RLC in the Media: When Andrew reported mould to his landlord he didn't expect to be evicted

RLC’s tenancy solicitor Kimberley Mackenzie speaks to SMH about the impact of 'no grounds' evictions on vulnerable tenants, and says it’s time for change. ​

By Lucy Cormack. Published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, 22 May 2017.

"Hideous," is how Andrew Gibson describes the half-metre of mould that has been growing on the carpet in his living room for the past year.

In his kitchen the walls were "coming alive" until the owner installed a quick fix by sanding the mould back and covering it with gyprock walls, leaving a "30mm petri dish for mould to grow".

Mr Gibson and his partner Suzanne have spent the past year reporting extensive mould issues in their inner-west apartment to their property agent, only to be told earlier this month that they "needn't worry about the mould any more". Instead, they had 90 days to vacate the property.

For Mr Gibson, who uses a wheelchair, finding accessible and affordable rental accommodation is not easy. At his rental apartment he had to spend $500 putting in a ramp.

"You put up with a lot of crap when you're a renter. It's not just the fear of being evicted, it's the fear of not having another option ... that's what got us here."

Between January 2016 and May 2017, NSW Fair Trading received 278 complaints about termination of tenancy. These included complaints related to perceived unfair termination, and retaliatory eviction, "due to the tenant either seeking repairs or maintenance ... or mould".

Redfern Legal Centre solicitor Kimberley Mackenzie said fear of a no-grounds eviction was common among clients.

"The overwhelming majority of tenants we speak to are fearful that their landlord might evict them if they take action to challenge rent increases or go to the tribunal about repairs," she said. "Unfortunately ... a landlord currently has the option of terminating the tenancy without needing to give a reason if they are not in fixed-term agreement or when the fixed term ends."

Ms Mackenzie said Redfern Legal Centre strongly advocated for no-grounds eviction notices to be abolished.

"While the law provides an avenue for tenants to argue that the termination is not valid, because it was in retaliation to their attempts to enforce their rights, it is generally too onerous for the tenant to pursue."

She cited a recent example of a young family who had been living in a property for seven years. After the rent began increasing every six months, the family made an application to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to challenge the increasing rent.

"While that was happening, the landlord issued a no-grounds eviction notice. We helped them challenge that notice to say it was retaliatory … and so the eviction was quashed," she said. "But three weeks later the landlord sent another eviction notice. By then the family decided they couldn't go through the tribunal process again."

Senior policy officer for Tenants Union NSW Ned Cutcher said removing the right to end tenancy without grounds was the most significant way to improve renters' rights. "An expanded list of grounds needs to be included ... right now it gives the landlord an ultimate trump card. So why would tenants play their hand when they know they are always going to get trumped?" 

Despite the ongoing mould issues, in addition to raw sewage leaks and unreliable electricity, Mr Gibson said he and Suzanne would have been happy to move out periodically to accommodate repairs.

"There was no option to move out while they fixed it ... we highly suspect they are going to turf us out, cut out the carpet, sand and paint the affected walls and jack up the rent for a new tenant."

The couple sought advice from Marrickville Legal Centre, although Mr Gibson anticipates the most likely next step is that he will move out of Sydney.

"We've been in the rental market for 20 years each and we've just had enough."

Read the original article on the SMH website.