Rabu, 05 Desember 2012

Are social housing applicants getting blackballed?

Agents ask for an awful lot of personal information when you apply for a tenancy.

But this question – from the Real Estate Institute's standard application form – is the worst of the lot:

Have you made an application for accommodation in any social housing, as defined in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 or aged care facility? [Tick YES or NO]

There can be only one purpose for this question: to vet applications with a view to refusing tenancies to people who are social housing applicants.

If you're a social housing applicant, you can expect to wait many years for a social housing tenancy, so you'll probably need to rent privately in the meantime. And because your income will be low, and there's probably other problems going on in your life, you will already have a hard time getting a tenancy. To be ruled out, out of hand, because you're a social housing applicant, is cruel and wrong.

But not unlawful.

This is a problem for governments, as administrators of social housing, as well as for social housing applicants, and there's a few things governments should consider doing about it.

Federal and State Governments should amend their anti-discrimination legislation to prohibit discrimination on the ground that a person has applied for or receives a social service. We note that the Federal Government has new draft anti-discrimination legislation out for public comment. It doesn't include this ground of discrimination; we'll be recommending that it should.

And the NSW State Government can amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to provide for a prescribed standard tenancy application form, that asks for all the information that landlords reasonably need to know – and nothing they don't.

The Act could also be amended to specifically prohibit agents and landlords from asking about social housing applications. Interestingly, there's a lesson here from the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1948, which is currently up for repeal for misconceived reasons. Long before there was anti-discrimination legislation on the statute books, section 38 of the 1948 Act prohibited landlords from refusing to let premises to persons with children – indeed, it prohibited landlords from inquiring as to whether a prospective tenant had any children (section 38(4)).

All of these are reasonable measures of protection for people who have a hard enough time in the rental market even without being blackballed by landlords and agents.