Your house, My home – rethinking renting in WA

Laws that cover renting of homes in Western Australia are being fully reviewed for the first time in more than a decade and Consumer Protection wants to hear from tenants, landlords and professionals who manage rental properties.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard said a lot has changed since the last full review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 and he is encouraging the community to get involved and have a say, so lasting improvements can be made for both tenants and landlords.

“Compared to over 10 years ago, many more tenants are not in a position to own a property and would like a guaranteed lease for a place they can call home. We’ll be looking at striking the balance between long-term investment returns for landlords and the stability tenants want and need in today’s marketplace.

“Ideas for change that are up for discussion include the possibility of a minimum duration for fixed term tenancies, such as two years, or even making all tenancies periodic, rolling leases,” he said.

“As a tenant should I be allowed to hang a family portrait on the wall, have my pet live with me or plant a veggie patch in the garden? And should a landlord have to declare certain information at the start of a tenancy, such as intent to sell within the next 12 months or asbestos or meth residue that’s present? These are the sorts of things we want people to provide feedback on.”

The Commissioner said an attitude shift may be needed when it comes to how we view investment properties, and the maintenance of those assets while they’re occupied by tenants who are paying rent and expect an appropriate quality home. 

“We hear of landlords who don’t want to spend money repairing or upgrading properties and tenants who are afraid to report problems – including toilets that don’t flush, lack of hot water or cooktops not working – for fear of eviction.

“On the flipside there are horror stories about rental homes being trashed and that raises the question should Consumer Protection have powers to step into the shoes of landlords and prosecute tenants for an offence of wilful damage? 

“Thankfully stories of bad tenants and bad landlords are the exception to the norm.”

The review will consider whether there should be a registration scheme for landlords and an option of Consumer Protection acting as a mediator between owners and tenants, with the Commissioner able to make rulings on tenancy disputes. The idea is to make the tenancy dispute resolution process quicker and easier for all parties, with the benefit of freeing up the Courts’ time to deal with other more serious matters.

The Commissioner added that there may be scope to create more tenancy opportunities for landlords and tenants alike by looking at the regulation of boarding, lodging and room-by-room rentals.

“Owners wanting to make some extra money might like to rent out a room in their home but these sorts of arrangements are not currently captured by WA tenancy laws. Bringing them under the umbrella of the Residential Tenancies Act could make it a viable option for more people, including seniors. Meanwhile for renters on lower incomes, this could be a cheaper accommodation option.”

In summary, a discussion paper released on 20 December 2019 covers these key issues:

·         security of tenure (guaranteeing tenants can stay and make a house their home) ;

·         reasons for ending a tenancy / doing away with “no grounds” terminations; 

·         disclosure of important information before a tenancy begins;

·         minimum standards for rental properties;

·         liability for damage – fair wear and tear versus negligence;

·         maximum bond amounts, payment of rent and other fees or charges;

·         the right to keep pets and make minor modifications; and 

·         regulation of boarding, lodging and room-by-room rental arrangements.

The Commissioner reassured interested parties the consultation will be not be rushed.

“We know Christmas can be busy but for anyone who is time-poor over the holiday season, you’ll have the first four months of 2020 to make a submission before the consultation closes on 1 May.

“As well as the online submission process there will be various other options available for those who want to share their thoughts, such as social media polls and face-to-face sessions, including a stall in the Murray Street Mall on 15 January 2020 and similar regional presences.”

The discussion paper is on the Consumer Protection website via Alternatively, call 1300 30 40 54 to ask for a copy if you don’t have access to the internet.