Canberra renters facing potential eviction due to unpaid rental debts will be given extra protections from immediate eviction, under new laws proposed by ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay.
Under the changes, a new regime for managing rental arrears would be created that would mean landlords could no longer immediately evict tenants if they failed to meet the terms of a repayment deal set by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The current laws mean a tenants' lease is automatically terminated if the tenant fails to pay their owed rent in line with a conditional termination and possession order, determined by the tribunal, even if payment is only a day late.
But Mr Ramsay said the new bills would replace that regime with a payment plan system, meaning even if a tenant does not meet the repayment terms, landlords would have to go back to the tribunal to seek a further eviction order before taking any action.
He said the new scheme would create an important safeguard for tenants and clarify the laws for both tenants and landlords.
If a tenant does not pay their back-rent in time, the landlord would need to apply to the tribunal within 60 days for a termination and possession order.
The tribunal would then need to take into account a tenant's potential hardship and make a further decision, which could include changing or confirming the original payment plan, setting it aside, or making an eviction order.
The bill will also extend a freeze on the ACT allowing unregulated third party rental "bond guarantee" products until the minister approves a regime suitable to regulate them, amid community concern they could lead to greater debts for low income renters.
While the bill implements another of the recommendations of a 2014 review of the Residential Tenancies Act, there remain several recommendations that have languished un-legislated in a 'working group' since June 2016.
They include widening occupancy agreements - a more flexible form of agreement with fewer protections for tenants - to caravan park residents, as well as putting greater protections in the model terms of all occupancy agreements, in line with actual tenancy agreements.
Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur backed the changes introduced today, particularly on the bond guarantee products, the risks of which she has previously likened to "pay day loans".
But Ms Le Couteur said there was much more work to be done, and she urged the government to accelerate its work on both the occupancy agreement issues.
She said she still believed the government was committed to such issues, but that given almost four years had elapsed since the review began in 2014, she was unsure where such measures sat among the government's priorities.
Mr Ramsay said the government was still working on other recommendations of the review, and was examining recent Victorian reforms to see what could work in the ACT, particularly around what were fair rent increases, model behaviour of landlords and the notice required to end a lease.