A BROKEN toilet fixed with a paperclip, a cracked bathtub patched up with gaffer tape and renters forced to give up their pets after being told they could have them.
These were just a few of the issues raised at the renters’ rights forum at the City of Perth library on May 2.
“The unfortunate reality for so many people in our community is the Australian dream is dead and the prospect of a lifetime renting is a reality,” says Greens MLC Tim Clifford, who organised the forum.
“It’s not about bashing home owners, it’s about fixing an unbalanced and rigged system that negatively impacts so many people’s lives.”
Mr Clifford says he held the forum after reading troubling stories from some of the 754 people who responded to a rental health check survey he ran earlier this year:
“The toilet stopped working–we were told a plumber would come but the landlord fixed it with a paperclip,” one renter said.
That wasn’t the only bathroom problem: “the bath cracked and cut my foot. We thought the bath would be fixed/replaced but it was only taped up with gaffer tape.”
Another reported a broken oven door that was listed on an inspection maintenance request form for three years before it was replaced.
Others reported being told they could have pets, but once the lease was signed and they were about to move in, the request was turned down.
More than 50 per cent of renters in the survey said that they put up with maintenance problems because they were scared their lease might not be renewed if they complained.
Mr Clifford said, “The turnout to the event made us realise how much people care about this issue.
“We heard from people of all backgrounds and from all around Perth who brought their ideas and concerns to the conversation.
“We are even more committed to making sure that renters are given a fair go.
“We even had landlords along who, after hearing both sides of the story seemed to be able to see how they could implement the proposed changes to renting legislation.”
At the forum, Tenancy WA’s principal solicitor Kate Davis said renters were being refused requests to make even minor modifications.
She cited the 2015 case of the death of 22-month-old baby Reef Kite, who was killed when a chest of drawers tipped over on him. His mother had asked to the landlord previously if she could attach the bookcase to the wall. The request was turned down.
“We shouldn’t have to wait to get to a coronial inquest before improving renters rights,” she said. “Tenants should be able to make reasonable minor modifications.”
She said her organisation’s website showed a lot of renters were in need of help: they had 100,000 downloads of their fact sheets last year.
Tenancy WA also wants an end to a landlord’s right to terminate a lease without grounds, and they want minimum standards for the condition of properties that have to be met before they can be leased, which is also part of Greens WA policy. Tasmania brought in a minimum standards law in 2016 requiring properties be weatherproof and structurally sound, clean, in good repair and secure.
The Residential Tenancies Act WA is up for review by parliament later this year.
Mr Clifford says given the turnout; “I will be opening up my office in the coming weeks to offer people the opportunity to come and continue the conversation. I will also be running locally-based forums in suburbs in the East Metro to make sure everyone gets a chance to have their say about renting and how it can be made fairer for everyone.”
by DAVID BELL
What renters are saying
• 60 per cent of people believe they’ll never own their own home
• Almost half have needed assistance from a tenancy advocate service
• 90 per cent of renters have a lease of less than 12 months, but 80 per cent of them would prefer to have a longer lease
• Nearly half said they didn’t consider their rent affordable
• More than 30 per cent said they did not feel safe in their own home, but about the same number reported landlords turned down the requests for improved safety.
• More than half said their home is neither cool enough in summer or warm enough in winter