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Rent Protections

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Tags: Housing, Tenant Rights

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, it is good to see my colleague, the member for Franklin, Ms Standen, has recovered from her confected outrage of Thursday night.

There is no question that in the community right now there are people living in private rental properties who have been comforted by the stay on rent increases and evictions that were enacted through this parliament as a result of a Greens amendment. However, there is increasing unease among residential tenants about the looming expiry of the protections that have been put in place by the Tasmanian Government on 30 September.

I have already spoken to one tenant who has heard from their landlord. The landlord would like a new lease signed on or shortly after 1 October and that the tenant can expect a rent increase.

We are still in the middle of an economic and social crisis. It is no exaggeration to describe the circumstances that Australia is in, and Tasmania, although as has been said in this place, we are in a relatively good space in dealing with the pandemic. However, in the community there are still an estimated 20 000 Tasmanians, the last time I checked the ABS data, who have been put out of work as a result of the pandemic. There are many thousands of people living in the private rental market who have lost work. They have either lost their jobs or they have had their hours cut. It is untenable that those protections would not be extended.

On 30 September, the JobSeeker and JobKeeper COVID-19 supplement is due to expire. As I said last week in this place, we are potentially heading towards a catastrophic misalignment of federal and state government policy in relation to people who have been hurt by the pandemic, and people who are living in private residential homes. The Premier and the Government will need to extend those residential tenancy protections as well as the commercial tenancy protections. I have here a letter from the proprietors of the Duke of Wellington Hotel, Doug and Katika at the Duke, who say -

We are writing to you about the commercial tenancy legislation in force during the financial hardship period set out in the COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Commercial Leases) Act 2020, due to end on 30 September 2020. We understand the parliament can extend the financial hardship period and ask that you support an extension.

This would be a sentiment that is shared by commercial tenants right across the island. We need to make sure that the protective measures that have been enabled through this parliament and put in place by the Government are extended.

The Greens wrote to the Premier and the Minister for Housing on the Friday before last, strongly urging that the order which placed the moratorium on rent increases and evictions be extended to 31 December this year. We now have a notice of motion on the books to that effect. I hope to receive a response from the Premier and the Minister for Human Services soon so we can share it with people who are getting in touch with us, who are stressed up to their back teeth about the looming lifting of those protections.

We need to send a signal to both tenants and landlords. It needs to be made very clear to landlords, whether they own residential or commercial properties, that these protections are going to have to be extended because we are still in an emergency period.

There has still been no significant uptick in our economic situation, although I note that some young people are getting a few more hours work. We are nowhere near where we were before the pandemic. As the Australian Council of Social Services tells us, the social and economic impact on young people, their employment prospects and a whole range of life prospects are unlikely to be recovered for another four to five years.

We need to acknowledge that the level of economic and social distress in our community is still high. Every step that governments and parliaments can take to wrap those protections around people, we must take.

While we are doing that we need to look at those other structural issues which were there before the pandemic and will be there after. We do need to regulate short stay accommodation. That issue is not going to get any less pressing in the long term. While we have seen some short stay properties enter the private rental market taking some pressure off the housing market, there are still many, many properties that are on short stay listings. This sector is largely unregulated in Tasmania. It needs regulation because we should always put housing for Tasmanians first. Always.

The largest structural challenge to make sure we have secure, affordable housing is the supply question. It is a matter of great regret that this Government waited too long before it started investing in substantially increasing the supply, particularly of social housing. As we heard at the housing inquiry we have an immediate shortage of around 11 000 affordable homes. The best stimulus measure the Government could take is to invest in homes for Tasmanians so that when we come out of this dark period, out into some sunlight, we will have delivered those homes. We will have made sure we are tapping into that skilled residential construction workforce. We will be providing that platform of stability and changing Tasmanians' lives for the better.