Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I very much welcome the opportunity to talk about the housing crisis as a matter of public importance debate today.
It was good to see Labor focus on housing in question time this morning and for the MPI debate. It is somewhat encouraging because, as Ms Standen knows, I have written on behalf of the Greens to the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of the House and independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie urging them to work with us to deliver some real relief for Tasmanian tenants.
So far I have had a response from Ms Ogilvie suggesting she is happy to work with us. I have had a response from the Speaker, the member for Clark, Ms Hickey, saying she will work with the Government more on increasing supply, but I think there is some space there. I have not had a response from the Labor Party. I just remind Labor that we are in a finely balanced parliament and it is possible for us to deliver some real relief for tenants if we work together, particularly given that at this stage we have a premier who does not believe rents are too high. We have a government that does not seem to want to provide long-term meaningful relief to tenants, one that refuses, for example, to move to regulate short-stay accommodation or to deliver a model like the Australian Capital Territory, which puts caps or restraints on unreasonable rent increases.
On 10 February this year, the day the Premier said he did not believe rents were too high, the Tenants' Union of Tasmania posted on its Facebook page:
Our advice line is extremely busy at the moment so if you have left a message please be patient, we will get to everyone eventually. Alternatively, if you are in Hobart you can drop in and see us in person from 9.30 to 12.30 today or tomorrow.
The Tenants' Union and the Greens have been hearing from many tenants who are in extreme distress. I do not think the Premier understands what housing insecurity does to people. It makes people afraid. They are stressed - when you are afraid of losing your home, you are not going to take a risk by taking on your landlord or elevating the matter to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner. That is the situation we are in right now. The Premier needs to educate himself about what is happening in the community, as tenants are being slugged with major rent increases that are unaffordable in many cases.
I will read now from some of the testimony we have received when we asked people, after the tenancy protections expired on 1 February, to get in touch with us and tell us if they have had a rent increase. The first one says:
I have rented this unit for close to six years. I have had regular inspections during this time. I have been told bluntly I am being kicked out. I do not feel I am receiving a fair go.
The real estate just gave us a notice that the owner wants to raise the rent from $440 to $500 a week.
That is an extra $120 a fortnight. I will continue:
The property manager said it was due to the raised value of the property in the current market but a house for rent literally a few houses down with the same bedrooms, new kitchen and two bathrooms, instead of our one, is rented at $450.
The third example.
I have been on the housing list for three years and renting at $390 a week so I can be close to my disabled son, and I am having a very hard time coping financially and mentally. I just have to wait. But how long?
I got your email about the rent going up. Well, my rent went up. It is a bloody hit in the pocket, I have three months on my lease. I might become homeless. It is hard to live. My health is not good, I have bad depression, and back pain.
I received a rental increase from an email from EIS Property. The ambiguous language they used was designed to intimidate. I had to read it five times because I thought it was saying they would be chasing me for arrears (cue heart palpitations).
It is so good to hear that you have our backs. As a tenant I often feel like I am a disposable resource here to be squeezed. The Tenants Union are an amazing resource but they can only do so much.
Anyway, I am probably one of the lucky ones, only a $10 a week increase this year (eye roll).
Both my wife and I are pensioners, myself being a disabled pensioner and my wife is my carer. We are just able to keep our rent each fortnight and with the pension payment we do not have much leftover after our bills are paid.
We had someone call the office to tell us their rent went from $285 a week to $420 a week and that their real estate agent was boasting about the increase.
Now the simple fact of the matter, as the Tenants' Union says, while the increases can be challenged through the Residential Tenancy Commissioner it is often very difficult.
He said it relied on proving the increase was not, 'by a reasonable amount'. Mr Bartl says that the Residential Tenancy Commissioner's view is that a reasonable amount is what the market is dictating. In a climate where supply is scarce and there is increased demand, it is driving the cost of renting properties up and up.
So Madam Deputy Speaker, the 'reasonable amount' test, as you would know, as a former housing minister is determined based on rents for similar properties in a nearby area. And in the Mercury newspaper, sorry The Examiner newspaper there is an example in southern Tasmania that involved an increase from $378 to $450 a week for a three-bedroom house.
In this place, in this rarified place where we are all privileged in one way or another, it is possible to lose touch. It is possible to lose sight of the people. And I would urge the Premier to get out more and talk to more tenants because they are suffering, they are stressed and they are frightened and they need leadership.