By Joel Dignam, Executive Director
As 2018 draws to a close, it's worth reflecting on what we've achieved and what's changing around Australia to help renters have stable, affordable, liveable homes.
A lot has happened this year. So here's a reviewof what Better Renting has achieved, what has changed across Australia, and what is coming up in 2019.
Better Renting in 2018
Better Renting aims to improve renting in three ways: campaigning, community, and cultural change.
- Campaigning for fair rental laws that provide stable, affordable, and liveable homes.
- Growing communities of renters who are empowered to defend and extend their rights.
- Changing the narrative, so that our culture values and promotes renting.
In 2018, I'm proud to say we've made progress on all of these fronts, with outsized impact of Better Renting recently being recognised with the Community Sector Banking 'Little Feet, Big Footprint' award.
As a new start-up, our campaigning efforts have been focused in the ACT. I'm proud to say we've seen great results here. Early this year, we helped prevent 'commercial guarantees' from becoming legal in the ACT, helping to save renters money and protect vulnerable renters from the risk of debt. More recently, we've pushed the ACT government to introduce a bill to make it easier for renters to make their house a home - and we'll continue to push for the bill to end the indefensible practice of unfair evictions. And just last week, the government updated the bond loans scheme to make it easier for more renters to get a no-interest loan to cover their bond.
We've also used research and the media to elevate the issue of health and safety standards for rental properties, with reports on the prevalence of inefficient housing, and the burden it places on renters. Although we're yet to see the necessary scale of action on this in the ACT, the government is beginning to respond. And at a federal level, Better Renting has helped to prompt a bill to incentivise property investors to improve the energy efficiency of their properties.
A highlight of 2018 has been our 'Tenant Talks' project. This project has resulted in renters hosting events in their home and bringing together other people who rent to share their experiences of renting. I've been so moved to take part in some of these events, and to read the notes from others. It's been so motivating to read about the indignities that renters suffer, but also inspiring to see the hope that people have and the resilience in the face of adversity. It's critical that us renters begin to raise our expectations about what renting can offer, and 'Tenant Talks' is part of this.
It's also been great to see the growth of community online. Our 'Canberra Renters' Facebook group now has over a thousand members. While this group is a handy space for people to get questions and advice in relation to renting issues (Do I need to get the carpets steam cleaned? How long will a bond refund take?), what's most exciting to see is that more people feel more confident to stand up for their rights. There's a massive power imbalance between renters and landlords/agents, and often people who rent will capitulate just to avoid the stress and fear associated with a dispute. But if we can help more people stand up for themselves, then at least we can see existing laws applied more often.
When people talk about 'housing' in Australia, they are normally talking about homeownership. If they do talk about renting, it's almost always from the point of view of property investors. For example, whenever rents go up, it's described in terms of the benefits to landlords ("the rental market has strengthened") not the loss to renters ("housing costs have gone up").
Culture is the slowest thing to change. But one thing we've done as Better Renting is trying to get the voices and faces of people who rent into the media as much as possible. It's important that people realise both the size and the diversity of the renting population, and gain a better understanding of the issues facing them. So we're glad that in 2018 we've been able to help people who rent to have a platform to share their stories in the media: from James, to Melanie, to Kylie and others.
And of course, an honourable mention must go to our Facebook page. We continue to show that while people who rent may be locked out of homeownership, we apparently have a monopoly on droll wit.
Around Australia in 2018
But for now at least, Better Renting certainly isn't the only show in town. It's exciting to be part of a growing national movement that is making progress all over the country. For example:
- In Victoria, bold changes will make it easier for people who rent to have a pet, or to make their house a home. They've also limited unfair evictions and made many other positive changes.
- In New South Wales, changes are less bold and sadly they've decide that it's somehow ok for landlords to terminate a tenancy if someone asks for repairs too much. But they have made other good changes, and the ALP has pledged to end unfair evictions if elected.
- Queensland is a few steps behind but fast catching up: they've recently conclude a public consultation process into changing their rental laws. It's look like some big and long overdue changes could be on the cards.
- That's the big developments, but things are happening elsewhere too: an SA Greens MLC will introduce legislation to improve rights for renters (including pet ownership), and in WA renters will be able to modify their homes to make them safer.
In addition to these legal changes, there seems to be a growing level of activity by renters around Australia, and a growing level of media engagement with the issues facing us.
What's next in 2019?
So with a lot going on, what's coming up in 2019?
Early in the year, our focus will be getting an ambitious bill passed to improve conditions for people who rent in the ACT. We'll continue to make the case for health and safety standards for rental properties, in the ACT and elsewhere. And we plan to begin to work in other jurisdictions, especially on the issues of energy efficiency and pet ownership.
We expect that the Queensland will introduce rental legislation. We are invested in seeing a positive, ambitious outcome there, especially with regard to unfair evictions. And Victoria & Queensland will be developing regulations in regard to standards for rental properties. There's also an election coming up in Queensland, later in the year.
Overall, it's been a massive year. It's been a pleasure working to build Better Renting and to see all that we've been able to achieve this year. I'm indebted to all the renters who've become part of this community and contributed their time, their voices, or their money, to help make our work possible.
And beyond Better Renting, we've seen encouraging progress all over the country. There is still a long way to go. But, maybe, things are beginning to shift.
If you've read all the way through this post, you must be pretty committed! Could you donate to help fund our work in 2019?