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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (8 August) . . Page.. 2616 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

Fortunately the provisions of the RTA are a protection. But is it good management to impose rent increases that are clearly excessive and then wait until the stretched and resource limited Tribunal has made rulings in these cases? Is it good management to take up the minister's invitation to go directly to ACT Housing to see what might be re-evaluated?

What will be the further cost to the government of these increases being challenged? Is this a responsible use of public money? What about the stress and anxiety caused to the tenants involved, many of whom feel very vulnerable? I believe that this Assembly must urge the minister for housing to increase rentals on public housing in an appropriate manner. Sudden and dramatic increases of the sort we are currently seeing which cause hardship should not be imposed.

MS TUCKER (5.40): All of us are aware of the recent increases in market rent as assessed by ACT Housing. For some ACT Housing tenants there will be a large increase-"sudden or dramatic increases", in the words of the motion-in rents. It seems likely that some of these increases will meet the criteria for excessive rent, as judged by the Residential Tenancy Tribunal. That criteria, as set out in section 68 (2) (a) of the Residential Tenancies Act, states:

unless the tenant satisfies the Tribunal otherwise, a rental rate increase is not excessive if it is less than 20 per cent greater than any increase in the index number over the period since the last rental rate increase or since the beginning of the lease (whichever is later).

This motion gives us a chance to note the problem. As Mr Moore said in answer to a question from Mr Wood on this point, section 15 of the Housing Assistance Act states that the market rent shall be charged. Market rent is defined as that which would be charged by a willing landlord to a willing tenant at arm's length from each other. Further, the amount is to be reviewed annually.

The law governing public housing rents, in this case for tenants not eligible for a rental rebate, indicates that the appropriate rent is determined by the results of an annual market review, which presumably looks at what private landlords in the area are charging for similar properties. However, the question of what is fair and just is not governed only by the Housing Assistance Act. The Residential Tenancy Act sets limits for all landlords' rent increases, which can be checked by the Residential Tenancy Tribunal. However, the RTT can only review rent increases that have been proposed-that is, they can only make a ruling once a case is brought before them.

This is not an ideal situation for public housing tenants. There is quite some stress involved in hearing that your rent will increase, even if the increase keeps your rent within 25 per cent of your income. Control over one's budget and, hence, one's ability to participate in different activities, such as eating, is a pretty fundamental thing for one's peace of mind. Private landlords do not have a legislative method of changing their rent. They have free rein within the market constraints, except for the proviso of not setting an excessive increase. Most private landlords are aware of this standard, and so tenants can be reasonably sure that they will not have to face such an increase.

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