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In-Depth: Unwanted visits and photography

Imagine that your home is being sold, and your agent tells you that they want to hold an open house for prospective buyers one evening per week in addition to Saturdays.

You’ve already been through these open houses several times and know exactly what the process entails: Making sure the kids’ toys aren’t scattered around the house.  Cleaning every surface until you could eat off it.  Trying to find a secure place for personal pictures and valuables.  Organising to have the kids go off to a fun activity elsewhere while the inspection takes place.

But this new proposed time is just too much for your family to handle.  It’s too late in the day and would disrupt your kids’ dinner and bedtime routine.  To make matters worse, one of your kids isn’t feeling well and really needs to stay home and rest this week.  Ferrying everyone out of the house is simply not a viable option right now.

Normally, negotiating another time for the open house would be acceptable.  There’s just one problem: You rent your home so under proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA), you wouldn’t be able to refuse this inspection.

In Victoria, the RTA currently allows landlords and agents to organise open house inspections between the hours of 8:00am and 6:00pm (excluding public holidays) with permission from the tenant.  However under the proposed changes, tenants would be required to ‘agree’ to two open house inspections per week – that’s one every 3-4 days possibly for months on end.

These inspections cause major disruptions to tenants’ lives and routines.  Tenants would be required to drop everything to cater for open houses, even if they are scheduled for inconvenient times such as evenings.  Routines – particularly dinnertime and bedtime routines – are vital for families with young children.  If one of the tenants experiences an unexpected illness, this can make an open house feel like a massive undertaking.  Many tenants report feeling uncomfortable with having so many people through their home at once, particularly when they are milling about in personal areas of the home such as children’s bedrooms.

Tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their rental property.  A breach of this includes any interference by the landlord that renders the premises ‘unfit from a reasonable point of view for the purpose for which the lease was granted’.  One could reasonably argue that being forced to change your routine – sometimes repeatedly for months on end – and deal with multiple groups roaming through your home could be considered a breach of the tenants’ quiet enjoyment.

Furthermore, selling agents often pressure their tenants to keep their homes in immaculate, ‘sale-worthy’ condition for inspections by prospective buyers.  Tenants report being given checklists of things to do including extensive gardening and professional cleaning in preparation for open houses, placing a significant amount of work on the tenant’s shoulders.  Because Victorian tenants would essentially be unable to refuse open house inspections under the proposed changes, this means that they would need to keep their homes in saleable condition virtually at all times until the property is sold or taken off the market.  This is difficult enough for most people, but any parent can tell you that this is a monumental task in homes with small children.

Tenants living in Queensland are lucky: Their RTA states that tenants must consent to all types of inspections by prospective buyers whether they are open houses or singular inspections.  Queensland’s tenancy laws go one step further, requiring landlords and agents to provide the tenant with a ‘Notice of lessor’s intention to sell premises’ prior to organising inspections.  This notice includes information about the way the property will be marketed so they know what to expect from the process.

Also included in Queensland’s RTA are protections against photographing tenants’ personal possessions: Landlords and agents are prohibited from using images of tenants’ possessions in advertising without their written consent.

Unfortunately, Victorian tenants have no such protections.  While tenants can request that their possessions not be photographed, many landlords and agents are inclined to ignore these requests since nothing in the tenancy laws says they should respect their tenants’ wishes.  Proposed changes to the RTA would not only give landlords and agents a legislated right to enter the home in order to photograph for advertising purposes, but they would not allow the tenant to object to the use of their personal possessions being used to market the property.

While some tenants might not want their personal aesthetic to be used to sell someone else’s home, there are also significant security concerns with giving landlords and agents the right to breach their tenants’ privacy in this manner.

According to recent data, approximately 1 in 68 homes in Victoria experienced at least one burglary in 2016.  It is common for thieves to case homes by viewing advertisements for homes that are for sale, where they can easily identify homes that contain expensive items such as televisions, sound systems and computers.  If pictures of the family are also displayed in advertising, thieves can easily deduct times which times during school days that tenants are likely to be away from their home.  Thefts during open inspections are also common.

For tenants who have been affected by family violence, this lack of security and privacy could prove even more dangerous.  It can be quite easy to identify a person by their personal possessions or their taste in home décor.  If the tenant is trying to escape a violent family member and their personal possessions are displayed on billboards and websites, this puts them at direct risk of exposure and compromises their security.  Just the fear of detection stemming from this exposure can have significant detrimental effects on these tenants.

The Make Renting Fair campaign is calling on the Victorian Government to prohibit open house inspections, on-site auctions and photography of the tenants’ possessions without the written consent of the tenant.  A popular claim by landlords and agents is that these protections hinder the sales process.  However, evidence from places where these protections currently exist proves that this claim is completely untrue.

Tenants have the right to a private and secure home.  Unfortunately, this proves virtually impossible when the owner has the power to disrupt the tenants’ routines at whim and display their possessions for all to see simply because they are selling the property.

Think about it: If the owner lives in the property being sold, they have the power to reasonably reject proposed inspection times that they feel are inconvenient.  They have the ability to plan ahead for inspections so they don’t cause a major disruption to their lives, and they have complete control over their personal possessions being used to market the property.

Why, then, are Victorian tenants not afforded this same courtesy?  After all, it’s only fair.

 

GET INVOLVED! You can help us spread the word about improving security of tenure for the over 1.5 million tenants that rent in Victoria by signing the petition and emailing your local MP in support of the Make Renting Fair campaign.

 

References:

  1. When a property is for sale, Residential Tenancies Authority Queensland, https://www.rta.qld.gov.au/Renting/During-a-tenancy/When-a-property-is-for-sale
  2. Victorian burglary statistics, RACV, https://www.racv.com.au/in-your-home/home-advice/burglary-statistics.html