Queensland Parliament to investors: What’s yours is ours

Improvements but still shirks the state’s duty

Queensland’s parliament last night passed laws which shift the onus for protecting tenants affected by COVID-19 from the government to investors.

Amongst other things the legislation, by way of regulation:

  1. Allows tenants who’ve been affected by COVID-19 to negotiate a lower rent, or rent deferral, with their landlord, if their income has dropped by 25% or if they are paying more than 30% of their income in rent.
  2. Subjects any dispute about rent to arbitration.
  3. Changes the grounds for giving notice to leave.
  4. Forbids rental companies to record any of these issues in their databases.

Australian Institute for Progress Executive Director Graham Young said that while the legislation was better than what was originally proposed it was still deficient.

“If there is a duty to look after tenants in rental distress it lies with the government, which has implemented measures which have in some cases caused the distress, to sort out the problem, not push it onto third parties who merely have a commercial relationship with the tenants.

“The state government can find $200 million for the rescue a 90% foreign-owned airline like Virgin, but is happy to throw Queensland investors under a bus.”

Mr Young said that rather than ending uncertainty, the legislation created more of it.

“Before this legislation both parties knew where they stood – the investor had a right to their rent and the tenant a responsibility to pay it. In the current crisis we know a lot of tenants and investors were being flexible in how they exercised their rights.

“Now those rights are subject to arbitration, which means that a tenant can refuse to pay rent, an investor will not be able to evict them, and at some stage in the indeterminate future, when resources allow, the RTA will eventually make a ruling.

“What principles and case law will these rulings be based on? They will be subjective based on the presumptions and perceptions of the arbitrator.”

Mr Young said that the situation was ripe for manipulation by the tenant, as the landlord could be tied-up without rent well-beyond the expiry date of the legislation.

“Every decrease in income will now be attributed to COVID-19. No one will lose their job for incompetence, or just because their contract has come to an end.

“The number of disputes is potentially phenomenal, and yet the current wait for mediations at the RTA, without this influx, is 6 weeks.

“How is the government going to deal with this shortage? People with the skills to properly mediate these matters don’t tend to be just lying around waiting for a call.

“The idea that “rich” landlords are exploiting their tenants is an old one, and it has been given life in these regulations. The reality is that everyday Queenslanders who’ve put a bit away for a rainy day are being asked to meet what can only be a community obligation out of their own pockets.”