Laws  stacked  against  renters

RENTERS’ rights in WA remain flimsy despite home ownership increasingly out of reach. Many tenants are reluctant to complain about glaring maintenance issues worried rents will be hiked up or they’ll be given a bad reference.

With the WA Residential Tenancy Act up for review this year, WA Greens housing spokesperson Tim Clifford recently held a survey with 700 respondents to find out the major issues around renting.

Concerned with what he heard he’s hosting a public forum on May 2: “With a third of Western Australians renting their home, and increasing numbers of people unlikely to ever own…it’s time to put a spotlight on the fairness of current laws,” he says.

• Greens MLC Tim Clifford with Inglewood renter Gemma, at WA Parliament House where the residential tenancy act will be reviewed this year.

Renters’ rights minimal

“Stories have been shared with us by older people who seek home security but due to the high cost of housing compared to wages, will never own a home,”

“Renting is the norm in other parts of the world, yet in those countries laws provide lease security and fairness for renters, whereas here renters’ rights are relatively minimal.

“Long-term leases in WA are rare and at the end of a six or 12-month lease, a renter can be made to leave without a landlord giving a reason.

“This places strong disincentive on renters to raise maintenance or seek permission to hang a picture or plant a flowerbed, because landlords could perceive this as a nuisance.”

Maylands renter Brendan Abrams has lived in rentals in the eastern states and Japan, and reckons WA is one of the toughest places for tenants.

Long term stability is hard to come by, making it hard to plan for simple things like having a pet (his daughters would love a dog) but even if the current landlord agreed there’s no guarantee the next one will.

There’s a stigma associated with renting in WA, the 43-year-old white collar worker says: “That you’re young or a no-hoper.”

But with home ownership increasingly out of reach: “[It’s] professional people like myself renting these days,” he adds.

The situation for renters was even worse during the boom period, when landlords offered three month releases, then put the property up for a ‘rental auction’ to whoever could pay more.

Mr Abrams says people worry that if they make a fuss their rent might get bumped up.

Gemma, a 31-year-old Inglewood-based renter, has had some bad experiences with landlords not maintaining their properties: “One in particular stood out… we didn’t have hot water for three weeks.”

The real estate agent was reluctant to spend the landlord’s money on a professional. Instead he’d come over unannounced (not allowed under the current act) and unsuccessfully tinker with it himself.

She and her housemates were reluctant to complain, because when they moved they’d need a reference, and didn’t want to be seen as troublesome tenants: “You have no power. You’re a second class citizen,” Gemma says.

The forum is on 6pm to 8pm Wednesday May 2 at the Perth Library Auditorium, 573 Hay Street, it’s free but RSVP Tim.Clifford@mp.wa.gov.au or call 9274 8484. 

Also speaking are Kate Davis, principal solicitor Tenancy WA and Greens WA senator Jordon John-Steele.

Note: when this reporter was renting a rundown flat in Cottesloe, we asked for curtains because people could see our nudity through the bare windows. The landlord said no, then increased the rent $30 a week.

by DAVID BELL

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