Under Queensland law, landlords and real estate agencies are required to maintain homes to a reasonable standard, carrying out repairs in a timely manner. They’re also required to provide advance written notice before inspecting a home or bringing potential buyers around. Good landlords give tenants plenty of warning (i.e. at least six months) before ending a lease or increasing the rent, and should be open to negotiating rent decreases as market conditions change.
In practice though, many landlords and agents don’t always meet their basic legal responsibilities – some are outright bullies, threatening tenants and abusing their power.
There are a couple of official mechanisms and processes for tenants to make complaints and pressure landlords to not be jerks, but in general the system is pretty weak and skewed in landlords’ favour. A lot of tenants don’t have the skills or time to navigate these processes, particularly when many real estate agents know a lot more about how to use the system to their advantage. It’s possible to intimidate tenants, continually violate their privacy and keep them living in fear of homelessness while still technically complying with the law.
Renters who do stand up for themselves often experience retribution by landlords and agents. They might find that their lease isn’t renewed or their rent is jacked up. Without knowing it, they could be placed on a tenant blacklist. Even after you move out, a former landlord or agent can make your life extremely difficult by giving bad references to other owners who are thinking of renting to you. The potential for revenge evictions mean existing mechanisms for tenants to make complaints are not sufficient.
Now before the high priests of the property industry start threatening me with eternal damnation: Yes, I know there are bad tenants too. Not all landlords are bad people, and not all tenants are angels. But tenants don’t have the power to make their landlords homeless. And despite the ‘nightmare tenant’ stories that sometimes circulate at parties and BBQs, the overwhelming majority of the 580 000 rental households in Queensland pay their rent on time and keep their homes in good order.
Right now, we have a system that encourages conflict – tenants lack long-term stability and security, which means they have less incentive to look after their rental property. Landlords don’t trust their tenants, and so have more incentive to invade renters’ privacy and scrutinise them aggressively. This needs to change.
From what our office has seen, it is quite common for some agents to take revenge by not renewing a lease when tenants make reasonable and legitimate complaints. Renters know this, and so choose not to speak out even when their landlord is bullying them or clearly breaking the law.
This is why I’m going to start naming and shaming some landlords and real estate agents. I’m using my position as an elected representative to amplify the voices of tenants who are too scared to speak out publicly themselves, to warn other renters that they should avoid certain owners and agents.
Obviously I’ll take the time to verify complaints, and will reach out to agents privately before going public. I won’t shame a real estate agency simply on the basis of one or two complaints. I will be measured in my criticisms, refraining from hyperbole, and I will remain mindful of the fact that the low-ranking property managers who work for real estate agencies and get caught in the middle are themselves often over-worked and underpaid.
But if a certain landlord or real estate agency demonstrates a consistent pattern of disrespect and exploitation towards multiple rental households, I will use my mailing list of 9000 Brisbane residents and my substantial social media platform to hold them to account.
My intention here is not to start a war between tenants and landlords, but to ensure that agents who bully tenants and give the whole sector a bad name are called out. We should be working towards a system where renters have greater stability in their tenancies, which will in turn give them greater incentive to look after and respect the homes they live in.
Stronger renters’ rights also benefit neighbouring homeowners. When tenants have longer leases and don’t have to move house every six or twelve months, they are able to form lasting community connections, getting to know their neighbours and joining local community groups and projects.
I am calling out bad landlords because I believe a better world is possible, and that renters shouldn’t tolerate being treated as second-class citizens. I hope that by doing this, I will prompt further discussion and debate about the need for broader improvements to renters’ rights in Australia, and pressure the Queensland Government to lift its game on this issue.
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