Hume Riverina Community Legal Service is one of 54 statewide services today calling on Premier Daniel Andrews to address significant issues in rental laws that make life harder for renters struggling to get fair access to secure housing. The State Government’s current review of the Residential Tenancies Act is underway, and HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the community legal centre joined the Make Renting Fair campaign to add its strong support for key areas of concern around potential reforms.
These include increasing protection for low income and vulnerable tenants, removing ‘no reason’ eviction notices, implementing the Family Violence Royal Commission recommendations, and ruling out punitive measures that would harm tenants, particularly those at risk of homelesssness.
“We know people experiencing family violence are at greater risk of homelessness and will be impacted by unfair tenancy laws,” Ms Rodgers said.
“In 2015-16, 10% of people we assisted with legal casework were homeless or at risk. In Wangaratta, through legal advice in our health justice partnership with Gateway Health, this number was 26%, showing the importance of access to free legal assistance for this vulnerable group.”
Ms Rodgers said the service was committed to assisting this group of people, and there was no sign the homelessness problem in the North East was about to change. The Open Letter to Mr Andrews came in the wake of Homelessness Week, which was recognised on the Border with a launch in Wodonga last Monday.
Beyond Housing (formerly known as Rural Housing Network) stated that in 2014-15 700 people presented to their service either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Of these 27% were couples/families, 33% were homeless for social reasons including family violence and 29% because of housing affordability.
“With this review, we are at risk of seeing consumer protections for tenants weakened,” Ms Rodgers said today. “If this happens, more vulnerable tenants will be the ones hit hardest. We are already seeing many of these people with multiple legal issues. Their legal protections and their right to safe and secure housing should not be compromised.”
Ms Rodgers echoed the statement from the Make Renting Fair Campaign, saying the groups most impacted would include people who have been homeless, people living with mental illness, people with a disability, older tenants, students, people from CALD backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women and children, and low income households.
“The challenges these groups face are often exacerbated in the country and in cross-border locations such as Albury-Wodonga,” she said.