'I'm just putting up with it': Tenants in lease limbo too scared to complain

Philippa*, 35, pays more than $800 a week for a two-bedroom Redfern terrace. But despite paying a substantial sum she is refusing to call the property manager to undertake much-needed repairs.

The reason? She's scared she'll get evicted now that her 12-month lease has turned periodic.

While there is legislation in place to stop "retaliation" from landlords ??? such as rent increases and evictions ??? due to maintenance requests, experts say it's too difficult to enforce.

Maintenance problems began soon after Philippa moved into the home and led to "two months of phone calls" and arguing with the property manager.

Now, the rental has a dodgy stove top, a broken lock on the back gate and an unusable washing line she has chosen not to complain about.

"I'm just putting up with it ... I think people underestimate the level of insecurity and anxiety about never knowing if you might get asked to move out," she said.

She's not alone in fearing what will happen if she complains.

Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service branches across NSW take regular calls of concern from tenants fearing they'll be evicted, or given a rent rise, should they make complaints or regularly ask for repairs.

Julia Murray from the Inner Western Sydney Tenants' Advice Service said the calls were "almost daily" regarding ignored maintenance requests and the consequences of going to tribunal.

For those coming up to the end of a fixed-term lease, with 30-days notice from landlords required to end a tenancy, and periodic tenancies with 90-day notice requirements, "tenants can't assert their rights without fearing they'll have to move," Ms Murray said.

Warren Wheeler, coordinator of South Coast and Illawarra Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, has already received two calls from tenants in March who chose to ignore maintenance rather than complain.

"Some tenants will be prepared to live with things that are substandard in order to not rock the boat and to secure their tenancy," Mr Wheeler said.

A spokesperson from NSW Fair Trading said tenants were protected under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010, which could find the termination of a tenancy to be retaliatory in certain circumstances.

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Despite this, the fear renters have is "perfectly explainable", University of NSW law professor Brendan Edgeworth said.

"Being able to prove retaliation is a real problem for tenants ... some have been able to do it because a landlord has sent an email [telling them that's why they're being evicted] but most landlords are not that daft," Mr Edgeworth said.

Amending no-grounds eviction rules to be allowable on specific grounds and reversing the burden of proof onto landlords would be a "simple reform that would transform the landlord-tenant relationship".

But John Gilmovich president of the Property Owners Association of NSW said most landlords did the right thing with respect to tenants and widespread fears of complaining about maintenance was "fake news".

"Most landlords are well-educated and have a professional property manager who recommend when it's time for a rent review," Mr Gilmovich said.

He described the discussion as "fearmongering" from tenants unions who are looking to change no grounds evictions rules.

Landlords insurance specialist Terri Scheer Insurance executive manager Carolyn Parrella said tenants needn't be fearful if they'd complied with their lease agreement.

"A landlord cannot increase the rent, evict tenants, give bad references or make a renter pay for maintenance or routine repair expenses as punishment for the tenant reporting an issue," she said.

Property management agency Just Think Real Estate managing partner Edwin Almeida said landlords should consider "preventative maintenance" before the property is rented, and be prepared to put aside 5 to 10 per cent of the rental income for future maintenance.

But he said many tenants didn't complain out of fear of a rent hike or an eviction notice, but concern they'll be blamed for causing the issue even when it was wear and tear.

"Tenants have a legitimate fear that they're going to be asked to pay to fix it and it will be found to be their fault," Mr Almeida said.

???*Surname withheld on request

This story 'I'm just putting up with it': Tenants in lease limbo too scared to complain first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.