You Call This a Rental Reform?

By Iswed Tiggjan

The Housing Legislation Amendment Bill passed Queensland Parliament on the 14th of October and, with our lack of a senate, will likely soon be enacted with little modification. Anyone who has perused the comments from landlords in their myriad of Facebook groups would think that the ALP has announced the immediate expropriation of all rental properties in the Soviet Republic of Queensland. Even the peak body of the real estate industry, the REIQ (Real Estate Institute of Queensland), has gravely pronounced that many landlords may see this as the ‘final straw’ (in their exploitation of renters), meaning that they expect to “see some investors making the decision to sell”. Of course they remember to include a snide threat to remind us renters that we shouldn’t ever seek greater rights as “The ripple effect of this could see renters struggling to find suitable housing under already tight conditions.”

While the landlord class and their representatives in the real estate industry may be kicking up a stink and the ALP desperately attempting to convince renters that this is a meaningful change on their behalf,  unfortunately there is in reality little for us to be excited about.

Holding landlords and real estates to a higher standard regarding repairs and the condition of properties sounds positive on paper, but we are doubtful that there will be much follow through without significant pressure from tenants. This may not sound like a big deal except for the well known habit of real estates retaliating against individual tenants (refusal to resign leases, poor references for future rentals ect) who push for repairs and improved living conditions.

No longer can renters be automatically refused a pet, and instead the onus is on the landlord to provide a valid excuse for doing so. While we welcome renters having greater scope regarding pets, in our opinion this still leaves far too much power in the hands of the landlord class and denies renters the basic right to companionship. In any case,  the grounds for rejection remain broad enough to be applicable in almost all situations, essentially rendering this part of the legislation useless.

The most vaunted change is the apparent end of no-cause evictions. It should be pointed out that this is, however, simply a change in terminology. While landlords can theoretically no longer evict a tenant at the end of their lease without a valid reason, the state government has been kind enough to include in the list of valid reasons ‘the ending of the fixed term lease’. It isn’t difficult to see the utter kafkaesque absurdity at play here. 

Despite the REIQ’s claims that this bill clearly swings the pendulum back towards the tenant in terms of rights, it  should be seen for what it clearly is — an attempt to look like action is being taken on the deplorable state of renting in QLD without actually having to do so. While the landlord class may kick and scream about it, it is renters that should be angry. 

ALP Member for Cooper Jonty Bush – The smile of someone that has just defended their rights as a landlord against the real needs of tenants everywhere

Renters everywhere should look at this bill, which has largely been written and voted on by politicians who are landlords themselves, as an insult and a clear statement that their right to affordable and dignified housing pales in comparison to the right of landlords to be little tyrants. Most importantly this bill should be seen as a wake up call for the need to organise and engage in direct struggle. 

While the housing bill introduced by the Greens in June was substantially better than this one, it was easily ignored and the bill provided in response is a joke. This isn’t just because it is in the class interests of politicians to favour landlords (although that certainly is the case), it is also because of the lack of an organised and militant tenants movement fighting from below (although as we have previously discussed, this is beginning to shift with the formation of the South East Queensland Union of Renters).  Politics is always a question of power, and how power can be exerted. As anarchists we are also particularly concerned with the question of how power can be democratised. We can’t seize power, rather we have to develop popular power in and through the organisations of those struggling.

Such a power doesn’t currently exist, and until it does we will continue to see bills favouring the landlord class thrown in the face of renters. Simultaneously, landlords will continue to push to strip away the paltry rights that we do have.

In July we noted that:

As long as the working class lacks access to and communal control of their own sustainable housing the (rental) crisis will remain, sometimes at a low point and at other times surging upwards. As long as a landlord class remains, homelessness will continue, renters will be exploited and housing will remain precarious. These simple facts cannot be legislated or reformed away, only the destruction of capitalism can resolve them. But when it comes to housing the situation is not all or nothing.

We shouldn’t thumb our noses at reforms in the realm of housing simply because they fall short of revolution. The important point is how those reforms are won.”

This bill is a clear example of what happens when reforms are gifted to us from above, rather than conquered by our own class based organisations. Reforms such as this should remind every renter that we can’t rely on politicians to look out for us, or to improve our conditions. It was the unions (that is, the workers themselves) engaging in struggle that won better conditions for the working class, and it’s through militant tenant organisations struggling that we are likely to finally see meaningful change for renters.

The Renters and Housing Union in Victoria, for example, recently announced that they won back over $100 000 for their members over the past year. Tenant unionism works, and with the Olympics ever present on the Brisbane horizon, we continue to call for tenants here to join the South East Queensland Union of Renters and build a tenants movement that can strike fear into landlords everywhere. 

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