When should someone lose their home against their will?
Ideally, this would never happen. Our hearts go out to people who, the victims of a flood or a bushfire, have their home taken from them.
We recognise that the loss isn't just material, but also something intangible.
There's something special about the place you rest your head each night, where you pass time and make memories with your family, where you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.
This is a timely question, because renting is now much more common.
The latest census data has over 50,000 people renting in the ACT. People are also more likely to be renting long-term and moving through life stages as renters: getting married, having children, entering retirement. What should home look like for this community - our friends, our neighbours, the person teaching your child, or driving your bus, or giving you a vaccine dose?
This week, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury released a public exposure draft on proposed changes to the ACT's rental laws. The most significant change is the end of termination without grounds.
This part of the act allowed a property investor to end a tenancy without having to provide any reason, rationale, or justification.
The effect of this is that someone loses their home. And they don't even get the dignity of knowing why.
In reality, people do know why. It might be the time they asked to have an assistance animal. It could be the time they stood up to an unfair rent increase. It could be when they sent their fifth email asking if, please, could you get around to fixing the toilet? The pattern is that termination without grounds is retaliatory. It is used to punish people for exercising their rights, and the threat of it is used to discourage advocacy and silence renters.
The Productivity Commission, in 2019, noted that even the possibility of such retaliation: "decreases the willingness of tenants to assert their rights under residential tenancy law."
So maybe we can ask ourselves an easier question: should landlords be required to abide by tenancy laws? And if the answer to that is yes, then it follows that we cannot allow without-ground terminations because they allow landlords to disregard and ignore tenancy laws, confident that they can silence tenants with the threat of eviction.
Just as laws against unfair dismissal help to protect workers' rights and enable safer workplaces, requiring a decent reason to end a tenancy helps to protect the rights of renters and enable safer rental homes.
In the last months I've spoken with numerous people who questioned a rent increase, only to promptly receive a no-cause termination notice.
When other renters ask me for guidance I always caution them: this is what the law says. But also, you should know that the law allows your landlord to evict you if you speak up. Tread carefully.
Recently, these conversations have been particularly bitter, because change has been so near. Soon, I tell these people, this won't be happening anymore. I hope.
For some unlucky people, however, it's too late. They've already lost their homes.
But for countless people in years to come, these changes will make a world of difference.
People will be able to stay in their homes and exercise their rights to make sure their homes are safe and decent. This change is so long overdue, and it's very welcome to see it now.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.