Landlords protest renters’ rights to pets as new laws delayed by NT Government coronavirus response


Posted

April 22, 2020 19:02:52

Thousands of landlords and investors have signed a petition against new laws giving tenants the right to keep pets in Northern Territory rentals.

Key points:

  • The laws allow tenants to keep pets unless a landlord successfully challenges the plans at a tribunal
  • Property owners say the rules are unfair to landlords and will stifle investment
  • The NT Government has delayed the laws’ implementation while it focusses on COVID-19 measures

Laws passed by NT Parliament in February allow tenants to keep pets in residential tenancies as long as they give written notice to landlords, who can object.

Objections by landlords must be lodged within 14 days with the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which would decide whether the tenant’s plans were reasonable.

The Real Estate Institute of the Northern Territory (REINT) and the Country Liberals opposition have campaigned against the changes, arguing they are unfair to landlords and will kill residential property investment.

Last week, the NT Government said it was delaying the commencement of the changes in order to focus on its coronavirus response.

But on Wednesday, REINT chief executive Quentin Kilian said he had 8,385 signatures on a Change.org petition calling for the new laws to be scrapped completely.

“This legislation took that right away from the landlords to make the decision over the property that they’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into and took away their control over what happens to their property,” he said.

“When we started [the petition] off I had quite a number of angry phone calls from investors.”

“They are willing to take their properties out of the marketplace and not be landlords, not come here and invest, if they have legislation that stops them doing what they need to do with their properties.”

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the Government had not shown that the existing system of negotiations between tenants and landlords was not working.

“These changes infringe on the property rights of Territorians, including mum and dad investors, who have worked hard to purchase an investment property,” Ms Finocchiaro said.

She called on the Government to axe the provision when Parliament reconvenes on Friday to pass emergency changes to residential tenancy laws, which the Government still has not detailed.

Pets ‘not the priority’, Gunner says

The Government has defended its pets policy as a way to help tenants find housing and improve wellbeing.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said Labor was sticking with the changes but said coronavirus had put implementation “on the backburner”.

He said public servants working on implementation of the pets policy had been reassigned to work on the changes needed to deliver pandemic-related rent relief.

“They don’t have time to do the pets and dog issues, so for me, it’s about getting this right, looking after those tenants in hardship and that’s the priority,” he said.

The landlords’ petition was delivered the same day several NT housing, welfare and legal groups released an open letter calling on the NT Government to announce an eviction moratorium for tenants impacted by the pandemic.

Labor has not committed to a local implementation of the moratorium announced last month by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying it was instead looking at enforcing longer negotiating periods.

The open letter, from organisations like NT Shelter and the Northern Territory Council of Social Services, said anything short of a six-month moratorium for tenants in financial hardship would be a “broken promise” following the commitment in National Cabinet.

“We are fortunate that — so far — we have not had any community transmission of COVID-19 in the Northern Territory but this is no reason for being the only state or territory that does not put in place a moratorium on evictions,” the signatories said.

“This is needed for economic reasons, which are hitting people hard right now.”

The groups said “reasonableness measures” should be introduced along with a moratorium to ensure landlords were treated fairly.

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