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Residential Tenancy Amendment (Minimum Window Coverings for Social Housing Properties) Bill 2023

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Wednesday, 6 September 2023

Tags: Tenant Rights, Social and Affordable Housing, Legislation

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Mr Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Minimum Window Coverings for Social Housing Properties) Bill 2023. I thank the member for Franklin for bringing this on.

It was a surprise to me and presumably other members that social housing providers are currently exempt from window covering requirements. As members will be aware, subsection (2) of section 36N of the Residential Tenancy Act provides for an exemption for social housing from the requirement that an owner must not enter into, extend or renew a residential tenancy unless curtains or blinds are fitted.

This bill, rather than strike out subsection (2), introduces an alternative provision that sets out a more limited requirement for social housing. Rather than applying to new, extended and renewed tenancies, it only applies to new tenancies. Furthermore, it provides that the curtains or blinds can be installed prior to agreement at the expense of the owner up to 10 business days after the tenancy commencement, and we note that there is an amendment now to amend this provision.

I thank the member and his staff for offering a briefing on this bill where an explanation was provided for this approach, which was essentially that it was designed to minimise the risk of these provisions being used counter to their intent to not renew or extend a lease. I believe this to be a sincere and well-intended approach; however the Greens are of the view that this level of caution is unwarranted. We note that the language in 36N is mirrored in the provisions in 36J, 36K, 36L, 36M and 36O, all of which apply to social housing as well. These provisions are currently in force and to our knowledge are not inappropriately used by social housing providers for de facto evictions.

I further note that the precedent set by the Parsons v Director of Housing case in 2018 set out that social housing tenants have to be provided with genuine reasons for their eviction and afforded an opportunity to remedy any breach. The Greens do not believe there is a legitimate risk of misuse of the provisions should subsection (2) be repealed in its entirety.

Furthermore, aside from not applying to extended or renewed tenancies, the proposed paragraphs (a) and (b) concern us - that is, the allowance for an owner by agreement to install curtains or blinds after the commencement of the tenancy. Under section 32 of the principal act, an owner is only required to repair or replace as per section 31A to a state the property was in on the day the residential tenancy agreement was entered into. These provisions would therefore allow social housing providers to get around their responsibility for maintaining these window coverings. We are also concerned that, due to the nature of social housing, there may be a sufficient number of long-term or non fixed term leases that may be left behind.

We certainly discussed moving some amendments that would rectify some of these situations but we now hear that the Government intends to move their amendments which we will support. For this reason we are going to be holding back on any amendments. We do not want to create a situation where the debate in Committee does not conclude today and the House has to wait until 1 November for the next opportunity to debate this, nor do we want to put the member in a situation where he has to use a second private members' allocation just to get through this bill. In our view that would be unjust.

We will support the Government's amendments. The six month lead time is not unreasonable and the replacement of the 10 days with 'as soon as practicable or not longer than 30 days' is also logical and reasonable. It is welcome that the Government and the members have come to this conclusion.

We note that this does not address any of our deeply held concerns. For record, the Greens would like to see the following amendments occur at some point and we reserve our right to talk to members in the upper House. We would like to see the inclusion of extended leases and renewed leases; provisions to ensure that window coverings installed after the commencement of the tenancy are taken to be installed on the commencement of the day of the tenancy for the purposes of section 32; and provisions that ensure that long-term leases for a period of greater than five years and non fixed term leases are also required to have window coverings fitted within a reasonable timeframe and these are also taken to be installed on the commencement of the day of tenancy for the purposes of section 32. Like I say, we will likely attempt to discuss this with one or more members of the Legislative Council for debate in that place and we may revisit this at a future time down here.

On a final note, while we support this bill and will not be voting against the Government's amendments, we do hold serious concerns. The bill is very limited in scope, being applicable to new leases only. We understand that public housing has a very slow turnover and occupancies can be very long. We could not find Tasmanian figures. In New South Wales five- to 10-year leases for public housing are the norm and in 2014 more than 50 per cent of tenants had a tenure of 10 years or more. We strongly believe that these concerns should be addressed in this bill, as once it passes there is a risk that in many people's minds they will feel it is job done and the next opportunity to make a change may be a long time away. In saying that, we will support the bill and the Government's amendments. It delivers demonstrable improvement to the status quo and makes a start on rectifying an important failing when it comes to social housing in this state.