Politicians will not end negative gearing because too many own investment properties themselves according to authors, Lindsay David, Paul Egan and Philip Soos.   With such high rates of property ownership among Australia’s senators and ministers, it is “difficult to believe that politicians will address the real causes of housing unaffordability, despite the recommendations from government reports,” say the trio.

That the article appears in the Sydney Morning Herald is somewhat ironic, given that the reporting of Fairfax, whose only profitable arm lies in its Domain real estate advertising, has become increasingly coloured by an obvious reluctance to displease its sponsors. Last week, Fairfax’s Melbourne Age newspaper ran an article on the push by the Victorian Law Reform Commission to allow landlord/agents to enter tenants’ homes without consent to take photographs including the tenants’ belongings to use in advertising.   Though a subject of great public interest, the article only appeared on The Age website for a brief time, while another innocuous real estate article continued on the site for days.  The law reform article was not opened for comment – a practice we have observed as becoming more common where the public’s reaction is likely to be one of protest against the conduct of estate agents.

With politicians feathering their own negatively-geared nests at the expense of the Australian taxpayer, and with the fourth estate toadying to the real estate advertisers upon whose revenue its survival depends, there are far too many parties with a vested interest influencing housing and tenancy policies.

We question why the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which should have far greater concerns than assisting the profit of landlords  – such as holding landlord/agents whose negligence results in the injury or death of tenants to account in the same way as employers whose negligence causes harm to workers – may freely pursue, at the taxpayer’s expense, law reform intended to facilitate the financial gain of landlords to the detriment of the safety and security of tenants, particularly when  the sexual assault of a tenant by a building manager  has amply demonstrated the risk to tenants who have no control over who can enter their home.  No matter how poor the character of landlords, no matter their criminal history, they may enter the homes of tenants against the tenant’s will and without their consent. Even where they enter illegally and the tenant takes out a restraining order against them, landlord/agents still retain the right to enter the tenant’s home for all the reasons accorded to them by law.

The suggestion that victims of violence should have to disclose their abuse to landlords and estate agents in order to protect themselves in what should be the sanctity of their own home is an obscene degradation and violation of abuse victims which has no place on the lips of any person in possession of a modicum of decency or humanity.  Privacy which has to be qualified in order to be achieved is no privacy at all.  All lives are touched by tragedy; the lives of tenants are no different.  It is to be expected that tenants require privacy in the same way and for the same reasons that all others do. In suggesting that tenants may remove valuable items to prevent their theft as a result of advertising and inspections, the Commission acknowledges both the threat to tenant security and limitations placed on the tenant’s use of the premises while they continue to pay for their use, but the Commission does not address that issue.  That the landlord receives full rent while using the premises for their own purposes and limiting the tenant’s use is very much a case of double-dipping.  We question why the Victorian Law Reform Commission has publicly claimed that the practice of taking photographs of tenant’s belongings and using them in advertising “usually occurs with the consent of tenants” when it has no possible way of knowing that.

We question – when the real estate industry is almost universally despised by consumers and while it is infamous for misconduct – why it escapes the same regulation and reform applied to other business sectors whose impact on consumers is far lesser.

And we question why, following the death of two children poisoned by a faulty gas heater, a Victorian coroner, with the power to make recommendations to any Minister, public statutory authority or entity that may help prevent similar deaths, merely called on Consumer Affairs Victoria to encourage tenants to seek from their landlords assurances that heaters were serviced regularly, when she had the power to instead recommend legislative changes requiring the mandatory servicing of critical appliances by qualified tradespeople.  In a climate where tenants can be and are evicted by landlord/agents as punishment for asking for repairs – and with the blessing of government – the assertion of Energy Safe Victoria’s deputy director Mike Ebdon, that tenants may “insist on a two-yearly gas appliance check as part of their tenancy” is fallacious.  Tenants have no such power of insistence when merely asserting their existing rights is enough to get them evicted, much less when seeking rights not backed by legislation.

With politicians and the media acting in their own best interests over housing and tenancy issues, the Australian public is effectively hamstrung in its efforts to influence policy.

Tenants Are Customers have started a petition here calling for safety equality for tenants, national minimum housing standards and the appointment of real estate industry ombudsmen, and another here seeking to end the landlord/agent’s right to compromise the safety and security of tenants.  We are not alone in trying to put a cat amongst the pigeons.  The Affordable Housing Party of Australia needs 500 supporters to start a political party with the aim of reforming policies they believe adversely affect affordable housing.  Please take a look at their policies on their Facebook page here or their webpage here and consider whether you would like to support their bid to start a political party. Imagine the difference an independent housing party, acting in the interests of the public, and not politicians, could make.