Last week at UQ we held the first of many public forums about renters rights.
We had a solid turnout (about 30 in total) of both local and international uni students, as well as other residents who weren’t connected to UQ but cared deeply about renters rights.
The discussion covered a range of topics including inadequate repairs and maintenance, landlords conducting surprise inspections without proper notice, and the tendency for real estate agents to give minimal notice before seeking to jack up the rent.
It was particularly interesting (but not surprising) to learn that a lot of the international students were paying as much as $150/week per bedroom more than what domestic renters would consider reasonable for the same standard of home. It seems obvious to me that new migrants who know less about Queensland tenancy law and have less access to information about average market rents are particularly prone to exploitation and rent-gouging by landlords and real estate agents.
Through small and large group conversations, we are beginning to crystalise a few key policy demands that seem to go to the core of the many varied issues that renters are concerned about. In particular, there’s a lot of support for some form of rent controls, and for rules against no-grounds evictions (i.e. landlords shouldn’t be able to end your lease if you don’t want to move out unless they’re moving into the home themselves, or are undertaking major renovations). I think we should be pushing for the rule against no-grounds evictions to extend to new owners, so that even if an investor sells a tenanted property, the lease should automatically continue unless the new owner wants to move in themselves or the tenants want to move out. I’m interested to know what other people think of this.
Rules against sharp rent increases and no-grounds evictions would help shift the power balance between tenants and landlords, giving renters more power to insist that landlords fulfil their existing legal obligations in terms of property maintenance etc.
In the immediate term, we have identified a couple of key tactics to put pressure on the political establishment and on landlords/real estate agents directly.
Resisting Evictions into Homelessness
Where we as a collective feel that a particular tenant is being forcibly evicted unfairly and has no safe home to move to, we will engage in civil disobedience to try to prevent such evictions. We need to address the tactical question of whether we will use direct action to resist evictions from privately owned dwellings or only evictions from government housing and community housing.
We also need further discussions about the best ways to organise such actions, because they are often required at very short notice. From time to time, we will need to mobilise activists quickly, and Facebook events/mass text messaging may not be the most efficient way to do this (although public facebook events with a large number of attendees do help manifest power and put pressure on the police).
Naming and Shaming Dodgy Real Estate Agents
Publicly outing the most exploitative real estate agents was widely agreed as an effective tactic, with the caveat that we need to be very certain that our public criticisms are legitimate and fair. It’s almost certain that some of the agents we shame publicly will sue for defamation. I’m happy to put my name to public statements naming dodgy estate agents as long as we’re confident that the criticisms of them are valid.
A suggested process is that when someone complains about a particular agent, we put the word out through various channels to see if other tenants have had similar bad experiences with that agent, then once we have enough stories about bad behaviour (e.g. at least five), we go public.
There’s a clear need for more info sessions and forums where people can learn what their basic rights as a tenant are and how best to get landlords to fulfil their responsibilities. One suggested format is that the first half of a 90-minute event could be a Q&A session with an expert who knows a lot about the Rental Tenancies Act, and the latter half of the group discussion could focus more on direct action and political advocacy. If anyone is keen to help organise one of these forums, it would be great to get together a pool of 5 to 10 volunteers who have the time and energy to put on forums in different neighbourhoods and in partnership with different community groups.
There’s a lot more to talk about, and I think as we all participate in more conversations about these issues through a range of formal and informal discussion spaces, we’ll gradually arrive at a shared understanding of strategic priorities and key policy demands.
Currently the Brisbane Renters Alliance Facebook Group serves as one of many spaces where such discussions can take place, but it could be cool to set up a slightly more secure online forum that’s also accessible to non-Facebook users if anyone has the energy and skills to do so.
Thoughts and feedback on all of the above are very welcome. Thanks to everyone who came along to the first discussion forum. Hopefully we’ll see a few more new faces at the next one.