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Housing - Rent Hikes


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Tags: Housing

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr GUTWEIN

Premier, a couple of weeks ago, you said you did not think rents were too high. The evidence, however, is that rents in Tasmania are soaring. According to SQM Research:

Hobart prices have gone up by 36 per cent, Launceston by 40 per cent and Burnie by 30 per cent in the past four years.

Last year, tenants had a brief reprieve from rent hikes under COVID-19 rental protections, but in the month since those protections expired, dozens of tenants facing massive rent hikes have contacted us. Here are just a few of those testimonies of financial distress:

Our rent just went up from $380 a week to $440. We have been forced to sign, as we would never get another place and I know it.

Another person:

The owner wants to raise the rent from $440 to $500 a week.

Another testimony:

My rent went from $600 a fortnight to $850 a fortnight.

Another one:

My rent went up. It is a bloody hit in the pocket and I have three months on my lease. I might become homeless. It is hard to live.

Premier, the Tenants' Union confirms its advice line is running hot. Are you prepared to walk back -

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Please stop, I do not want conversation across the Floor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you prepared to walk back your statement about rents not being too high? When Tasmanians fortunate enough to own a second property raised the alarm on land tax increases, you said your Government would act. What will your Government do to rein in rents for Tasmanian tenants?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for her question and her interest in this matter.

It is a statement of fact that our Government has provided one of the most generous assistance packages to the private rental markets for both landlords and tenants with the hardship caused over the past 12 months.

We have also put in place transitional arrangements, which the member is well aware of, that both landlords and tenants can apply to.

Furthermore, I again make the point that the Residential Tenancy Commissioner stands as a safety net, a backstop, for unreasonable rent increases.

As of 1 March, the Residential Tenancy Commissioner has received just five applications through that -

Ms O'Connor - Talk to the Tenants' Union.

Mr GUTWEIN - Just five applications. Well, I suggest to the Tenants' Union that rather than coming here and bleating about this, they actually take them to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner. I think that would be the sensible thing to do. The process is there.

At this point, there have been just five applications. If the Tenants' Union is fielding all these calls for unreasonable rent, I suggest they use the mechanism that is in place to assist them. Do you not think that would be a sensible thing to do?

Ms O'Connor - I think it would be sensible for you to listen more broadly to what is happening in the community.

Mr GUTWEIN - The point I am making to you, Leader of the Greens, is that there is a system, a process, available. At this point, only five applications for unreasonable rent increases have been made.

I make the point that of those five applications to date, one was found to be valid and reasonable, one was found to be invalid, and three remain under assessment.

I encourage the Tenants' Union - and I must admit I have had discussions with Mr Bartl over the period on this, and I found him reasonable to work with, but if there is a need to sit down with him and understand more fully what the Tenants' Union is facing or fielding at the moment, I am more than happy to do that. However, I make the point that through the established processes, which the Tenants' Union is aware of, we are not seeing an increase in applications.

Furthermore, we have provided transitional assistance throughout this period. I do not have the details here, but we have been working with a number of tenants and landlords in terms of providing additional assistance. I can certainly get that number. We are prepared to do that.

But again, in terms of the established processes and the Residential Tenancy Commissioner, we are not seeing a significant increase. In fact, hardly any increase at all.

Ms O'Connor - Do you think that is an accurate measure?

Mr GUTWEIN - The Residential Tenancy Commissioner is there to consider whether unreasonable rent increases are being requested. At this time, there is broadly the same number that was occurring last year to the same period this year. That is the evidence I have before us.

As I said, I am happy to meet with Mr Bartl and have a conversation about this. In the same way that we worked so very hard last year to ensure we could provide the confidence people need, I am more than happy to have that conversation with him again in terms of the circumstances he is facing.

But there is an established process. You are aware of it; Mr Bartl is aware of it. At the moment, access to that is broadly in line with where it was 12 months ago.