolute control” over who lives in their property; and do not make it any easier to deal with non-paying tenants.

But the major problem with the new laws, landlords and agents’ groups said, was a lack of clarity in drafting which was likely to leave open a number of issues for the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal to resolve.

”It’s more of the same,” said Chris Young, from the Property Owners Association of NSW, which called the first draft of the reforms ”the biggest attack on landlords in the state’s history”.

”What we’ve got now is a mismatch of legislation that tries to bring in some new changes and modernisation, but the government seems to fail to really hear what industry is telling them.”

Tim McKibbin, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, said: ”There are a number of provisions in there which worry us. This is an area which desperately needs investment, and this particular piece of legislation has the potential to dissuade investment in the area.”

The Fair Trading Minister, Virginia Judge, said the laws fairly balanced the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants.

Story by Kelsey Munro,

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