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‘Irresponsible and careless’: REIACT slams tenancy law overhaul

By Zarah Torrazo
02 December 2022 | 13 minute read
act canberra aerial suburbs reb yrstoh

The Real Estate Institute of the ACT (REIACT) warned that the proposed changes to the state’s tenancy laws would bring forth “unintended consequences” for the region’s already struggling rental market. 

The state’s peak real estate body questioned the ACT government’s move to push forward with the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill 2022 by Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury on 30 November. 

REIACT criticised the first drafted bill of the proposed amendments — which includes a ban on no-cause evictions, rental bidding and changes to support a future introduction of minimum standards for rental properties — for failing to adopt any recommendations made by the institute during the first round of consultation launched on 27 July.  

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“The Real Estate Institute has lobbied, on behalf of its members, for fair and achievable outcomes within this legislation draft.

“It has warned the ACT government of these unintended consequences, (and the very people that are supposedly protecting) are going to be far worse off if the already critical rental market is further impacted by these changes,” REIACT stated. 

It further stated that “to mandate this magnitude of change to legislation, based on just over 700 respondents to a survey, which has a base of over 43,000 investors and 55,000 renters, is irresponsible and careless by the Attorney-General”. 

The institute argued that its concerns are “well justified” due to its research on the effects on the private rental markets in Victoria and New Zealand, where similar changes to rental tenancy laws were introduced. 

It cited that the Victorian government’s move to introduce minimum standards in March 2021 is now having an “actual effect on the private rental market”. 

While the Victorian government maintains that the rental reforms “strike a fair balance between helping tenants to have safe, secure and affordable housing, and benefiting rental providers with clear obligations and stronger accountability for tenants”,  REIACT pointed out that property experts in Victoria are now seeing landlords exiting the market due to the complex reporting requirements. 

In addition to the tedious reporting obligations driving rental owners away from the market, REIACT noted that rental providers are now finding it “too hard” to sustain their investment properties.

“This has been further compounded by the crippling backlogs now facing [the] Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), with delays of up to 22 weeks for a hearing related to tenancy disputes,” the institute stated. 

In New Zealand, where changes to the residential tenancy requirements for minimum standards were introduced in 2017, REIACT noted a significant reduction in available rental properties, with some jurisdictions seeing a 50 per cent drop. 

A similar trend of landlord exodus was also observed across the ditch in the wake of the rental law overhaul, with rental property owners reportedly divesting their investment properties due to the “onerous compliance requirements and sentiment that they have had their rights as owners slowly eroded with the implementation of each new legislation mandate”.

It also cited a recent survey by the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia, which revealed that 61 per cent of 7,000 investors would exit the state’s rental market if major changes to the region’s residential tenancy laws were adopted.

If this survey is indicative of investors nationally, REIACT estimates a similar mandate in the state would see over 26,000 investors leave the market.

And with the state’s rental market already at an extremely low vacancy rate of less than 1 per cent since March 2020, REIACT pointed out that the government’s move to introduce similar changes in the state will be at odds with the Chief Minister’s previous comments to the media that “he was eager to ensure the ACT maintained a vacancy rate of about 3 per cent”. 

REIACT also argued that while there have been commentaries of the amendments as a push for landlords to “move on with the times”, it surmised that the outcome would see tenants as “the biggest losers”. 

“Legislation put in place by these governments, to protect and ensure renters have a safe, secure and affordable place to live, has resulted in the reduction in the number rental properties available for rent and higher rents,” the institute stated. 

In addition to these grim precedents in other jurisdictions, ACT pointed out that there are now added complexities of cost-of-living pressures due to inflation, slow wage growth, interest rate increases, supply chain issues, rising construction costs, as well trade shortages of inspectors, installers and certifiers — all factors that will affect the implementation of the proposed changes for minimum standards.

“The ACT already has the unenviable crown of the most expensive city in which to rent in Australia. To risk further upward pressure on rents and reduction of rental stock availability, will inevitably only see not only our most vulnerable Canberrans but also many renters already experiencing rental stress, forced into homelessness,” REIACT stated.

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