As the Queensland Government prepares for an upcoming housing summit to address the state’s ongoing supply issue, a suggested public landlord register has been labelled “unjustified” by the Real Estate Institute of Queensland.
The summit is set to go ahead on Thursday, 20 October, with the roundtable seeking to address ‘multiple housing issues’ in the Queensland market, which have been amplified by an influx of new residents in the state.
In the lead-up, Tenants Queensland has proposed a public landlord register to “shine a light on property ownership and use”.
Tenants Queensland Penny Carr told The Guardian a register could include information about owners, including how many properties they own and where they live.
It could also potentially indicate whether properties were rented out on a short or long-term basis or being left vacant.
Ms Carr said the register would help inform housing policy and remedy a perceived imbalance of power between the state’s tenants and landlords at a time when Queensland’s rental vacancy rate is at a record low.
“We don’t know very much about who owns properties at all,” Ms Carr said in an interview with The Guardian.
That imbalance manifested in individual relations between landlords and tenants, she said.
“When renters are trying to secure a property, they provide a whole lot of information about themselves, usually to a real estate agent, sometimes before they even see a property. But [that renter] knows little if anything about the landlord.
“We want to know who we are benefiting when we make those policy decisions because, usually, policy has winners and losers.”
But the move has been labelled “unjustified” by the REIQ, who note there are better ways of gaining insight into property ownership and use than forcing landlords to publicly disclose their information.
“Governments, at all levels, are already aware of who and how many property owners are providing housing for Queenslanders – they certainly know how to get in touch with them because they issue relevant tax, rates notices, and other fees directly to them,” REIQ Chief Executive Officer Antonia Mercorella said.
“While we appreciate there’s benefits to understanding investor behaviour, there are far better ways to gain these insights without forcing lessors to publicly disclose their personal information.
“Given there are already local, state, and federal laws and regulation that govern residential tenancies and ensure people are taxed appropriately, a public landlord register is redundant.
“We’re also concerned that if a landlord register was established under the guise of informing government policy, that the motive of using it to find new ways to punish and strongarm investors into decisions around how they use their property would inevitably become apparent.”
Ms Mercorella said that it was inaccurate to suggest that tenants were in the dark about who their lessor is, and that this put them at a disadvantage.
“Tenants have access to their property owner’s or their appointed representative’s contact details via a prescribed tenancy agreement, which must be used in Queensland when entering into residential tenancy relationships,” she explained.
“This means that everyone in a tenancy relationship has the ability to communicate as and when necessary, and given the ongoing obligations between the parties, it’s in everyone’s interests to keep these lines of communication open.
“The suggestion that property owners’ personal details should be in a publicly available database flies in the face of privacy laws and is inappropriate – just as it would be if tenants’ details and personal information was disclosed in a public register.”
Ms Mercorella said the notion that lessors should disclose various personal details to tenants, given tenants provide information about themselves as part of a tenancy application process, was unfounded.
“We acknowledge that tenants are handing over quite extensive information about themselves securely to the property manager or lessor as part of the tenancy application process,” she said.
“However, there’s a legitimate reason for conducting reasonable due diligence, to ensure that the applicant has the financial ability to pay the rent and meet the financial obligations, and similarly, has a good rental history which speaks to their ability to care for a property.”
Finally, in response to the suggestion from the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) that the register would “keep rogue owners honest“, Ms Mercorella said this ignored the fact that the state already had strict and comprehensive legislation to govern tenancies.
“In Queensland, we already have a regulatory framework which stipulates the standards of rental premises and inclusions and there are enforceable consequences should these standards be breached,” she explained.
“As part of the first stage of rental reforms, a broad range of new rights were introduced from 1 October 2022 to further empower tenants and provide statutory safeguards with respect to repairs and maintenance issues.
“These rights and protections will be further enhanced through the introduction of minimum housing standards, which come into effect for new tenancies from September 2023.
“The REIQ acknowledges that there are a minority of property owners that aren’t doing the right thing, but we’d caution against reforms designed to target a select few when we know that in the vast majority of cases, property owners and tenants have respectful and positive relationships.
“This is evidenced by the annual data released by the Residential Tenancy Authority who manage hundreds of thousands of tenancy inquiries in Queensland each year and resolve disputes between lessors and tenants.”