21 July 2023
Submission to the ‘Annual Rent Increase Frequency’ Review
It is entirely unsurprising that the amendments to the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 passed in April 2023 are leading to perverse and damaging outcomes for renters in Queensland. These consequences - tenants being evicted, people being forced onto 6-month leases, and tenants being asked to provide fraudulent tenancy agreements - are precisely what myself and Michael Berkman MP, the Member for Maiwar, warned would happen. When we raised these concerns, the Deputy Premier accused us of “grandstanding”.
Following my letter to the Minister for Housing dated 1 June, I would like to further highlight a number of experiences that Queensland renters have shared with me, regarding the consequences of Labor’s recent rent reforms.
As you know, there are a number of serious consequences that have emerged as a result of these amendments. Every week, my office receives a number of stories of people in extreme stress who are on the brink of homelessness. We are writing more letters of support than ever in an effort to help renters secure a home - including pensioners, people living with disabilities, and young families.
A property manager recently reached out to me, citing malpractice in their sector. This person is a direct witness to the misconduct and bullying that landlords and property managers are exerting, with the full backing of the Queensland Government. The person said:
“I am currently employed full time as a Property Manager and have seen first hand how greedy and heartless some landlords are being. They are taking advantage of tenants knowing that they don’t really have any other option than to accept the increase or risk becoming homeless; they are increasing rent excessively. Recently the Palaszczuk Government passed legislation to limit rent increases to once a year to give a fairer go to Queensland renters. However, by doing this, they have now created another issue as some landlords are requesting that the rent be increased by excessive amounts. I strongly believe there needs to be additional legislation put in place which caps how much the rent can be increased by.”
In another example, a young renter informed my office that his landlord had taken his name off the lease, and replaced his name with his partner’s to make it appear as though a new set of tenants were in the property. The landlord then increased the rent by $100 a week, after having also increased the rent 6 months earlier. Simultaneously, the landlords illegally posted photographs of his personal belongings to advertise an open house which he had not consented to. At every turn, renters are disempowered by the system your Government props up every day.
In another example, a young mother recently called my office to share her story. She had been applying for homes three times a week every week since November 2022 for herself, her partner and their baby. Even though they had the finances for the bond, the competition for each rental was simply overwhelming; they found themselves competing with hundreds of other applicants. This couple and their baby had been couch surfing with friends and family until May when they suddenly exhausted all options and faced immediate homelessness. At the last minute, they were able to organise temporary accommodation once again - but their housing situation remains precarious.
I also refer to the case I detailed in my letter dated 1 June, where a Property Manager wrote to a tenant with the following:
“...unfortunately, the owner’s mortgage repayments will be increased by $1000 per month from July and under the new rent cap legislation - the owner is unable to increase the rent again within 12 months period, moreover, the current rent is well under market value, the average rent now is $550-$580 for one bedroom unfurnished apartment. Given the big jump in the owner’s mortgage repayments and inability to increase the rent until next year. The owner has no choice but not to renew the current lease.”
Fortunately, this tenant was able to get a better outcome due to her direct negotiation with the property owner. But few people (especially marginalised and vulnerable people) are able to negotiate a better outcome, and it should not fall to self advocacy to ensure housing security.
In another local situation, a tenant wrote to me saying:
“My building manager is refusing to sign a 1 year lease for me to lock in my current rental price. She is only doing 6 month leases to be able to get away with increasing my rent. She is increasing my rent by $100 a week at the end of my 6 month lease. I am filled with dread and anxiety about having to move from a place I have called home for 3 years. I will be effectively displaced from my suburb, my support networks, clinics I use etc….These laws are sickening and they are getting away with taking advantage of vulnerable people”.
These examples are examples of a state-wide systemic problem. The Queensland Government is well aware of the consequences of these rushed rent reforms. The Government now needs to urgently act to protect Queensland renters with the following measures:
- A rent freeze: Implement a two-year, statewide freeze on rent increases;
- A rent cap: Introduce a long-term cap on rent increases of 2% every two years attached to the property and not tenants;
- Limits attached to the property: Attach any limits to the frequency of rent increases, and the quantity of rent increases, to the property, not the tenants, to remove any incentive to evict tenants;
- A rental database: Ensure any limits to rental increase frequency or amount cannot be managed solely via tenants exercising their rights via QCAT. The government needs to establish a rental database, managed by the RTA, to record rental amounts drawn from tenancy agreements lodged with the RTA. Both tenants, and the RTA, should then be able to take landlords to QCAT for any breaches to rental increases;
In addition, the Government should also implement the following measures:
- A levy on empty homes
- Implement a 5% levy on the value of any residential property that has been vacant for six months in a year, to incentivise investors to bring homes back into the rental market.
- Limits on Airbnbs and short-term accommodation
- Limit the use of residential properties for short term lets to 60 days annually.
- Short term lets would be levied as part of an empty homes levy.
- Inclusionary zoning
- Require developers to transfer 25% of new dwellings to the Department of Housing for public housing. The public housing stock must be of equal character and quality to the rest of the development.
- Directly build tens of thousands of new public homes
- Establish a Queensland Housing Trust that will finance the construction of 100,000 public homes over the next four years and 250,000 homes over 10 years, with a long term target of 20% of all housing stock as public housing.
Queensland renters are at breaking point - and it is within your power to help. I call upon the Queensland Government to take bold and decisive action to meet this crisis with a response to address its seriousness.
Member for South Brisbane