Brock got the news the day he asked for repairs – one of 30,000 NSW renters evicted without a reason each year

<span>Brock in his rental property in regional NSW. He says there is no reason to suspect the owners thought he and his partner were bad tenants.</span><span>Photograph: Brydie Piaf/The Guardian</span>
Brock in his rental property in regional NSW. He says there is no reason to suspect the owners thought he and his partner were bad tenants.Photograph: Brydie Piaf/The Guardian

Brock’s bathroom sink was leaking last year. The landlord had attended to the repair himself – they had chatted, got along.

In January Brock, who did not want his last name used, sent a few emails about a leaking air conditioner. The property manager said she would organise a tradie to visit at the earliest convenience.

That didn’t happen. But when Brock sent another email about the sink, which had again become a problem, he thought it would get fixed. Instead, within hours, he and his partner were served with a notice to vacate.

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The couple pay $475 a week for a two-bedroom home in regional New South Wales.

It’s a bit dishevelled – missing tiles, cracks, a hole in one of the doors that leads to a backroom they are not allowed to use – but they want to stay on for a few months before moving to Queensland while Brock sorts out his mother’s estate after her death late last year.

Brock says there was no reason to suspect the owners thought they were bad tenants. They had just agreed to a rent increase and had been offered a 12-month lease, but turned it down.

“We said, OK, we’ll just go month to month and are fine with that. And as soon as we asked for repairs we were evicted.”

He and his partner have begun action in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to halt the eviction. In the meantime they are living off his partner’s wage.

“I’m stuck here to try and pick up the pieces of my mum at the moment,” Brock says. “So we’re in a position where we need to be here for maybe two or three more months. We’re stuck and there’s just no money.”

Their real estate agent has denied the eviction was in response to the requests for repairs.

“We have given the tenants a legal no-grounds notice,” the director of the agency said. “It’s not in retaliation or for any other reason. No-grounds is still a legal and acceptable way of a landlord requesting his property back.”

No-grounds evictions across Australia

A no-grounds eviction, as the name suggests, allows a landlord to evict a tenant without any reason, regardless of how long they have lived there or how well they may have looked after it.

In NSW, about 30,000 renting households each year receive a no-grounds eviction. The national number is unknown.

Most jurisdictions have restricted when they can be imposed, but only two – South Australia and the ACT – have blanket bans.

Queensland and Tasmania ban no-grounds evictions for month-to-month or periodic tenancies but they are legal at the end of fixed-term leases. In the Northern Territory and Western Australia they are legal at any point in a tenancy.

In Victoria they are legal only at the end of the first term of a fixed-term lease.

Leo Patterson-Ross, the chief executive of the Tenants’ Union of NSW, says about 200,000 households a year meet that condition.

“So although it’s a relatively restricted range, it’s actually still a lot of people, almost a third of renters in Victoria.”

The NSW government has said it will implement a ban, but there is no timeframe for when it might be introduced.

The minister for better regulation and fair trading, Anoulack Chanthivong, says imposing a ban is not straightforward.

“We’re working through the complexity of reforms to end no-ground evictions carefully because renters deserve better than changes that risk unintended consequences, like higher lease turnover or less supply,” Chanthivong says.

“There is no nationally consistent approach to this challenge, and we’ve seen models in some states that haven’t worked as intended.”

Tenancy advocates argue that the existence of no-grounds evictions means tenants may hesitate to ask for repairs in case they are seen as unreasonable.

Leanne Pilkington, the president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, says there are strong protections in every state and territory against unreasonable evictions.

“A good renter will not be subject to eviction, just like a good driver will not get a speeding fine,” Pilkington says.

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“Maintenance requests, either routine or repair, are provided for in every state and territory. They are an entitlement of the renter; and an expectation of the property owner and it is the role of a property manager to ensure these are carried out quickly and professionally.

“Like most things in life, the best way to solve any problems is through communication, and we urge renters to get in touch with the property manager should there be any issues with the accommodation.”

‘We were getting crook’

After years of problems with the plumbing at her Launceston rental, Katrina Cook asked the council to check the sewage smell.

“In that three years I have had plumbers there five times a year to unblock pipes,” Cook says.

“After two years I had had enough. We were getting crook. The stench in the house – every time it rained it came up.”

Late last year, Cook reported the odour to the council and asked that an environmental health officer come to investigate.

She says the agent rang her to say the owner was not happy the council had become involved, and a few weeks later she was sent a notice to vacate. Cook has a 16-year-old daughter who is now staying with friends. Cook was working as a contract cleaner, but did most of her jobs through the real estate agency, so has lost a lot of income.

“When I look at private rentals, I almost cry,” she says. “How am I going to eat? I can’t afford to rent private now, I’ve only got my jobseeker. I’m 50 and sleeping in my van.”

She had been paying $360 a week in rent – the property is now back on the market for $480.

The real estate agency did not respond to a request for comment.

In many cases renters would rather put up with unhealthy homes than demand the repairs needed

Ben Bartl

Ben Bartl, principal solicitor with the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania, says it is seeking compensation for Cook.

“But the court process will take time and in the meantime our client is homeless and struggling to find an affordable rental property,” he says. “It should never have come to this.

“The power imbalance between landlords and tenants and the lack of supply means that in many cases renters would rather put up with unhealthy homes than demand the repairs needed. Our entire rental system stinks and a rebalancing of renter protections [is] urgently required.”

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In August 2023, national cabinet committed to law reform so that renters can be evicted only on genuine and reasonable grounds.

Patterson-Ross says it is “unreasonable” for the federal government to continue funding homelessness services in states and territories that had no-grounds evictions.

“Not that we would want them to withhold funds,” he says. “But it’s very clear that it should be part of the contract around the housing and homelessness agreement.”