The Minister for Building and Construction, Elise Archer, is continuing to sing the government’s praises of its management of residential tenancies in her article in the Mercury of 2 November (Talking Point: We're backing Tasmanian tenants and landlords).
Here we see the Minister relying heavily on Tasmania being the first state or territory to “legislate protections for residential property owners and tenants” and that Tasmania’s financial support for tenants are the “most generous of any state or territory” as the key performance indicators warranting this gloating.
This self-given praise needs to be unpacked as it is simply not deserved. Being first out of the blocks with faulty legislation is nothing to be proud of – it is the fairness of the race and the result at the finish line that really matters. The Minister makes no mention on her own report card that Tasmania’s ‘no evictions’ legislation is so incredibly broad and unconditional that has been abused with ease and that everyday people are still owed thousands as a result.
There is no explainer behind the statement that the government’s rent payment programs are generous because they had to be to try and calm the damage that their lazy legislation has caused. Tasmania’s legislation is so loose that the purse strings also had to be loosened. Taxpayers are paying the rent for tenants who have abused the protection. That does not sit well. The uptake of the misleadingly named ‘Landlords Support Scheme’ demonstrates this. This scheme was an afterthought that came about when the government eventually realised that a small but highly damaging percentage of tenants who abused the legislation also simultaneously stopped communicating or cooperating with owners so the tenants program was of no value.
The Minister also states that the legislation has protected property owners. Our definition of protection must differ as we have only seen fair and very reasonable rights and protections stripped away from landlords. Landlords have been forced to provide their product without payment. In any other setting that is theft. Try doing that at the supermarket. Landlords have had their properties damaged, exacerbated by the removal of the ability to undertake inspections. And now landlords will be forced into repayment plans made by the Residential Tenancy Commissioner – the equivalent of pinkie-swear-promise – which will add months to their wait to recoup costs through the court process that the Premier explicitly stated would be available back in March. Landlords have not been protected and to say so shows absolutely no understanding of the impact that the government’s grossly unfair interventions have had on landlords.
Most concerning of all is the advice the Minister gives rental property owners about risk. “Purchasing an investment property will always have a level of risk” she states. Firstly, rental property owners will not be taking advice from the government on risk management. Where was the government’s risk management plan that mapped out how housing and tenancies would be managed in an event such as this? There clearly was not one. This is a key question I asked back in April that is still awaiting reply. Was the government’s risk management lens broken when they enacted legislation that had a very real and foreseeable risk of being abused? Landlords are very well informed of the risks they take on as part of striving for financial independence and to avoid reliance on government handouts. These risks were previously managed effectively through insurances, legal agreements, and a legislative framework. The government created a new and unforeseeable risk when it exclusively targeted landlords as the only seller that did not need to be paid.
Staying on risk, the Minister does not need to be concerned. Landlords are most certainly considering their risk appetite and the decisions they make in this space will, sadly, ultimately be detrimental to tenants. And it will cost the government more. Fewer rental properties, higher rents, more demand on social housing and more pensions to be paid out will be just a few of the consequences of landlord’s new vigour for risk management.