Page 528 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 23 March 2022

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The median price for a rental property in Canberra is $651. This is an astronomical figure. What does paying $651 a week mean? It means losing a significant chunk of your pay cheque to rent. It means more financial stress as the cost of living rises. It also means saving up enough money for a first home loan is becoming increasingly an unattainable goal. Canberra’s tiny rental market does not just cause soaring prices; it also makes the process of securing a rental property incredibly competitive and stressful.

According to SQM Research, the January 2022 vacancy rate for the ACT was 0.7 per cent. Anyone who has looked for a rental property in the past 12 months can tell you about the queues and crowds lining up at open inspections—crowds of up to 60 people all hoping that this is the place they can secure to bring an end to the search. As the number of available places shrinks, the number of renters going to open inspections and searching for a home for weeks or even months, increases. Canberra’s market is leaving prospective renters feeling desperate and powerless. Some renters are making offers to pay rent well above the asking price or even offering to pay rent months in advance.

While recent reforms by the ACT government have made it illegal for real estate agents to solicit higher bids, there is nothing stopping renters from choosing to make higher offers. People should not feel that their only way to secure a home is to offer more on top of an already expensive rate. Unfortunately, the rental market is so tight that prospective renters who can afford to pay that extra $20, $30 or $100 more a week, are inclined to do it. This only makes it harder for renters to secure a property without rent bidding.

It is clear that the situation for renters in Canberra is far from ideal. As a government, we need to be doing all that we can to improve the rights of tenants. Raising the minimum standards for rental homes, capping rent increases and strengthening tenants’ right to have a pet are significant and necessary steps that we have taken to make renting fairer in the ACT. I believe that making landlords provide a reference written by previous tenants is another way we can empower tenants.

We must take further steps to address the power imbalance between landlords and tenants, and that is why I have brought forward this motion today. There is an inherent power imbalance between landlords and renters. In a city where demand outstrips supply, landlords have plenty of tenants to choose from, while tenants are left with few options. This results in many tenants being forced to accept sub-standard living conditions. I have heard from many tenants who have reported very questionable behaviour from their landlords—surprise visits, entering the home without the tenant’s permission, refusing to deal with mould or other serious maintenance issues. This culture of landlords acting without consequence needs to change.

Real estate agents and landlords also have total control over the rental application process. Tenants are expected to hand over their proof of income records, housing history, employment history, personal references, maybe even employer references—the list goes on. All of this information is handed over to a landlord who does not do anything in exchange. I think this is deeply unfair. Why should we expect tenants to

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