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Homelessness Week: Landlords Making a Difference

On a rainy Thursday night in Homelessness Week, over 50 people turned out to hear about things landlords can do to prevent and respond to homelessness.

Aunty Millie Penny, an Elder Co-Researcher with the Telethon Kids Institute’s Ngulluk Koolunga Ngulluk Koort (Our Children Our Heart) welcomed attendees to Nyoongar country. She spoke movingly and encouragingly of the impact a compassionate landlord had had on her family when she was a child.

Trish Blake of the Department for Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety provided the group with important information regarding changes to tenancy legislation that will make it easier for victims of domestic violence to leave or stay in their rented homes, depending on which is safer for them. Ms Blake noted that in addition to improving outcomes around family and domestic violence, these changes are also likely to result in less abandonment of properties and reduced repair costs for landlords.

Stephanie Hing, representing the RSPCA, talked about the benefits to landlords of making their properties pet friendly. Of interest to the group was her suggestion that landlords who were concerned could request a pet resume, prepared by a vet or other professional with knowledge of the animal. It was noted that where landlords had had a good experience with a particular pet, providing a written pet reference was likely to be very helpful to their tenants.

Diana MacTiernan of the Equal Opportunity Commission talked about the economic and significance of housing, and the protection housing has under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. The Act allows for certain kinds of positive discrimination. Landlords may be interested in seeking out tenants from a particular group known to be discriminated against in the rental market. Ms MacTiernan encouraged them to contact the Equal Opportunity Commission to talk through ways of doing this that are consistent with the legislative requirements.

Kate Davis of Tenancy WA noted that one of the barriers to longer-term leases in WA is the current framing of the Residential Tenancies Act 1987, which can lead to tenants facing prohibitively high break-lease costs. Ms Davis made some suggestions for how landlords might negotiate longer term leases by voluntarily including a provision for termination by notice. She noted that in some cases, tenants may be reluctant to ‘impose’ on landlords by asking for necessary maintenance. She suggested that landlords proactively ask their tenants about maintenance needs. This will have the subsidiary benefit of ensuring that minor issues are fixed before they become major ones.

The final speaker of the night was Sadie Davidson or the Real Estate Industry of WA, who talked about the benefits of professional property management to landlords and tenants. The ongoing training required of property managers should mean that landlords and tenants both have access to an informed person who has the latest knowledge regarding ongoing changes to the Act. Good property managers can provide a balanced approach to dispute resolution.

Landlords are a critical – but sometimes invisible – part of our housing system. Shelter WA is excited by the potential for engaging with this important group, as we work towards a housing system that works for all of us.

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