TU policy priorities
TU policy priorities
Just Renting - law reform for housing justice
Oh, we’re just renting.
Why should tenants feel that they have to put themselves down when they talk about their homes?
Part of the reason is our tenancy laws.
Our laws allow landlords to terminate tenancies without grounds: this is unfair and makes all tenants insecure.
Our laws allow excessive rent increases and other fees, and interference in tenants’ decisions about how to live their own lives.
Our laws don’t do enough to raise the standard of rental housing and make it safe.
And it’s even worse for people in marginal rental accommodation – some of the most vulnerable members of the community – who are excluded from our tenancy laws altogether.
The Tenants’ Union is for Just Renting – reformed tenancy laws that deliver greater justice in rental housing.
Governments have failed to properly finance social housing. In the 10 years from 1996, the Commonwealth Government stripped more than $3 billion from funding to social housing – almost $1 billion of that from social housing in New South Wales. Around Australia, social housing stocks have declined relative to the total housing stock – and in many states, stocks have declined absolutely.
Governments have also implemented rules for targeting social housing to the most needy households, and these rules have further undermined the viability of social housing. In New South Wales under the 'Reshaping Public Housing' reforms, social housing tenants on 'moderate incomes' face punishing rent increases and the termination of their tenancies. These reforms create a poverty trap for social housing tenants and further marginalise their neighbourhoods.
At the same time, social housing tenants are increasingly being treated differently at law. Public housing tenants may be required to sign 'Acceptable Behaviour Agreements', additional to their usual tenancy agreements, under threat of eviction.
The TU is opposed to legislation that places additional, unfair burdens on social housing tenants. We are opposed to using residential tenancy law to enforce draconian 'law and order' policies. We seek renewed investment by governments to make the social housing system – and social housing neighbourhoods – sustainable again.
Aboriginal community housing
Reforms to the regulation of NSW Aboriginal community housing will potentially have great impact on Aboriginal housing organisations and their tenants. The reforms are:
- the 'Build and Grow' strategy, which includes a new registration process and new, more stringent standards for Aboriginal housing providers funded by the Aboriginal Housing Office
- changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 that require local Aboriginal land councils to register their social housing operations with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) and require NSWALC approval for a wider range of land transactions.
The Tenants' Union, NSW Aboriginal Tenants Advice Network, Shelter NSW and NCOSS commissioned a report to investigate the effect of reforms and to assist Aboriginal housing organisations in their responses to them. Download the report (Word format) from the link below.
- Aboriginal community housing in NSW: Where to from here? A review of the impact of current reforms and future directions [Word format] – Report by 99 Consulting and Koori Habitat, February 2011
- Update on Aboriginal community housing [Word format] – Tenants' Union of NSW, May 2011
- Social Housing Discussion Paper 2015 [Word format] - Tenants' Union of NSW, March 2015
Action for Housing Affordability
The high cost of housing is a critical problem across Australia and especially in New South Wales.
It is a two-fold problem for tenants. Some tenants are frustrated purchasers who are priced out of the owner-occupier market. Many other tenants – particularly those in low-incomes – are stressed by the lack of affordable rental housing.
There are 220 000 low-income households in the private rental market in New South Wales. Of these households:
- 78 per centare in housing stress (paying more than 30 per cent of their income on rent);
- 43 per cent are in housing crisis (paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent).
 ‘Low-income households’ are in the lowest 40 per cent of all households by income.
Tenants' money - tenants' services
- Tenants don’t get enough of the benefit of the interest earned on their bonds.
- Increase funding to Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services, and increase interest payments to tenants individually.
Over $1 billion of tenants’ money is lodged as bonds at the NSW Rental Bond Board. This money generates tens of millions of dollars in interest each year: about $60 million in 2013-14. The NSW State Government decides how this money is spent.
Most of the money – more than two-thirds of the total – is paid to NSW State Government agencies, primarily the NSW Department of Finance and Services, and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
A small portion is used to fund the TAASs. Other smaller amounts go to other community services (such as financial counseling services, and the No-Interest Loans Scheme) and affordable housing programs.
A tiny amount is paid as interest to individual tenants when they claim their bonds at the end of their tenancies.
After these payments, the Rental Bond Interest Account retains a surplus. Accumulated surpluses now amount to more than $60 million.
Total funding to TAASs has not increased in real terms for over 12 years – despite the number of tenants growing by 25 per cent over that time.
This has left TAASs stretched thin. Increasingly, tenants are missing out on the services they need and deserve.
We call for funding to TAASs to be increased now by $5.2 million per annum. This would restore the real value of funding to the TAASs, and properly provide for an additional Aboriginal TAAS, duty advocates at the Tribunal, and support for older tenants and residential park residents. Going forward, funding for TAAS should grow in line with the number of tenants.
We also call for more of the interest to be returned to tenants individually. The interest rate should be tied to the Commonwealth Bank's Everyday Account rate for a deposit of $100 000 (currently 0.2 per cent per annum) rather than $1 000 (0.01 per cent – the lowest rate offered). This would return $2.9 million per annum to tenants individually (instead of $132 000 currently).
This is affordable – after paying its share, the interest account would ordinarily still be in surplus. And it’s fair: after all, it’s tenants’ money.
See information on the TU 2015 campaign More Bang for Your Bond.
 This grant is matched by a grant from the Property Services Statutory Interest Account, which holds interest generated by money in real estate agents’ trust accounts, including money paid by tenants. The Tribunal and other agencies receive grants from this account too.