The saddest incursion on a tenant’s home I’ve ever heard of was suffered by a newlywed couple expecting their first child.  They had just learned that their baby was in trouble and would not live long after coming into the world.  In the middle of this, late one Friday afternoon, came a knock on their door.  They opened it to a real estate agent who informed them that their flat was up for sale and would be opened for inspection the next day.  Then he laughed, Oh, you didn’t get the notice?

Whether they could cope with it or not, during a time of profound grief, my friends had to endure strangers and estate agents tramping through their home without notice.  The next week, they did the only thing they could to defend their home against further unendurable intrusion.  For the privilege of private pain, they tore around borrowing money to buy their rented flat.

When my grandfather was dying, our estate agent called on our private, silent number, which had never been given to her for the purpose, to arrange one of the six-monthly inspections she insisted on as her right, despite the fact that she was selective about which of our legal rights she chose to observe.  When I told her the inspection was not convenient, she said my attitude was unacceptable and went ahead with it.

It’s a feeling like no other, that at a time of such emotional devastation, the law says of me – because I am a tenant – that my feelings are less than others, undeserving of consideration, respect or privacy.

The obscenity of this violation of human rights, of basic human decency, should not have to be explained, unless you’re a member of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which is recommending that real estate agents should be (officially) allowed to enter tenants’ homes without consent to take photographs in which the tenant’s belongings appear for use in advertising.

Tenants pay for the rental accommodation and services they receive.  Despite that, while receiving full payment, landlord/agents may second the premises for their own use, no matter what tragedies are currently visiting the lives of tenants, and may also, without making any payment themselves, use the belongings of tenants in pursuit of their own profit – with no regard for the safety of either the tenant or security of their belongings:

“In one case, a tenant was found by her violent ex-partner through advertising images that contained identifiable photographs. In another incident, a tenant was found through photographs that displayed her car, including its number plate. Both had to move houses.”

According to the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, agents have also taken photographs of tenant’s children then posted them online or used them on billboards.  But despite the obvious risks to tenants:

‘In making its recommendations, the (Victorian Law Reform) Commission said it was “of the view that tenants’ general privacy concerns about their homes and possessions should not restrict the right of landlords to take advertising images”.

The fact is it doesn’t.  Landlord/agents are free to take such images when the premises are empty, and in an age of PhotoShop, it is not necessary to include tenants’ belongings when the premises are occupied.  The obvious benefit in using the tenant’s belongings is to make the landlord’s investment property look more homely and attractive than an unfurnished home would look.  Well, let them hire their own furniture.

No other service provider may take the services we pay for and use them for their own purposes – Avis may not take the car I have hired for a Sunday drive of its own; Radio Rentals can’t put their beer in the fridge I’m renting – much less to the risk of detriment to their customers.

How would the members of the Victorian Law Reform Commission feel about such trespass on their homes?  How would they feel about photos of their children and their valuables being plastered on billboards and all over the internet, along with open for inspection times?

During one such inspection I attended – and with the current tenants absent – the estate agent had no hesitation in using the tenant’s belongings to ‘sell’ the property: See, they use this as a computer and music room…. Oh look!  That’s a lovely stereo.  And they’ve got a bike stored there, so there’s plenty of room for that.  During another inspection, with the tenants again absent, the estate agent left the flat open to take me to the rear of the property, from where he could not see the open flat, to show me the external laundry.

Among the members of Victorian Law Reform Commission seeking to make this change, how many own investment properties themselves?

Despite the ambiguities in Fairfax’s article: Victorian landlord/agents already do have the right to enter rental properties without consent and at twenty-four hour notice; they currently do not have to give notice by any verifiable means such as by registered post and so may easily claim to have given notice when they have not, thereby entering illegally without fear of consequence; and the practice of taking photographs of tenant’s belonging without consent then plastering them all over the internet in advertising for open-for inspections is already widespread – a fact acknowledged by the Office of The Victorian Privacy Commissioner, which also acknowledges that invading the privacy of the home is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is the tenant’s lot to open their door to an unknown person wearing no identification and having given no notice demanding entry, and to have that unknown person allow other unknown persons to roam freely through the tenant’s home without identification or supervision, and to have landlord/agents put them at risk in pursuit of their own profit.

Please sign our petition calling for privacy reform and please sign our sister petition calling for safety equality for tenants.