The system to sort out disputes must be fair, timely and well-resourced. The current system relies on renters with endless time and energy to invest in sorting out problems, despite the inherent power imbalance between renter and landlord. When we do stick up for ourselves, we risk damaging our relationship with our landlord, our chance of finding another rental and our own wellbeing. We need better mediation services and tenancy advocacy services, a Tenancy Tribunal that enforces the law, and proper regulation of property managers and landlords.
Our plan to fix meaningful enforcement
- Change the Tenancy Tribunal to an investigative model focused on establishing the facts of the case and resolving the dispute. Fund the Tribunal to operate in this way.
- Anonymise tenants in the Tribunal rulings so renters are not deterred from standing up for their rights.
- Review mediation services and expand their availability to allow tenants and landlords to access a comprehensive dispute resolution service without needing to apply to the Tribunal.
- Allow renters to appoint advocates to represent them in mediation and at the Tribunal.
- Fund renter-led advocacy services throughout the country.
- Require private landlords to register alongside the bond lodgement process.
- Require all property managers be licensed. Establish a professional regulatory body that creates a code of ethics, coordinates professional development and sets minimum standards for the industry such as non-discriminatory application processes. The body should be governed by representatives of property management companies, renters and the public.
- Empower the professional body to sanction or delicense property managers who breach established standards.
- Create a register of all rental properties to track compliance with quality standards and to capture key information about the private rental sector including capacity, accessibility indicators and turnover.
- Increase the possible sanctions for landlords who breach the law. Empower the Tribunal to give fines large enough to serve as a real deterrent, and to disqualify landlords who repeatedly or wilfully act unlawfully.
- Empower the Tribunal to re-assign the management of a property where a landlord is disqualified and the Tenancy Tribunal deems it appropriate for the resolution of the case, such as to execute outstanding work orders.
- Enforce quality standards through local authorities (see point 5 in Safe and healthy homes).
A note on funding enforcement
The existing enforcement system is funded almost entirely by renters from the interest earned annually on lodged bonds ($20.6 million in the 2016/17 financial year). It is reasonable to expect that renters get from this investment a fair and responsive enforcement system.
In addition, MBIE currently holds several million dollars of abandoned bonds that are ultimately returned to the Crown (currently $9.8 million). It is unacceptable that abandoned bonds, which are renters’ money, are not reinvested in services that would benefit renters. They should be invested in providing renters’ advocacy services to address the inherent power imbalance between tenants and landlords.
The licensing of property managers and registration of landlords should be self- funding, via fees charged as part of their registration.