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Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 23 June 2016.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 16:42 ): I rise to speak to the Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016. I indicate to the chamber that I am speaking on behalf of my Liberal colleagues and that the Liberal Party will be supporting the second reading of the bill. This bill amends the Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Act 1995. In 2013 a range of reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act was introduced and passed by this chamber and, ultimately, the parliament as a whole.

These reforms had been developed over a number of years and addressed a wide range of legislative changes that were required to facilitate the real estate sector. Those reforms all commenced on 9 May 2015. The government has indicated that some of the provisions in the amended act have caused the practitioners in the real estate industry a degree of uncertainty and confusion around their practical application. The bill before the chamber is of a technical nature and it has been drafted in response to the request of the real estate industry.

The bill seeks to address their concerns by amending the small number of provisions that, it has been decided by the government, require clarification. The aim of the bill therefore is to provide greater clarity and comfort to the industry when it is dealing with the operation of the act on a practical day-to-day basis.

The 2013 act removed what was called the tenant consent provisions to ensure that landlords provide a minimum period of notice to a tenant before they attended at the premises. The purpose of this was to provide greater protections to tenants by ensuring that landlords could not intimidate them into granting access. This might occur, for example, if a landlord attended unexpectedly at a property and the tenant, despite what their rights are, feels obliged or pressured into granting access. Consequently, the act was amended to ensure a landlord provides at least 48 hours’ notice for non‑urgent maintenance and repairs and a minimum of seven days’ notice for garden maintenance. The act does not, however, specify that a landlord is permitted to attend before the notice period, even if a tenant requests their attendance.

The government submits, in relation to the bill, that the new provisions have resulted in some difficulties for the real estate industry. For example, if a tenant makes a request for a landlord to fix a non-urgent maintenance problem at the property, there is no legislative provision specifically permitting the landlord to attend the premises. As a result, some landlords have been reluctant to attend to a tenant’s request of this nature for fear of breaching the law. The bill seeks to address this anomaly by permitting landlords to attend prior to giving the required notice period, in the event the tenant has requested it. The act was previously amended to prohibit a landlord from showing the property to respective tenants prior to 28 days preceding termination of a tenancy.

The industry has indicated that this has also caused problems if a tenant breaks a lease and the termination day becomes contingent on the landlord finding another tenant. The bill seeks to resolve this by specifying that landlords are permitted to attend the premises prior to the 28 days preceding termination of the tenancy, if requested by the tenant. Other amendments include arrangements for termination of tenancy when a property is to be under contract for sale and arrangements for recovery of abandoned property when a tenant is vacating. All the changes contained in this bill seek to address certain anomalies that have been identified by the real estate industry.

The bill also seeks to retain continued protections to tenants, given that was a central focus or tenet of the 2013 amendments. It achieves this by specifying that landlords can only attend premises in these situations at the tenant’s request, rather than with their permission. It is anticipated by the government that this threshold will prevent situations where landlords attend properties without the tenant’s invitation. At a government briefing, the government indicated that the bill had the support of the following organisations: Real Estate Institute of South Australia, Landlords’ Association (SA), Homelessness & Tenancy Support Services—AnglicareSA and SYC—and the Tenants’ Information and Advisory Service.

I note that a minor amendment has been filed by the minister, and so I would ask that in the summing up of his second reading he sets out the effect of that amendment. I also inquire whether the government relied on any specific data regarding the situations which the real estate industry asserts have occurred; for example, the number of complaints by tenants against landlords or disputes between tenants and landlords. Also, how the government determined whether these amendments have proved effective; for example, will it be measured by a reduction in complaints regarding the tenant’s objections? Who will be tasked with oversight of the effectiveness of these amendments; in other words, who will be monitoring the effect of these amendments, going forward? I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. K.L. Vincent.

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