Calls grow for a rent freeze, end to no-grounds evictions

February 28, 2023
Rentals are out of control as this selection of Sydney rentals shows. Graphic: Green Left

Secure housing has become a significant election issue as rents skyrocket and tenants can be thrown out of their homes at the whim of a landlord.

New South Wales is the only state where landlords can evict a tenant during an on-going lease, or at the end of a fixed-term one, without giving any reason.

A landlord can evict a tenant at the end of a fixed-term lease with 30 days' notice, or during a periodic (month-to-month agreement) with 90 days' notice, even if the tenant has paid rent on time, kept the property in good condition and the owner intends to continue renting the property.

The Greens' Newtown MP Jenny Leong moved last September to ban no-grounds evictions and give renters “much-needed security”, but the bill to amend the Residential Tenancies Act failed to receive support.

“Ending no-grounds evictions is a simple solution that would make a massive difference to renters who are too scared to negotiate rent increases or ask for repairs because they live in fear of being hit with an eviction notice,” Leong said. “The rental crisis isn't going to get better without urgent and immediate action from the government.”

NSW Labor voted with the Coalition to oppose the bill. Now, with an election around the corner, Labor has promised to tighten the rules.

Public housing campaigner Rachel Evans, who is running for the Socialist Alliance in the seat of Heffron in Sydney, said rents should be frozen for two years and “no-grounds” evictions banned.

“The rental crisis is placing people under a lot of stress,” she told Green Left. “There are reports of pensioners being told to leave their homes of 30 years. Young people are going without meals and getting a second job to be able to pay the rent.”

Evans criticised landlords for using the inflation spike to jack up rents. “Housing, whether rented or on mortgage, should be a right, not a privilege.

“Why didn’t Labor support the Greens’ bill? We need measures to halt the rent spiral, to allow renters breathing space. Forced evictions, which flow from the sheer greed of some landlords and property agencies, should be banned immediately.”

Almost two-thirds of low-income private renters are in rental stress — paying more than 30% of their income on rent each week, the Tenants’ Union of NSW (TUNSW) said on February 6. Research released last November estimated 221,500 households in NSW were either experiencing homelessness, in overcrowded homes, or in rental stress at the last census.

“A major part of the answer is to increase the construction of quality public housing, at moderate rents, for everyone,” Evans said.

“That’s why Socialist Alliance is calling for an emergency program to build 100,000 new public housing dwellings over the next five years in NSW. Proper housing at a reasonable price should be a right, not a privilege.”

Rentals for Sydney houses jumped by 12.1% and units by 18.6% —  their steepest annual growth in the December quarter. The Domain reported rentals had increased by a median of 20% in The Rocks, Kellyville, Point Piper and Mascot. A “landlords’ market” was its summary.

The February 22 Sydney Morning Herald reported that housing costs for renters (about one-third of the overall population) were already at near-record highs before the Reserve Bank of Australia started lifting interest rates last year.

It quoted economists forecasting an 11.5% rise in rents this year — after a 10% jump last year. Renters were paying record prices even before the RBA started lifting rates.

“A $10 billion increase in the rent bill of households is equivalent to an average 20 per cent increase in housing costs. These households will likely be required to pull back on spending to meet the higher rental costs. If this occurs, nominal household consumption could be up to 1 per cent lower in 2023 alone,” the economists noted.

Leo Patterson Ross, TUNSW spokesperson, told City Hub that rents need to be capped to ease the pressure on renters. “Even if it’s only short term, stepping in and addressing the price, at least as a short-term response, would make the most difference.

“Rent caps, both during a tenancy but also between tenancies, is definitely something that we should be talking about as a serious policy proposal,” Ross said.

Highlighting the severity of the problem, the ABC reported a Sydney real estate agent advising landlords wanting to capitalise on the “once-in-a-decade” rental crisis that they can kick out long-term tenants to raise rent.

Ray White Bondi sent a note to its clients saying it is reasonable for landlords to “maximise this opportunity”. It laid out three options, the first and “aggressive” option being to evict a long-term tenant, tidy up the property and re-let it at a higher rate.

The email further suggested a “proactive” approach would be to raise rents by 5-10%, while the “passive” option would be to leave the rate as it is.

Jemima Mowbray from the TUNSW said while this approach is legal in NSW, it was unethical.

“This kind of message, or this kind of framing, from an agent really makes renters worried or anxious about their tenancy.” Mowbray said it reflected a housing market that valued property for profit, not as homes.

While there is little data on the number of no-grounds evictions in NSW, Mowbray said calls to the Tenants’ Union from people facing eviction for no reason had risen amid soaring rent prices.

She said there was little tenants could do, and the threat of no-grounds evictions made other renters fearful of requesting repairs or challenging unreasonable rent rises.

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