Calls to reform Tasmania's tenancy law to standardise lease agreements

Seeking home: Michelle Robertson has been applying for rental properties in Launceston since February and has had no success. Picture: Phillip Biggs
Seeking home: Michelle Robertson has been applying for rental properties in Launceston since February and has had no success. Picture: Phillip Biggs

A renewed push to standardise rental applications and leases is being championed by Tasmania’s peak community organisations.

In a letter sent to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner dated April 4, the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Council of Social Services and Shelter Tasmania call for the state government to reform tenancy legislation.

The call comes four years after the introduction of minimum standards in the Residential Tenancy Act.

“We believe the time has come to reconvene a consultative roundtable about the introduction of standard forms, particularly lease agreements and application forms,” the letter says.

“Given that every state and territory bar the Northern Territory and Tasmania have standard lease agreements we believe this can and should be done.”

Real Estate Institute of Tasmania chief executive Mark Berry said the REIT would be willing to join a round table discussion of standardising lease agreements to protect the interests of both property owners and tenants.

He said about 90 per cent of real estate agents in Tasmania already use the REIT's standardised lease agreements, but agencies that are part of a national franchise may be required to use their own application forms.

“Tenants need to be supported, there's absolutely no doubt about that, as the REIT will support our members,” he said.

Mr Berry said from an industry perspective his primary concern with standard leases would be if the “bar were set too low”, preventing landlords from gaining a clear awareness of their prospective tenants.

“If there was a happy medium set in the middle that is suitable for all organisations, the REIT would be happy to be engaged in the conversation, but we wouldn't be advocating for a minimalist approach,” Mr Berry said.

Shelter Tasmania executive officer Pattie Chugg said she welcomed the REIT's willingness to join discussions around the issue.

“Shelter would advocate very much that there is an advisory group to look at those leases that includes representatives from the REIT, the Tenants’ Union, [and Shelter Tas],” she said.

“It's always best to bring all the stakeholders together and come up with a consensus around what is a good lease.

“Part of tenancy law reform is always trying to make a system fairer.”

Part of tenancy law reform is always trying to make a system fairer.

Shelter Tas executive officer Pattie Chugg

The National Rental Affordability Index, released this week, showed housing stress remained high in Tasmania, despite having lower rents compared to other states.

Anglicare's recent Rental Affordability Snapshot also showed that only 2 per cent of Tasmanian rental properties were suitable for single-parent households.

Launceston resident Michelle Robertson has been applying for rental properties since February for herself and her son.

She is seeking to move out of community housing, and said the variances in rental application requirements could be time-consuming, costly, and stressful.

Ms Robertson said having her bond provided by Anglicare has meant some agencies refused her application.

She has to regularly request a free credit report from credit check company Veda, which is posted within 10 days and expires within 30. It costs $69 for a report to be provided instantly.

“It is so hard to find a place,” she said.

“I have muscular dystrophy so I can't have a place with stairs or very steep [areas].

“It makes things very difficult.

“[But] I understand we're dealing with peoples’ investments, and they want to get the best person.”

Tenants’ Union solicitor Ben Bartl said the union was concerned by the number of reports of “intrusive” requirements for applications.

Mr Bartl cited requirements that tenants provide a criminal history check or a list of financial commitments as examples that standardising lease forms could prevent.

Ms Robertson said she has “lost count” of the number of properties she has applied for in the competitive market.

“Give us a fair crack,” she said.

“I know it's not easy for them, or for us, it's just the way it is, but not all of us are bad, not all of us have got bad references.”

Building and Construction Minister Guy Barnett said the state government was committed to ensuring the rights and obligations of both tenants and property owners were upheld.

“Allegations of residential lease arrangements not complying with the Act have recently been made to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner,” he said.

“The Government, through the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, is investigating these allegations further.

“We won't be making any changes that have the effect of reducing the number of properties available for private rental.”

Opposition housing spokesman Josh Willie said it was important “to ensure that there is a balance between protecting tenants and landlords”.

“Because there is pressure on the private rental market it’s a prudent time to look at lease agreements,” he said.

“The majority of other states and territories have standard residential lease agreements.

“There is merit in a standard lease agreement.”

Humans services spokeswoman Cassy O’Connor said the Greens support standardised lease and application forms.

“Instead of being disadvantaged, standardised forms and leases mean those who are in desperate need of housing, and looking everywhere, would be treated equally and able to maximize their chances of finding a home,” she said.

“It’s been four years since then-Greens Minister Nick McKim introduced the first standardized conditions for rentals.

“It’s time for a review, particularly considering the difficulty a growing number of Tasmanians are having in finding a rental property.”

Anglicare Tasmania social action manager Meg Webb said making affordable housing available and equal was “the single most effective thing” to improve health, education, employment and early childhood development in Tasmania. 

“Very large numbers of Tasmanians will receive government assistance with affordable housing in some way, shape or form, and no one should be discriminated against on the basis of that assistance,” she said.