Minggu, 11 November 2012

A bit of perspective with the International Union of Tenants (part 2)

As we discussed last week, the Secretary-General of the International Union of Tenants, Magnus Hammar, has been in town to talk with tenants and workers – part of the IUT's role in keeping up the international exchange of ideas and intelligence about renting.

Magnus's work for the IUT is sponsored by the Swedish Union of Tenants, and we were especially interested to hear about how our Swedish counterparts operate. In some ways it's the same – and in some ways it's very different.

(KNISLINGE sofa, in KUNGSVIK brown)

Like the Tenants' Union of NSW and the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services, the Swedish Union of Tenants provides tenants with legal information about their rights and obligations, and works on policy and law reform to advance tenants' interests. 
Unlike us, the Swedish Union of Tenants is that country's largest non-government organisation, with over half a million members – almost half of all households who rent are paid up. 
Also unlike us, it has over 700 employees – after all, they need this many workers when it comes to collectively negotiating rents with Sweden's municipal housing companies and landlord organisations.
Membership costs about 70 Swedish krona – about A$10 – per month. For that you get access to the Union's legal information and collective rent bargaining services, as well as discounts on a range of services from affiliated companies – for example, at the moment you can get 50 per cent off Fl├╝gger paints (all sizes and colours), and 20 per cent off Fiona wallpaper!

(Pause, gentle reader, and reflect on what would happen if the Tenants' Union of NSW were to offer tenants discounts on purchases of housepaint.)

The business of providing tenants advice and advocacy services in New South Wales is a much more marginal enterprise. Here the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program pays the wages of about 100 workers at Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services throughout the State and at the TU, at a cost of three cents per day (or 90 cents per month) for each renter household. The money comes from interest earned on tenants' money (in the form of bonds lodged with Renting Services, and payments in agents' statutory accounts) – but it is just a fraction of the interest, with much larger slices going to the Department of Finance and Services and the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. 
You don't have to pay to use a Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (because most tenants pay a bond, you've already paid) and you don't have to join the Tenants' Union (but if you want to, we'd love you to join). 
What we do ask is this: if you've benefited from the work of a TAAS, tell your State MP about it. 
Maybe you've received phone information or advice from a TAAS, or had a TAAS advocate advocate for you at the Tribunal, or read a Tenants Rights factsheet, or read a TU submission that spoke for your interests. 
Let your MP know that you value the service, and that you want more of your bond interest to go to expanding the service.  

And tell us, too, about how a TAAS has helped you. We'll keep making the case for more services for tenants, and better tenancy laws, and working for the day when a tenant doesn't have to move to Sweden to pay a decent rent and do a little decorating.