Legislative Council: Tuesday, November 28, 2023



Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 16 November 2023.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:45): I rise to place several remarks on the record in relation to this piece of legislation. First of all, I would like to acknowledge all the individuals and organisations who have contacted us, whether they be individual renters, landlords or organisations, which includes the Anti-Poverty Network, and some advocacy organisations, such as the Property Council, the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, and the Landlords' Association of South Australia.

I also thank the minister and her office for providing a briefing and some other details on the bill, although I note the comments of some of my colleagues in relation to a previous piece of legislation that they were invited at the round tables to sit on the kids' tables. I think it might have been the Hon. Frank Pangallo and the Hon. Robert Simms. I want to note that the Liberal Party was not invited to that, and we also were not provided with a previous draft of the bill. I had to get that from it falling off the back of a truck, so to speak.

This bill I think can be broadly characterised as an attempt to respond to a market issue to which the only answer is more supply in the housing market. Housing has become a scarce resource and that is why prices are going up and rental markets have also tightened to levels not seen in most of our lifetimes. While there are a lot of very good provisions in this bill, I am concerned that this bill ultimately is actually only going to serve to worsen the crisis because the only answer to this matter is supply and, in the middle of a housing crisis, we need all hands on deck.

South Australia needs more homes, more investment and more capital and the largest source of capital is in the private sector. If the private sector flees the market, there is not going to be anywhere near enough money in the government to fix the housing crisis. That is why—not directly in relation to this bill—the Liberal Party and others have been so critical of the government jumping into the West End site, trying to be the knight in shining armour on a white horse. The solutions of this government are all about this pondering Premier handwaving with his hi-vis and hard hat on.

Labor is so desperate at a state and federal level to be seen to be the fixers that they have had to paint themselves into the centre of everything, rather than leaving it to those who have more experience and can do it faster and more efficiently. I feel for renters who are facing increased rental prices and for those who are trying to find a property in this current market. I have spoken to many people who have experienced homelessness or are at risk of homelessness and are stressed, particularly those with children. This includes Gabby, who has successfully rented for many years, but when her landlord was selling the house privately, she could find no alternative, so she had to present to the homelessness system and live with her daughter in the hotel system for eight months before being provided a property by a community housing provider.

As I said, there are good elements in this bill, including some greater protections for tenants, such as the retaliatory provisions, moving more tenancies to being longer term, energy efficiencies, enabling modifications for people with disability, domestic and family violence provisions—and I will have some questions at that section, particularly in relation to where the perpetrator is not on the lease, which is something that we raised in the briefing, and what the likely outcomes will be under these provisions—changes to rooming house rules and subletting. But some of the other changes and elements in this bill will not ease the market; they are actually going to make the situation worse.

The majority of rental homes are owned by mum-and-dad investors. Some manage them themselves, others use property managers. A number of the mum-and-dad types have recent migrant backgrounds—not so recent, actually; post World War II—like my parents. This group of people did not have access to superannuation until it came into effect in the 1980s, and women particularly did not end up with large superannuation balances.

This group of people particularly prefer bricks and mortar to paper investments, and for many their rental homes have been their retirement funds, their nest egg, and they have spent decades paying a mortgage and maintaining their properties. Younger investors, too, have had to stick their necks out to borrow from banks substantial amounts of money, and they may be facing substantial interest bills at the moment due to interest rate hikes.

There are some people who think that all landlords are out to get their tenants and make life as difficult as possible for them. There may be no changing those opinions, but I do believe that is a simplistic, one-sided and convenient way to point the finger rather than finding more lasting solutions—the solution being supply, supply, supply. As in any situation, there are good landlords and good tenants, and bad tenants and bad landlords. Any sensible landlords try to keep their good tenants.

This bill amends the Residential Tenancies Act, the Residential Parks Act and the Real Property Act, and follows on from a previous bill relating to protection of tenants and rent bidding, which the party supported at that stage. This bill is far more substantive and follows on from a range of issues which were raised in a government discussion paper released late in 2022.

A consultation draft was circulated in August—not to us, I might add—and some minor changes have been made to that version. We were told that in the negotiation phase this government had made up its mind about several clauses several months ago and was not to negotiate post that. I note that on 1 November the government announced the final version of the bill at a press conference with the Greens, which has guaranteed them passage.

We will have an amendment, a regular amendment that often appears in many pieces of legislation, which is a review clause for three years. There are other amendments that we would have been interested in but we see where the numbers are. I will speak about some of the potential amendments, areas which I think do need to be reviewed at some point.

The key cause of concern for a lot of landlords is the changes to what has been heretofore an end of the contract. For anyone who has done any degree of law—and I confess I have only ever done one set of study through a degree—contract law is quite clear. The current tenancy laws have protections for both tenants, as consumers, and landlords, who are the property owners. Essentially, it is based on a fairly simple law of contract, which people sign, it comes to the end of a tenancy and then the two parties determine whether they will continue or not.

I do not agree with the premise that the current laws are no-cause evictions. The end of a tenancy is the end of a contract, and I note that the Real Estate Institute, through one of its submissions, highlighted this. Their advice regarding the final piece of legislation is that the prescribed grounds specified in the bill align with what they had sought so they are now comfortable with the bill.

However, I do reiterate that the conditions for ending tenancies is a significant diversion from the current situation. It will result in more documentation requirements for landlords and agents. Given that SACAT's role in determining fairness and reasonableness, disputes, determining compensation, awarding costs and the like will increase significantly, this too will add to the existing delays through the SACAT process.

We did ask the question in the briefing as to whether SACAT was going to be provided with additional resources and were quite surprised to learn that it will not. So for those who have had the experience where they found SACAT processes not timely, that situation will only worsen.

Turning to 'requiring a prescribed ground to terminate or not renew a tenancy': there are a number of these, some of which already exist where the tenants and landlords can actually end an agreement due to a breach of contract, which fits within, as I mentioned, those fairly straightforward understandings of contract law. However, there are a range of other elements which will be added to the grounds, and I note that there will be some others which will be also added through regulation. These will include:

whether a tenant or visitor recklessly causes serious damage to property;

the tenant or a visitor puts neighbours, landlords, agents, contractors or employees in danger;

the premises are unfit for human habitation, destroyed or destroyed to the extent that they are not safe;

a tenant or anyone else living at the property threatens or intimidates;

a tenant has failed to comply with a SACAT compliance order, has been given two breach notices and the same breach occurs;

the property is being used for illegal purposes;

other tenants or subtenants have been brought in without consent;

the bond has not been paid;

the tenant misleads a government housing authority or a social housing authority so that they can become a tenant through the income and asset limits and the like;

if there is illegal drug activity at the property from the tenant;

if the tenant keeps a pet without consent and SACAT has made an order to exclude the pet; and

if they have engaged in false, misleading or deceptive conduct in concealing material facts.

There are also some changes to notice periods regarding ending tenancies, which my colleague in the other place, Josh Teague, the member for Heysen, spoke about in detail. I am sure honourable members will be pleased to know that I will not be speaking anywhere near as long as my learned colleague the member for Heysen.

An honourable member: No-one can.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Vickie Chapman can, of blessed living memory. As I said, the passage of this bill will result in more documentation requirements for landlords and property managers, which will particularly have an impact on that 70 per cent of mum-and-dad investors. My belief is that this legislation will, quite clearly, lead to landlords exiting from the market, which is only going to tighten the market. That is the principal reason for the Liberal Party being unable to support the bill, albeit that there are a range of things which are very helpful in it.

In relation to the keeping of pets, the Liberal Party acknowledges that Australians love their pets. I think most members in this chamber have pets—I certainly do. I have always had pets. I have had pets as a tenant and I have pets at the moment. We certainly know that one of the trends is towards more single-person households, which is actually a factor fuelling the current housing crisis as there are more houses that have spare rooms as the number of couples and families get smaller.

Pets are very important for wellbeing, so we have certainly been in the space of trying to ensure that people in rentals, or in whichever situations, can look after their pets. We are also very well aware that pets can be targeted by perpetrators of domestic violence and that sometimes it is a disincentive for someone to flee a situation because they are fearful that their pet will be harmed.

Our alternative to the current framework that is being put forward by the government and the Greens is that we have advocated for a pet bond. My understanding is that it exists in other jurisdictions and enables that potential risk from a pet to be covered by a bond, because the advice that we have received is that pets have traditionally been responsible for more damage in properties than humans.

Our understanding also from talking to people in the industry is that there are many landlords and property managers who already favourably consider requests to allow pets in those properties, even though it may appear on some of these searches that have been done that places do not allow people to keep pets.

We certainly do support the provisions for domestic violence victims; for provisions to allow tenants to make alterations if they have a disability; for subletting changes that are in the legislation that will clarify the rules for both parties, whether they be tenants or landlords; for energy efficiency measures which will be grandfathered in as appliances or things are replaced in a property and are sensible and there is a lot more available in the market in any case; and amendments to the rooming house and residential parks legislation; and some of the other clarifying clauses that have been altered in the Residential Tenancies Act.

So there are a number of things that are positive. I think I have probably spoken clearly to articulate our position about the concerns that we have that this piece of legislation is going to drive out people who are currently renting properties and potentially also Airbnb, which will not be captured by the residential tenancies laws.

I think it does highlight why we should actually have a review clause because if, as I predict, the rental market continues to tighten, I think it would be incumbent upon this state parliament to conduct a review as early as practicable, but certainly in three years' time so that these laws can be revisited to provide for a more robust market. With those comments, I indicate that I am the lead speaker and look forward to the committee stage.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:02): I rise to address two crucial aspects of proposed legislation impacting our housing landscape. The government's Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill seeks to reform rental laws, altering the conversation between tenants and landlords. In my contribution, I wish to express both support and concern regarding this piece of legislation, as my colleague the Hon. Michelle Lensink has already outlined.

Firstly, let us acknowledge the importance of fairness and balance in our rental laws. But, as we navigate through these changes, we must consider the perspectives of both tenants and landlords, recognising the challenges faced by each.

Property investment holds particular significance to many South Australian families. My colleagues in the other place have already put on the record that many of their constituents, where a significant portion of the population comprises individuals who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, see property investment as an important part of generational succession planning and future proofing for their family's financial safety net.

Many of these hardworking Australians have chosen to invest in real estate, shaping their retirement around these decisions. This bill, in its quest for balance, must take into account the aspirations and challenges faced by both renters and property owners, particularly those owners who have invested their hard-earned money in South Australian property.

The Liberal Party has been approached with specific concerns since the introduction of this bill, particularly by retirees who find themselves navigating a changing landscape of rental laws, rates and taxes as self-made small investors, largely with one or two properties. It is evident that these individuals who invested in properties for various reasons, including retirement planning, are grappling with the potential impacts of these proposed reforms.

These are not the big end of town. These are mums and dads, the grandmas and the grandpas, and they are simply trying to secure their families' future. They are simply thinking ahead to after they have passed on. As we seek to understand and be informed by the views of our constituents, we have gathered—and certainly I have gathered—feedback through a variety of methods and in particular emails.

Whilst we have seen the tick-and-flick mass email campaign regarding rental rights—and that has indeed been substantial—the number of personally written individual stories received in my office inbox and that of my colleagues is just as important to voice. It is this very feedback that has played a crucial role in shaping our approach to this bill in the Legislative Council. We sought feedback on termination and non-renewal of tenancy agreements, and we have sought feedback on notice periods, on pet policy, on inspection frequency, on subletting and on rental increases.

Housing choices impact the lives of everyone in our community. It is essential to consider the broader implications of these proposed changes, and the balance we seek in rental laws must contribute to a housing landscape that is fair for both tenants and property owners. The goal must not be merely to legislate for the sake of change but to ensure that the changes contribute positively to the wellbeing of our community. On that note, I am certain that we all here can agree.

However, I must express my reservations about the potential unintended consequences of some of the provisions in this bill. As I mentioned earlier, the Hon. Michelle Lensink has outlined a number of those. While addressing issues like termination notices and rent increases, we must be cautious not to create additional challenges for landlords, particularly those who have invested in real estate for long-term financial stability.

Furthermore, the legislation's impact on the supply of rental properties is a matter of concern. The proposed changes, while addressing certain aspects of the tenant-landlord relationship, do not contribute to the construction of additional rental properties. In fact, there is a risk that these reforms could make it more challenging for landlords to manage their asset sufficiently.

In conclusion, as we move forward in the consideration of this bill we do have a number of questions during the committee stage. It is imperative that we strike a balance that genuinely addresses the housing crisis and also, critically, promotes fairness for all parties involved. The legislation must not only respond to the immediate concerns but also contribute to the long-term wellbeing of our housing market. I look forward to further deliberations and the opportunity for my colleague the Hon. Michelle Lensink to bring forth our case in committee.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (16:08): Along with my colleagues I also have concerns in a few areas of this bill, specifically looking at the conditions for ending tenancies. I think that we need to ensure that landlords are able to protect their rights, that they are able to protect their property and that they are able to continue to provide housing to those who are in the rental market.

My concerns with some of the elements of these changes is that they could be the straw that breaks the camel's back during a rental crisis and housing crisis in general—that you have people who are looking for housing and wanting to buy but then you have landlords on the other side facing a lot more regulation and challenges there. Some of the specific changes that concern me are around the notice period increasing to 60 days, where a tenant only has to give seven days' notice. This could potentially be another blow for landlords.

When it comes to home ownership, this is often referred to the Australian dream, and I hope this long continues to be so. I think it is important that landlords have the opportunity to continue renting to those whom they choose to rent to, rather than having to be forced into continuing tenancies long after they have completed, in the event that a landlord wants to change a tenant, whether that be for a family member or a friend to move in. I have questions around the conditions for ending tenancies. This is an area that I think could have unintended consequences. As the Hon. Michelle Lensink mentioned, this is a contract—a contract that has an end date.

I do not disagree that potentially there should be the opportunity for longer-term leases, where individuals who want to continue renting for the long term are able to make those arrangements, but they should be agreed to by both parties. I am not supportive of taking choice away from landlords.

When it comes down to it, we are in a housing crisis, and my concerns are that some of the elements of these changes may have unintended consequences, requiring landlords to sell their properties as they are facing higher interest rates, less flexibility and potentially more paperwork and areas that they have to address. Already SACAT has a very high workload, and some of the changes that are proposed in this bill I think would increase that substantially.

Pets are an important area. I think it is very important for families and individuals to have the opportunity to have pets, but there is no doubt that pets do cause more damage. Potentially having a bond, or something like that, I think would be very important. Again, it should be the landlord's choice to approve this. Also, there are strata requirements and apartments—there are lots of areas where it is not appropriate to have pets in place. I think there needs to be more consideration in this space as well.

We do not want to see investment driven away. We want to see opportunities for the housing crisis to improve. We want to make sure that tenants have the opportunity to have housing and that landlords do not choose to go onto short-term leases or a holiday lease rather than renting out for longer-term periods. We want to see opportunities for making sure that there is continued supply and opportunities within the housing market to ensure that investment is not driven away and we do not decrease the number of investment properties that are rented out across our community.

The Hon. S.L. GAME (16:12): Commencing on 1 September 2023, the state government progressed priority measures to provide immediate relief for tenants through the Residential Tenancies (Limit of Amount of Bond) Amendment Regulations 2023. The bond threshold was raised to $800 to ensure that, for most rental properties in South Australia, only a four-week bond is required. More affordable bonds are estimated to have saved tenants up to $1.3 million in up-front bond payments during the first month. Other priority measures included a ban on rent bidding and reducing the amount of information that can be asked for in rental application forms, as well as protecting tenant data.

The Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023 is the next round of proposed measures, and it goes too far. These measures have the Greens' fingerprints all over them, and they can be described as an attack on landlords. As is the nature of the idealistic Greens, they always build their bridges too far, sucking the incentives of private enterprise dry.

Landlords will be required to provide tenants with a prescribed reason to end a periodic tenancy agreement or to not renew a fixed term agreement. Why should landlords be forced to give a reason for termination, and why should only tenants have the right to end a tenancy with no reason? It costs a landlord to terminate because they need to re-advertise, prepare the property for reletting and take the time to find and vet another tenant.

Regarding the prescribed reason, namely, to abuse or threaten the landlord or their family, property manager/agent or neighbour, this will further inflame already strained relationships and lead to more SACAT hearings. A system more onerous on landlords will push some out of the market, and the proposed changes will not resolve the rental crisis but will simply make it easier for undesirable tenants to remain in a landlord's property.

Landlords currently have the right to say yes or no to pets, which is reasonable, given that they own the property. Under proposed changes landlords will have to accept pets, unless they can justify to SACAT that they cannot. Currently, the fee to apply for a SACAT hearing is $85—this is another expense for the landlord simply unrecognised by the Greens, who are more inclined to find ways of distributing other people's money.

A landlord needs to protect themselves from losses. We know from experience that bonds rarely cover the losses felt by landlords. Why should a landlord be forced to take on the added risk of damage caused by pets? A reasonable reform has already been made; it is not the time to start discouraging landlords who are investing in the rental market that is in crisis. How will the government accommodate renters currently in the private market if these proposed reforms force landlords out of the industry? I will support landlords and I oppose this bill.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:15): I rise to speak in favour of the Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023, and I speak proudly in favour of this legislation. This is transformative legislation. It is something that will help South Australians who are struggling in the middle of the worst rental crisis we have seen in generations, the worst housing crisis we have seen in generations.

If the Greens' fingerprints are all over it, I am proud of that, because this bill actually achieves many of the things that we in the Greens have been campaigning on for many years. Of course, it does not go as far as we would like. We would like to have seen action on rent prices in terms of rent capping, an issue I have campaigned on over many years. However, this bill makes some really important changes that will change the lives of many South Australians for the better. I will speak to some of these features of the bill in a moment.

Before doing so I put on the public record my thanks to Minister Andrea Michaels for the collegial way in which she has worked with the Greens in approaching this. In particular, I acknowledge her leadership and that of the government in taking on this important reform piece, because it has been long overdue, so I thank her for that.

I also acknowledge the work of her adviser, Chad Buchanan, with whom we have worked closely, and my own adviser, Melanie Selwood, who has played a key role in negotiations with the government, and Commissioner Dino Soulio, who worked on the government's review process. I acknowledge their work and the work of the community sector, all the groups that have been campaigning on these things for years. They should be proud of their efforts today, because finally we are seeing some movement in this space.

I talked about the challenges we face in the rental market. It is worth going through them and putting some of the key stats on the public record again today. I will start with the vacancy rate across the state. In Adelaide City, the vacancy rate for property currently sits at 0.4 per cent; it was 1.2 per cent five years ago. In the Yorke Peninsula and the lower north SA it is currently at 0.2 per cent; it was 2 per cent five years ago. We have seen significant rent increases in Adelaide, all dwellings, in the last 12 months; in fact, rent has gone up 7.2 per cent across the board—houses 6.7 per cent and units 9.8 per cent.

We have median rent in Adelaide sitting at $548, versus Melbourne at $553. Gone are the days when people can say that Adelaide is a cheap place to live. We have 29 per cent of people living in metropolitan Adelaide who are renters and 23.9 per cent of people living in regional SA who are renters. These people deserve to have their rights protected by the law. They should not be treated as second-class citizens, and sadly that has been the case in South Australia over many years.

On 14 November, National Shelter released the national Rental Affordability Index, which showed that five years ago rent in Greater Adelaide was considered acceptable at 20 to 25 per cent of income, whereas now it is considered moderately unaffordable at 25 to 30 per cent of income being spent on rent. Large parts of Greater Adelaide are now considered unaffordable, where people spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

In November of this year, the Anti-Poverty Network released a report which detailed a snapshot of low income renting. It found that for people who are on Centrelink payments without any other form of income, 85 per cent are experiencing rental stress and 54 per cent are in the middle of a rental crisis. Seventy per cent of those people surveyed said that the cost of their rent meant they had to reduce spending on food.

In June of this year, SACOSS released their June quarter rental affordability report. Of the 33,000 renters in regional SA, 71 per cent were in the bottom two income quintiles. The Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot showed in South Australia there were no rentals affordable for a single person on JobSeeker, no rentals affordable for a single person on Youth Allowance, 1.7 per cent of rentals were affordable for a couple on JobSeeker with two children, 0.8 per cent were affordable for a single person on a parenting payment with one or two children, and 0.8 per cent were affordable for a single person on the Age Pension.

So the facts speak for themselves and it is pretty disappointing to hear the Liberal Party turn their noses up at these very sensible changes. It is very galling to see the One Nation Party attack the Greens for advocating for a fairer go for renters. It demonstrates, really, that the One Nation Party has no solutions at all, other than fanning the flames of xenophobia when it comes to dealing with the cost-of-living crisis in our state. They do not have any ideas other than to criticise others.

I want to talk through some of the really positive elements of this bill. I also want to highlight one of the things that the Greens negotiated as part of our discussions with the government. We are really pleased that the government have agreed to put funding on the table for an advocacy service for renters. That is an independent tenants' advocacy service that can stand up for renters' rights.

We know, of course, that SACAT receives approximately 1,500 residential tenancy related matters per quarter and that an advocacy body, such as the one that we have proposed and the government has supported, exists in other jurisdictions, such as Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The activities they undertake include informing and educating renters, supporting to resolve issues, providing help and assistance in writing letters or filling out forms, providing legal advice, support attending tribunal hearings, policy development work and systems advocacy, reform advocacy, and training in tenancy law. These things will be really helpful for tenants in the middle of this rental crisis and I know will be welcomed in particular by people who work in that sector.

This bill has lots of really positive features. One of the elements in the bill that we welcome is the focus on giving SACAT the power to consider whether or not a rent increase is disproportionate. We in the Greens understand that disproportionate increases are those that are beyond CPI. I think this change is a welcome one. It will also require the payment of rent to be reasonably convenient, and at least one means made available for the tenant should be electronic. The government has also stamped out the use of third-party apps, which often apply to tenants for a fee, and it is good that they have got rid of that practice.

One of the elements that has had some focus in the media—and rightly so—is the changes that make it easier to rent with pets. The bill will limit the grounds in which a landlord can refuse to allow a tenant to keep a pet. Other jurisdictions have been well ahead of South Australia in allowing tenants to rent with pets. The ACT and Victoria have a presumption of renting with pets, which is considered the best practice model. In that case, it is the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant, to apply to the tribunal to deny a request.

This model is more in keeping with the Queensland model, where a landlord can knock back a request for a pet, but they have to have some clear grounds around that. Whilst we would have liked it to have gone further, we recognise that this is going to be a really positive step for renters in South Australia.

We know that according to the RSPCA, one in five animals surrendered is due to their owner being unable to find a rental property that allows them to have pets. That is pretty cruel when you think about it because a pet is actually a member of the family. If you are moving house, you do not leave a member of your family behind, and yet that is what we are asking people to do in the middle of this rental crisis. That changes with this law and that is a really good thing.

The bill also ensures that it is the responsibility of the landlord to manage a premises that has been contaminated by previous drug activity. It also reduces the right of entry to inspect a property to four times per year; previously, it was every four weeks. It also deals with terminations and evictions. It makes clear that a landlord can only terminate a fixed term tenancy with 60 days' notice, whereas it was previously 28 days. That extra time is going to be so beneficial for people in the middle of this tight rental market.

It is also going to see the removal of no-cause evictions from the act, that is, instead ensuring that a landlord can only choose not to renew a lease if the prescribed grounds have been met. This is a really important change because one of the issues we face in South Australia for renters is that we have a really tight market, but at the same time because the renter is living in fear of their lease not being renewed they are not in a position to assert their rights under the act.

I rented when I was in my 20s and my early 30s, and I had lots of issues in the rental market living in share houses with problems like broken air conditioning, broken toilets and issues with mould. It was very difficult to assert my rights as a renter because you knew, heading into the Christmas period, your lease was going to expire and you did not want to give yourself a bad reputation as a tenant and find that you were not able to then secure another place. That was 10 years ago. The market has changed dramatically since then. This change is one that has been on the wish list for advocates in this space for many years and finally the parliament can get that done.

Another really important change relates to domestic abuse. This bill establishes protections for people who need to terminate their agreement on the grounds of domestic abuse. They will no longer need to apply to SACAT. Instead, they can provide supporting evidence as prescribed in regulation. If a person is protected by an intervention order but not listed on a tenancy agreement, they will be able to apply to vary the agreement so that they can remain in their home without the perpetrator. Changes to the rules around damage caused to the property to protect people who have experienced domestic abuse are also happening.

There are changes in the law relating to rooming houses and residential parks. There are also changes relating to solar systems and tenants will be able to enter into agreements with landlords regarding the installation of solar energy for their homes. There are also changes around the way that information is managed. The landlord will not be able to charge a tenant a fee for giving personal information relating to them.

That is just a snapshot of some of the elements of this bill. There are many positive features that are worthy of support. In concluding, I want to read out a few stories that have been shared with me. In the lead-up to this debate, I put out a call on my social media and said, 'Look, does anyone have some stories they would like me to read into Hansard?' and we did get some constituent feedback so I will share those. In the first of those, and I will not name the constituent but I will refer to it as story 1, she wishes to share her daughter's experience as a tenant over the last decade. She writes:

It's a long story. It compromised her health and is certainly keeping her in poverty.

She is now homeless and has moved back in with myself (her mother) and step-father for the past 10 months. She cannot find affordable rent and is competing with hundreds of others in similar circumstances.

Ten years ago she moved from regional SA to Adelaide after ongoing harassment at her work and had depression as well as anxiety. She shared a house for the first 12 months with a former colleague. They went their separate ways, and she found a [National Rental Affordability Scheme] house at Andrews Farm which was modern and all appliances were in good working order. After 12 months, despite being an exemplary tenant, the rent increased to a level that was unaffordable for her on her Newstart income.

She was successful in getting a unit at Windsor Gardens which had a [Housing Improvement Act] order over it. There was mould, bowed walls, salt damp, broken screens and many fixtures that did not work…It was during this time she developed an autoimmune disease which I believe was triggered by the mould and damp in this unit. Only 1 fan was working, screens were broken and only an antiquated air conditioner in the lounge was operational.

She was there nearly 8 years. The lounge ceiling collapsed narrowly missing her, despite her bringing it to the attention of the agent that items were coming through from the roof. The owner shortly after this terminated the contract as she claimed she was selling the unit.

Since then my daughter has been unable to find accommodation in her price range. She is now on the Disability Pension.

That really underscores the point I made earlier about the benefit of axing no-cause evictions because this would give a tenant in this situation the capacity to be able to better assert their rights. Story 2 is:

When we first moved into our rental in Blackwood we had no access to electricity. The landlord had given SA Power Networks the wrong address to register the property. We did not have the permissions necessary to register, as we do not hold the title to the property. We explained this to our real estate agent, and they insisted it was our responsibility. This went back and forth for 2 weeks. They then demanded that we pay rent even without power to the unit (everything is electric, the stove, the water. There is no gas).

We did not. They then eventually had the property registered and told us that this wasn't a good start for us and that in the future we 'shouldn't make waves'. We still had to pay the rent for the first 2 weeks because we had moved our stuff in, which was limited to a couch and a bed frame. We both had to stay with friends in this time. Shortly after, the backyard sewage line developed a crack and began to leak raw sewage out of our back yard and into the walkway where other people walked. We were told it was not a priority to fix, and this was only resolved as the strata got upset. We've also had an ongoing issue with mould on our ceilings.

If this bill gets through, this tenant will be in a much better position to assert their rights. Story 3 is:

We are paying $450 a week for an old Housing Trust house that is falling apart. We've had 8 maintenance reports in 3 months. We have a power board that can't actually power the whole house properly. The back yard is completely overgrown.

Can anyone seriously say that the current system is working? Can the Liberal Party honestly say that the market is delivering what is needed to solve this crisis? It is clear that we need intervention, and whilst this bill does not go as far as the Greens would have liked, it is a significant step in the right direction and it will have a tangible impact on this crisis and I really do thank the government for their leadership and for stepping up to the mark on this important issue.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (16:32): I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023. I am not going to speak for long and I do not think, given the contributions or indeed the debate that has happened on this, that I need to step through the details in the bill, but I will say at the outset that I think it has been a very thorough process in terms of consultation. I note that there have been comments made in relation to what that consultation looked like. I think it was mid last year that certainly I first observed some of the round tables that were taking place on this. It was a very extensive consultation process that I think started in about August last year.

I also note in relation to some of the comments that were made that all the information that has been provided in submissions that were made during that process has been very publicly available for all of us to have access to. That includes submissions and that is not something that we often see from governments in terms of that level of openness and transparency in terms of what stakeholders are saying, so from that perspective I think it has been a very open process and one that has allowed us, and indeed enabled us, to go through and look at all the submissions that have been made by individuals and stakeholder groups and those representing both sides, whether that be landlords or tenants.

I commend the minister responsible for this portfolio for the level of openness and transparency that she has tried very hard to achieve through this process and also Commissioner Soulio in working through that process as well because what we know is that, regardless of which side you sit on, this is a difficult debate for everybody. This government, just like the last government, and indeed all of us on the crossbench, are going to have the same hurdles to overcome when it comes to landing a balance and finding that balance between landlords and tenants. It is not easy—just as public holidays was not easy this morning, when you are comparing workers' rights and business rights—but there is always room for a middle ground.

I am a bit of a realist when it comes to these things now. I know that there are things in this bill, for instance, that I have previously opposed. Renting with pets is one that I have opposed every time the Hon. Rob Simms has introduced it in this place. I have a dog and I would love her to be living with me, but she is not, so I have been enlightened a little, if you like, about the difficulties of renting with pets since opposing that.

I remained opposed to that provision, but do I think the government looked at this and thought, 'There is something we need to do to address this and how can we do that?' Yes, they have. They have not gone with the model that has previously been proposed, but they have tried to find a middle ground in terms of looking at the Victorian model, which flips the onus to the tenant, meaning that if for some reason the landlord says, 'No, you can't have your pet'—and I think that they should be able to do that—then the onus is on the tenant to make that application to SACAT and try to get a different outcome. Of course, there are, I think, different rules for properties subject to strata rules as well, in terms of overriding presumptions of allowing pets.

Realistically speaking, sometimes in this place you can see where you are headed; you can absolutely see. The numbers dictate where you are headed as well, and so when we know where we are headed we try to find a middle ground. At least, certainly that is my view of the world, and I think in this case the government and the minister have tried to find a middle ground, knowing full well that every landlord her government consults with probably is not happy about these changes. By the same token, there are tenants who are equally unhappy with our continual opposition to renting with pets.

I am actually very pleased, as the Hon. Rob Simms said. Believe me, if I can say one thing it is that in this instance I do not share a lot of the views of my Greens colleagues when it comes to rental properties. I do not agree with rental caps. I do not agree with vacancy caps. I certainly did not in the past agree with renting with pets. I have a list of Greens policies here that I absolutely fundamentally do not agree with when it comes to some issues on this. That is not because they are not well-intentioned. I just have a different ideology, I suppose.

However, being the realist that I am, I also know that there are ways and means. I think this is one of those occasions where striking the right balance, or striking a balance, finding that middle ground, has been fundamentally important. I think that the minister responsible for this portfolio, Minister Michaels, and indeed her office and Commissioner Soulio, knew when they inherited this that it was going to be problematic—as anyone in government would. I do not underestimate the amount of work and the length of time that it has taken to draft the bill that we have before us, trying to strike that balance between the rights of landlords on one hand and the rights of tenants on the other hand.

I can tell you that I have not spoken to a single landlord who has said to me they are thrilled about the changes. Indeed, we have submissions by a landlord association, which was obviously part of all this process, which is equally opposed to some of the measures. I have certainly made this known to the government as well. By way of concern, I think that some landlords will be looking at this and saying, 'Well, if this is what we are going to have to deal with going forward, then we will ensure that we only offer short-term leases to individuals, so that we can, at the end of a 12-month period, re-advertise a property with an increase in rent,' because regardless of whether interest rates are going up or not they also need some certainty and stability going forward. It is one of those issues that does not just affect one party in the equation, it affects both.

The only thing that I would say going forward is that I think tenants also deserve and want longer term tenancies. I always remain nervous about them getting that because I think that, despite all our best efforts in here, what we find over a period of time is that there are ways and means around things. I know that a lot of effort has gone into the bill to make sure that that is not the case, and I certainly hope that that is not the case, but I do think that, where we are today, this bill, thanks to the work and effort that has gone on with both sides, seeks to strike that balance between the rights of landlords and the rights of tenants.

I do note, of course, the number of submissions that we have had from tenant advocacy groups and also the joint letter we have from Uniting Communities, SACOSS, Shelter SA, Anti-Poverty Network, Better Renting, and co-signed by 40 community organisations who are at the coalface of our cost-of-living and rental crisis. They see all the things that we are all immune to in terms of how difficult it is to not only afford to put a roof over your head but to put food on the table every day.

The submissions that they have made and the asks that they have made, in terms of this legislation and in the review, cannot be underestimated or undermined because, as I said, they are the ones who each and every day see what it is like to not be able to house a person, or to try to find emergency housing for someone. There are myriad reasons why people are not finding houses, and they, I guess what I am saying, are at the coalface of that and see it. I commend all of them, each and every one, for their advocacy on this issue.

I could go on with a list of stories that have been told to me by landlords—and believe me there are many—and I could go on with a list of stories from tenants as well, but I am not going to do that. I am going to give you two things, one of which happened this morning and actually affected me today. Every day, when my son and I go home—I did not expect to be saying this right now—there is a huge car park behind my house, and I watch this man every day sleep in his car in that car park. He has a tent and he covers his car and sleeps in that car park every day. Every day, I am tempted to go over and talk to him, but I do not go over and talk to him because I do not know what to say to him.

Last night, during those storms, I just kept thinking of him sitting in the car park outside, metres away from where we were sleeping. This morning when I woke up, the first thing my son said to me when he heard about the weather was, 'Mummy, what are we doing about all those homeless people who don't have a roof over their head today?' My son is seven. If that does not speak volumes about the work that is being done by Shelter SA and SACOSS and all those other organisations to make sure that people do have a roof over their head, then I do not know what does.

In closing, I am not suggesting by any stretch that anything we do in this place is perfect, on both sides of the equation, but I do have confidence that the minister has done her level best to reach that sensible outcome for both sides, and it is on that basis that I will be supporting the bill.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:43): On speaking to the bill, I will actually declare my own conflict of interest, as I have in my register of interests. My wife has an investment property, heavily mortgaged, and, of course, it is subject to spiralling increases in interest rates and other increasing costs associated with maintaining the property to an appropriate standard for the tenants in there.

The tenants have been long-termers. They have been there for 10 years and have been excellent. We have a very cordial relationship with them, to the point that today they informed me that the property suffered some flood damage and we will need to rectify that very quickly. It is probably going to be a cost that we will not be able to recover. We also have a joint property on Kangaroo Island owned through our self-managed superannuation fund which is leased as a holiday rental.

The government says the need for these reforms is to tackle the crisis in available rental accommodation and also affordability. Can I point out that these two key reasons are not the fault of property owners or landlords. The blame for this crisis lies firmly at the feet of successive Labor and Liberal governments across the country, whose housing policies have been abject failures.

Only now are they trying to correct their mistakes of judgement and planning, along with their mismanagement of public and community housing. In South Australia, they all but dismantled the vision of Sir Thomas Playford, who embarked on an ambitious and successful housing program for low income families and individuals with the establishment of the South Australian Housing Trust.

Instead of building on that enterprise for future generations, the provision of low-cost housing became a low priority. Governments were reluctant landlords. They did not want to spend taxpayers money on building more or maintaining the existing ones. There was a wholesale sell-off of trust properties, many bought at bargain prices by investors.

It was the Labor government at the time that sold off most of those properties. Now, ironically, here they are trying to fix the mess that they helped create. They sold off the trust maintenance contracts to private operators who did the minimum required in order to maximise their profits. We had a situation where there were people in Housing Trust places who required urgent maintenance on their properties. In the old days, you could just pick up the phone and it was run by the government and you would get somebody to call around and do the required work, but under private operators that was not the case at all. They were either under the pump because they were not properly resourced, or were not able to do the maintenance required to the standard, so that was a policy failure as well.

Increases in population and migration intakes, social upheavals in our society, an ageing population, cost-of-living pressures from interest rate hikes to the necessities of life, soaring government taxes and charges on property investment, construction impediments and stagnant wage growth: these have all contributed to the situation that we find ourselves in today, with the lack of rental properties on the market.

I am going to give some credit here to landlords and property owners and investors, which this government does not seem to do in its legislation. Landlords have had to bear the brunt of housing policy on the run and the greed of governments raking in the proceeds of property transactions on the back of property booms, particularly the land tax reforms by the Marshall government in 2021, which have contributed to a sell-off of properties by mum-and-dad investors.

Land tax continues to hurt investors, big and small. I have been informed that the South Australian Produce Market at Pooraka has been hit with a massive land tax slug—I believe in the vicinity of about $800,000—which is likely to increase further next year. This is just unsustainable for an essential service provider like they are.

There is little in this bill that can give comfort to landlords and property investors and owners. They get little credit for getting governments out of a squeeze of their own making. If anything, these new compliance measures, along with others already in place, will make prospective new players think twice about investing, particularly when returns are actually low. Many who have contacted me to vent their frustrations feel the government is eroding their rights as landowners and they are contemplating getting out and putting their money elsewhere.

Thirteen straight spikes in interest rates have added to the rental affordability crisis. Not every landlord is a Harry Triguboff or Lang Walker. The vast majority are not rich. They have small portfolios created as wealth creation schemes to fund their retirements. That is so they do not have to rely on government handouts. With property values so high, the newer players would have large mortgages to service on top of other charges to maintain their investments. They cannot absorb all the costs, even despite negative gearing.

The Greens' national policy has been to push for rental freezes—a rental cap. A move in that direction would be catastrophic and a disincentive for investors. It would add to the rentals accommodations shortage that we are currently experiencing. But I will not take the stick entirely to the Hon. Robert Simms, because I commend the Greens for at least striking an agreement for a rental advocate. I think that is certainly a service that is needed in that sphere, as it is in other spheres, including aged care and aged-care advocacy.

I would like to point out that what we are seeing in Australia is not unique. It is being repeated overseas. It is happening in the UK, it is happening in Europe and it is happening in Canada, Asia and the Americas. You might even recall recently there was this humorous story that made the online platforms about an Italian mum who booted out her two sons who were aged in their 40s. She got them out of her rental place simply because she could not afford to keep them in there, and they could not afford to find a place themselves to go and rent. So what we are seeing is not unusual.

Back to this bill: there are elements in it designed to give protection to tenants and ease the financial strain that they are facing, and there is nothing wrong with that. It has already tried to find an acceptable balance with the ability to keep pets, but, again the right of veto has been taken away from the owners. I can understand, as the Hon. Robert Simms has pointed out, that pets are part of the family. They really are. It is no different in my family as well and those of probably a lot of other members here.

However, landlords also have a property that they need to maintain to an acceptable standard. It is what they own. It is what they have put in a massive investment for. In some cases it is their only investment in life, and they should have a right to say who goes in there and whether pets should be allowed in there.

I know that there is a provision in here where it goes to some kind of an arbitration, but I can see the situation happening in the tribunal where a renter has moved into a property without a pet and later on decides they would like a pet or have a pet that has been given to them. If it is challenged by the landlord, they go to the tribunal and the tenant will probably say to the tribunal member, 'Well if I can't keep this cat, this dog, this pig'—this whatever—'this snake, these spiders, I'm going to have to put them down,' and that is going to be a pretty tough decision for any tribunal member to make as a person. But again, as I have pointed out, you have taken the right of veto away from the very person who has invested their life into that property.

Banning rent bidding I think is a fair move, particularly in the current climate where competition for rentals is fierce. Advertising properties with a rent range, trying to solicit offers over the advertised rental price and rental bidding will be prohibited, and hopefully this is going to put the brake on the unscrupulous opportunists. There are not too many out there: I think the vast majority of landlords, property managers and property owners are fair and reasonable people. There are the few who are out there who would like to exploit the system and also exploit tenants, and at least this is a measure that will now be able to control that.

Another positive step is making rental bonds more affordable—now requiring renters to pay a four-week bond only, where previously it was six weeks' rent for amounts greater than $250 a week. The bond threshold has now been raised to $800 per week, meaning a saving of around $500 to $1,600 in up-front costs. I think there is also a consideration that needs to be made for renters of more upmarket properties as well, and how the landlords of these properties are going to be impacted by that.

While the majority of renters do the right thing when it comes to looking after properties, we know that some do not and often leave damage far in excess of the bond amount, which may not be recovered through landlord insurance. This, by the way, has dramatically increased after recent disasters around the country. In fact, a number of insurers now no longer carry it; there are only a couple that you will find who probably do landlord insurance. It is becoming pretty difficult, even for landlords, to have insurance to cover any losses that they may have to incur.

Another frustration for property owners, landlords and property managers has been the delays in getting bonds in the event of property damage. There are cases where bonds will not cover the damage; for instance, where premises have been used for illegal drug activity like cooking methamphetamine. The costs for cleaning a house of the toxic residue left behind on walls and floors can cost thousands of dollars. The property owner will then need to spend more on legal action just to get compensation. Sometimes they just give up.

I remember an experience, before I came into this place, where a property owner had called me about the situation with his rental property. He had tenants who were paying good rent, and they were paying on time. However, when they left the place reeked of meth—and it was a fairly new property, a double-storey place. I think it cost him, at the time, in excess of $80,000 to clean the place out, because meth remains in the walls and in the floor—it is there and it is very difficult to clean out. If you do not know that these people are doing that sort of activity and then they leave your place in a mess, you can be left with a huge bill for the eventual clean-up.

I am not so sure that this bill will be able to address those major damage situations that occur. Of course, this poor landlord had to then try to find those errant tenants and then try to take them to court. The litigation costs were going to be outrageous, so he just threw up his hands and gave it away.

This bill also seeks to protect tenants' privacy, prohibiting a landlord from requesting or disclosing prescribed information from tenants or prospective tenants, with them having to pay for it. What I would like to ask the Attorney-General is: what does he mean, or what is the legislation going to mean, in terms of what the prescribed information is? Can he can explain that, as it is not made clear as yet?

Again, it seems to be stilted against the rights of property owners. It might be the start of a push, eventually, aimed at preventing the blacklisting of errant tenants on property databases or websites. To have a tool that can help landlords and property owners to assess the suitability of a tenant to rent is important; however, I do agree with the government's intent here that the cost of accessing information from data providers should not be passed on to the tenant.

As we know, banks use credit information to assess their borrowers. There are some associated costs that are passed on to the prospective borrowers. I do not see governments, state or federal, trying to interfere here. Other commercial businesses, such as insurers, Airbnb, Trip Adviser and other online sites, also collect data and feedback on their customers. Google, Facebook and X collect data on users as well. Governments also collect private information—it is the world we live in today. To restrict or even prevent them from being able to determine suitability of a tenant on the grounds that it may be discrimination serves to remove yet another right from the owners of the property.

They will also be required to give cause for not renewing a lease. That is an issue that has been brought to my attention by many smaller mum-and-dad investors, who called me when I was on Radio Italiana recently. They had issues with that as well because they thought that, at the end of 12 months if the lease is up, it is their right to decide what they are going to do with the property. Why do they need to tell the tenant why they are not renewing the lease? They just want to move on. That was the opinion of many people who called in—they could not understand why that provision was put in there.

Landlords are expected to maintain their properties to an acceptable standard and for the comfort of their tenants. That is a given anywhere, and if a landlord or property owner does not do that, shame on them if they put people up in places—as the Hon. Robert Simms pointed out when he was a renter once, and I was a renter as well. Unfortunately, there are opportunists out there who are willing to try it on and exploit the situation.

Members may have seen recently in The Advertiser and online the story about the pretty ordinary home in Kilburn being offered for $600 a week. It was ridiculous. When you saw inside it, it was in a poor state of repair. I can see a situation where the property owner or property manager was really trying it on here, perhaps even trying to gauge some bidding from desperate people out there to achieve this ridiculous price. In a way the measures to get rid of rent bidding would certainly stop situations like we saw there.

I note that the government is still considering forcing owners to comply with minimum energy standards for appliances and other fittings. This came out during the course of the consultation period conducted by the minister and the Office of Business and Consumer Affairs. They were playing around with the idea that perhaps there could be in legislation a provision for landlords to adopt minimum energy standards for appliances and other fittings.

I do not see it in this one, fortunately, and caution is needed here. To move in this direction could result in property owners withdrawing their properties from the rental market and selling them off. Property prices are high now, so you would not want to push them too far to the point where they say, 'Well, what's the point of all this? We might as well get out and put our money elsewhere.'

There is a provision here to delete information provided by a tenant in applying for a lease or to be deleted or destroyed three years after the end of the tenancy. I am not sure why that has been put in there. I do not know why there is a limit of three years. I do not think three years is long enough. The minister fails to grasp the fact that these properties owned by landlords are massive investments and are highly geared.

They come with the risks that need to be managed for them to have confidence in their choice of tenants, and I think that needs to be respected. It has been pointed out already that it is a difficult balance that governments need to make here as well: they have to consider the rights of the tenants as well as the rights of the landlords. I think, in this case, the seesaw is going more on one side than in the centre.

As I pointed out, landlords and property owners need to have confidence in being able to choose their tenants, and you cannot do that on blind faith. If you keep kicking landlords and property owners, they will leave the market, just as many did after the land tax debacle. In saying all that, I am supporting the bill as it has the right intent on improving the obstacles and the financial situation faced by renters in difficult times.

Another meritorious consideration is for the victims of domestic violence. I think that is certainly a worthy addition to this legislation. I will support the opposition amendments for a review of these reforms. I think it is important that we do have a look at this legislation in three years' time, just to ensure that it is working and it is either achieving what it was intended to do or perhaps it may also show that there could be detrimental effects or impacts on the rental situation. I would hope that the government would support having that review in there, as we often do with a lot of other pieces of legislation.

I see there has also been a late amendment filed by the Attorney-General, which relates to tenants breaking their lease agreements. Again, it seems to favour the tenants over the landlords. If there is a lease being broken with less than 24 months left, the penalty payment is one month's rent and it is to be made on seven days' notice and then on vacant possession. That gives the landlord a short period of time to ready the premises for the next tenant. It may be that the property requires a clean-up from illegal drug use, it could have fallen into disrepair, or it may require painting and other works done, so it leaves very little time for the landlord to ready themselves for the next tenant.

I note that the penalty is one month rent payable for each of the whole 12-month period of the term of the agreement on vacant possession and the penalties to be paid are no more than a total of six months' rent. I will ask the Attorney-General how he came to this amendment that has been filed and what were the reasons behind that. In saying that, I look forward to the debate on the bill.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (17:08): This bill proposes to make important improvements in the rights of renters and modernise South Australia's rental laws, whilst also safeguarding the ability of landlords to manage their properties effectively. This is the next step in the Malinauskas Labor government's delivery on our commitment to improve housing outcomes for South Australians amid the tremendously challenging conditions we see now in the rental market.

The bill now before us includes broad reforms that are, as the Premier has said, both progressive and pragmatic and, above all, necessary to address the unprecedented challenges renters in our state are facing. In August 2023, the residential rental vacancy rate in Adelaide was 0.5 per cent. Combined with rising rents, this means that finding suitable and affordable housing is perhaps the most difficult it has ever been for people across our community.

This bill proposes amendments to South Australia's rental laws that are consistent with an agreement made by national cabinet in August for 'a better deal for renters' which focuses on improving renters' rights across Australia. Reforms within the bill also consider the outcome of extensive consultation on the review of the act conducted by Consumer and Business Services.

One of the most important reforms proposed by this bill aims to provide tenants with greater housing security and encourage longer tenancies by prohibiting no-cause evictions or non-renewals of leases. In order for a landlord to make the decision to terminate a tenancy agreement, or to decline to renew a tenancy agreement, they must have a prescribed reason backed up by written evidence of that reason. Notice of a termination on a prescribed ground must be accompanied by written evidence.

It is important that landlords still have the ability to terminate or not to renew leases where it is appropriate. The bill allows that landlords will retain the ability to terminate a tenancy by providing a notice of termination due to a breach of agreement as specified in section 80 of the act. Landlords will also be able to end a periodic tenancy agreement or not renew a fixed term tenancy agreement because they require possession of the property for the reasons detailed in section 81 of the act.

The aim is to balance tenants' housing security with landlords' rights. It is important to get that balance right, and certainly amid the current market conditions that balance can reasonably be considered to be in need of some degree of adjustment. It can be observed, amid the conditions we see now in South Australia's rental market, that tenants are sometimes forced to leave rental properties due to unaffordability arising from disproportionate rent increases.

Section 56 of the act currently allows SACAT to determine rent to be excessive by considering factors including the general level of rents for comparable premises in the same or similar localities and the state of repair and general condition of the premises. The bill proposes to amend this provision to require that SACAT must also give regard to whether the increase in rent was disproportionate when deciding if a rent increase is excessive. The changes propose that tenants who believe their rent is being increased excessively will have 90 days after being notified of a rent increase to apply to SACAT for a determination.

One change long advocated for by sections of the community relates to pets in rentals. We know that South Australians are struggling to find pet-friendly rentals. The RSPCA reports that one in five animals is surrendered due to their owners being unable to find a rental property that allows pets. I think most reasonable people would find this fact morally objectionable. The bill proposes that a tenant who applies to keep a pet in a rental property cannot have their request unreasonably refused, provided they agree to comply with reasonable conditions imposed by the landlord.

Further changes make it easier for tenants to terminate tenancies under certain necessary circumstances. Section 85C proposes that a tenant can terminate a tenancy if they require care of a kind prescribed by the regulations, such as care within a nursing home, and they need to vacate in order to obtain that care.

The last change I will highlight is a very important one. This bill proposes to amend section 83A to require that a landlord may only terminate a fixed term residential agreement at the end of a fixed term on a prescribed ground with 60 days' notice, as opposed to 28 days. This will provide tenants with a more reasonable period of time to secure a new rental property. With rental vacancy rates as low as they are, this is a crucial change for our community.

The bill proposes significant reforms to South Australian tenancy laws that will ensure tenants are safer and more secure in their homes and will refine the roles and responsibilities of landlords and agents. Amid the housing crisis we are in, there has never been a more opportune time to make these changes. I think it is worth ending by noting that this bill is supported by REISA, the Real Estate Institute of South Australia, and like them I too commend the bill.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (17:13): I wish to thank honourable members for their contributions, for their firsthand experiences and stories of why they will be particularly supporting parts of this bill, or all of this bill, and I look forward to the committee stage and to answering questions about the operation of the bill.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I will try to do as many questions at clause 1 as possible to help facilitate the debate if that suits everyone. The Property Council wrote to the government in relation to purpose-built student accommodation and have sought that their sector be exempt from a number of elements in this legislation, but I note that they are to be included. Can the government outline why it chose not to exempt them from all or some of the operations of this legislation? I think when we talk about purpose-built student accommodation we appreciate that a lot of these are multistorey buildings in the CBD where the concept of everybody having a pet could be problematic, so could the government respond and outline in a bit more detail about that sector, please?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I thank the honourable member for her question in relation to not excluding student accommodation. It is quite a simple answer. I am advised we thought that just because you are a student should not diminish the rights you have and the protections you have like any other renter.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Does the government appreciate that the sector might have some differences that mean it could be more nuanced and that some of the clauses in this bill they could have been exempt from?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I thank the honourable member for her question. Every single sector that is involved in renting will have some difference from another sector, but we do not think it is justified that just because you are a student living in student accommodation you should have fewer protections or abilities from the regime that we are proposing.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I also have some questions about penalties in general because a number of the clauses in the legislation increase penalties. As a first general question: how many penalties are issued? Any data the government is able to provide would be useful. If they can provide a breakdown at all on any penalties that are issued, whether they have annual data through the Residential Tenancies Act, that would be exceptionally useful. Secondly, where do those funds go?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I thank the honourable member for her question. I am advised that we have no numbers for across-the-board penalties, but my advice is that it is very few. Of those very few that have been issued, I am advised that the penalties would go into consolidated revenue.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Quite a few of the penalties have significantly increased. Is the government able to provide a rationale for what those increases are? Is it because the act has not been reviewed in such a long period of time, or were specific targets set for things based on specific concerns?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is that it is as the member suspected and that most of the penalties were very old. They have not been updated in quite some time and the view was that they were not sufficient to act as a deterrent.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I appreciate that response. There are a couple of examples that I thought were a bit curious. I wondered whether they had been explored at all. At clause 18—Landlord's duty to keep proper records of rent and other payments, there are obvious reasons why there should be a penalty there, but the expiation goes from $210 to $1,200, and one of the maximum penalties, I think, goes from $1,250 to $25,000. Can the government provide a rationale as to why such steep penalties would be implemented in this way? The other one is quiet enjoyment. Obviously, we support that tenants should have quiet enjoyment from their landlord, but it is an increase from $5,000 to $35,000 at clause 23.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice, particularly in relation to clause 18 to do with things like keeping of records, is that there have been significant increases in penalties. That is partly a function, I am advised, of such an amount of time since they were last updated. Also, particularly given the amount you can receive from rentals, we do not want to create an incentive to breach certain obligations. Given how much rentals are and how small the penalties have been, this is to bring that more into line, to actually create a disincentive and a deterrent.

Clause passed.

Clauses 2 to 6 passed.

Clause 7.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: In relation to 47B—Prospective tenant, requirements relating to provision of information, a landlord or an agent of a landlord must not request a prospective tenant to disclose prescribed information. What would be the prescribed information?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I am advised that that will be decided later on, but often when we come to these sorts of clauses where there are regulation-making powers it is reasonable that we outline the flavour of what sorts of things they might be. I am advised that these are the sorts of things that would not be able to be asked for in that information. The thought is that it will be the sorts of things that you cannot ask for pursuant to things that are prescribed in, for example, the Equal Opportunity Act, things that are irrelevant to the tenancy, like marital status or issues such as that.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Would they be able to ask for financial records or previous rental history or criminal history, for instance?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is the intention is anything relevant to their suitability, such as financial records or renting history. The intention is, yes, that would be allowed to be asked for.

Clause passed.

Clauses 8 to 21 passed.

Clause 22.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I move:

Amendment No 1 [AG–1]—

Page 14, lines 2 to 10 [clause 22(9), inserted subsection (14)]—Delete inserted subsection (14) and substitute:

(14) Despite any provision of this section, the following provisions apply to the repayment of a bond under a residential tenancy agreement where there are co-tenants, other than if the whole amount of the bond is to be paid to the landlord:

(a) if the application proposes that none of the bond is to be paid to the landlord and the landlord agrees to the application—

(i) in the case of an application that proposes that the bond be paid to the co-tenants in shares that are not equal and each co-tenant consents to their share as proposed—the Commissioner must pay the bond as specified in the application; or

(ii) in the case of an application that proposes that the bond be paid to the co-tenants in equal shares—the Commissioner must pay the bond to all co-tenants in equal shares;

(b) if the application proposes the payment of a specified amount of the bond to the landlord and the balance to the co-tenants, and the amount proposed to be paid to the landlord is agreed to by the landlord—

(i) in a case where the balance payable to the co-tenants is to be paid in shares that are not equal and each co-tenant consents to their share as proposed—the Commissioner must pay the bond as specified in the application; or

(ii) in a case where the balance payable to the co-tenants is to be paid in equal shares and at least 1 of the co-tenants consents—the Commissioner may pay the bond as specified in the application.

(14a) If the Commissioner acts under subsection (14) in relation to an application, the application is not liable to be disputed.

This amendment has been included to clarify how bonds are to be refunded at the end of a tenancy. Where there is more than one tenant, it is intended that the Residential Tenancies Act would allow bond money that is not claimed by the landlord to be equally distributed between co-tenants unless otherwise agreed by co-tenants. The purpose of this is to prevent circumstances where one tenant claims and receives the entire portion of the bond without the knowledge or consent of other tenants.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I am just wondering whether it is an appropriate time to ask a question about bonds that are actually kept by the department, how much is in there, and bond interest. What happens to the interest that is collected from bonds?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I am advised that interest that accrues on bonds do a few things in relation to the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act. In part, they provide funds for the operation of that part of Consumer and Business Affairs that deals with residential tenancies, and in part funds a portion of that area of SACAT that deals with residential tenancies. It is intended in the future that that interest would also fund in part the Tenants Advisory Service.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Does the Attorney-General have a figure of how much is currently being held in bonds by the department?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: In total?

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: In total.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I do not have a figure but if we can get it before the end of this committee we are happy to do so. If we cannot, we will get it to the honourable member afterwards, but I am advised that it is tens of millions of dollars but we just do not have that global figure.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 23 to 25 passed.

Clause 26.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Clause 26 is the clause which provides a framework for pets to be enabled to be in rentals, so this is probably the point at which to ask some questions about it. One of the stakeholders that I spoke to has severe allergies, and I note that new clause 66D(c) provides:

(c) keeping the pet would pose an unacceptable risk to the health of safety of a person, including, for example, because the pet is venomous.

This is one of the grounds for refusing pets being kept at premises. That is a fairly high bar. It is an example in the legislation, but if a landlord, for instance, has severe allergies to a particular species, is that something that would be considered as a ground for refusing pets?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is that is something that under the provisions of how this operates SACAT could take into account when deciding this.

Clause passed.

Clauses 27 to 35 passed.

Clause 36.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I move:

Amendment No 2 [AG–1]—

Page 26, lines 7 to 11 [clause 36, inserted section 75A(1)]—Delete inserted subsection (1) and substitute:

(1) If a tenant under a residential tenancy agreement for a fixed term terminates a tenancy, the tenant will not be liable to pay more than the following amount of rent under the agreement:

(a) if the term of the agreement remaining after the day on which the tenant is to give up vacant possession of the premises is less than 24 months—1 month's rent;

(b) in any other case—1 month's rent for each whole 12 month period of the term of the agreement remaining after the day on which the tenant is to give up vacant possession of the premises (provided that a tenant cannot be liable to pay more than 6 months' rent in total under this paragraph).

In August of this year, national cabinet agreed to limit break lease fees for fixed term tenancy agreements to a maximum prescribed amount, which declines according to how much the lease has expired. Section 75A specifies that if a tenant terminates a fixed term residential tenancy agreement early, they will not be liable to pay more than one month for each 12-month period remaining on the agreement and they cannot be liable to pay more than six months in total.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I want to briefly indicate that the Greens will be supporting the amendment. It is certainly a positive step in our opinion and we will support it on that basis.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Can I just ask the Attorney: what is the reasoning behind this amendment?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I am advised that the rationale is to limit the exposure of tenants for these break lease fees and, in addition, it was an agreement of national cabinet in August of this year.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: Did the Attorney-General consult with other stakeholders—namely, property owners, the Real Estate Institute—in relation to this, and what was their view on that?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is in particular the Real Estate Institute of South Australia have been supportive of the amendments we are putting forward.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I see where the numbers lie, but I would refer honourable members to the comments of the member for Heysen in the other place who expressed concern about this particular clause which I think this amendment makes more problematic.

Amendment carried; clause as amended passed.

Clauses 37 to 48 passed.

Clause 49.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: This is for new clause 84A—Compensation for termination in certain circumstances, in relation to break lease cost. I was wondering if the Attorney can expand on this particular clause by way of further explanation.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is that there was concern raised that tenants were using other means than breaking their lease—for example, the possibility that tenants would deliberately not pay the rent or breach their agreements in other ways so that it was a termination of the lease. Rather than the tenant choosing to break the lease, it was the landlord enforcing the breaking of the lease, which put the landlord at a disadvantage. This seeks to remedy that concern.

Clause passed.

Clause 50 passed.

Clause 51.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Clause 51 is the first set of amendments that insert a new section in relation to domestic violence—or domestic abuse issues is the terminology used in this legislation—which we clearly support. In our briefing we asked some questions in relation to coercive control, where sometimes it would be the victim who is on the lease, because the perpetrator is well aware that if it is the victim on the lease then they will carry the financial burden of any issues going forward.

What is the mechanism for government to address placing costs back on the perpetrator, if you like, in these situations where there is some damage which is done which, obviously, we do not want the victims to be held responsible for? What recourse does the landlord have to recover costs from the perpetrator?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: My advice is, in the instance the honourable member has given, if the perpetrator's name is not on the lease there is not a legal mechanism through SACAT or other avenues. However, in that situation I am advised that the landlord's rental insurance may well cover that.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I think my colleague the member for Heysen was concerned about whether landlords' insurance would indeed cover that. How confident is the government that that is the case?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I do not have all the policies that are available, but my advice is that we understand that some policies do cover this.

Clause passed.

Remaining clauses (52 to 95) and schedule 1 passed.

New schedule 2.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I move:

Amendment No 1 [Lensink–1]—

Page 57, after line 6—Insert: Schedule 2—Review

1—Review of amendments made by this Act

(1) The Minister responsible for the administration of the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 must cause a review of the operation and impact of the amendments made by this Act to the Residential Tenancies Act 1995, Real Property Act 1886 and Residential Parks Act 2007 to be undertaken and a report on the review to be submitted to the Minister.

(2) The review must be completed, and the report on the review submitted to the Minister, within 3 years of the commencement of this clause.

(3) The Minister must cause a copy of the report provided under this clause to be laid before both Houses of Parliament within 6 sitting days after receiving the report.

I did reflect on this in my second reading speech. As we know, the crossbench do love a review clause, so I am very hopeful that I will receive crossbench support for a review clause for this piece of legislation.

In all seriousness, the Liberal Party does hold very genuine concerns about the impact this piece of legislation is going to have on the rental market, so we believe that a review should be triggered, and this is the standard three years that crossbench members are so fond of inserting into most pieces of legislation. If this does become problematic, as I suspect it will, then I think we do need to come back and have another good, thorough look at this piece of legislation.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I am very sorry to dash the hopes of the Hon. Michelle Lensink, but the Greens will not be supporting this amendment. It is true that we usually like reviews, and indeed committees. I am a big fan of those, as you know. But in this instance we have just had the most comprehensive review of the Residential Tenancies Act in years. It has been a very thorough consultation process that the government has embarked on.

They have actually gone to the effort of publishing all the submissions, which is a really welcome transparency measure. The legislation has been in the public realm for some time and it has been an exhaustive process, so I do not think we need to create more uncertainty by having another review in three years' time. Let's lock in these changes and get behind them.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: I rise to say that the government will not be supporting this amendment for reasons similar to those that the Hon. Robert Simms outlined. I do appreciate that usually there is barely a committee or a review clause that the Hon. Robert Simms is not attracted to. There has been a huge amount of consultation on this bill, and we are slightly concerned, given the extent and the scope of these changes, that the time frames might be an unnecessary burden in terms of looking at how this operates. Of course, this government has shown a willingness, and will continue to show willingness, to make changes to anything where it is deemed necessary.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say that I will be supporting this. A review is an important provision to have in this bill because, as we have seen, things have actually changed in the past 12 months, in the past 24 months and in the past 48 months. There is nothing to suggest that things will not change again within three years, and it may be necessary that we have a look at what elements of the bill are working, what elements of the bill are not working or maybe even improvements—to go to other steps to either improve the situation for rentals or maybe landlords have been complaining that it has been detrimental to their own interests. I think it is important that we do have a look at it in three years' time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Can I just say, too, that I have REISA's permission to say that they do support a review clause.

The committee divided on the new schedule:

Ayes 7

Noes 9

Majority 2


Centofanti, N.J. Girolamo, H.M. Henderson, L.A.
Hood, B.R. Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A. (teller)
Pangallo, F.


Bourke, E.S. El Dannawi, M. Franks, T.A.
Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K. Maher, K.J. (teller)
Martin, R.B. Simms, R.A. Wortley, R.P.


Game, S.L. Ngo, T.T. Hood, D.G.E.
Scriven, C.M.

New schedule thus negatived.

Title passed.

Bill reported with amendments.

Third Reading

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (17:46): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.

At 17:47 the council adjourned until Wednesday 29 November 2023 at 14:15.