Fiona was told that the landlord needed to move into the flat, which was then relisted for $300 more a week when Fiona moved out
A Sydney landlord put pressure on a single mother to leave her rental home after just nine months, eventually relisting the property at $300 more a week when the tenant’s lease expired.
Fiona*, who has two children, last year rented a two-bedroom apartment in Arncliffe for $690 a week through agency Century 21.
In April, three months before her lease was scheduled to end, she was called by her real estate agent and told the owner needed to move back in as they were experiencing financial difficulties. In desperation, Fiona offered an immediate $55 rent increase in an attempt to stay in the property when her lease expired, which was rejected. She was then told if she left her lease early, the owner would contribute to her “moving costs”.
After she told the agent she would not be able to move before June, when the lease ended, the agent then emailed to say the owner would let her stay on after June if Fiona agreed to pay an extra $100 in rent.
In the email, the agent quoted the owner as saying “I would need the weekly rent increase to $790 to maintain this property due to the dramatic interest rate hike charged by the bank”.
Just as she was about to accept the offer to stay longer, the agent emailed again, saying there had been a misunderstanding and she would have to leave when her lease ended in June.
In New South Wales, a landlord can evict a tenant without grounds with just 30 days’ notice at the end of their fixed-term lease, or with just 90 days’ notice during an ongoing lease. Australia is one of the few OECD countries that allow no-grounds evictions. Advocates are now pushing to change this.
“I was livid,” Fiona said. “I didn’t respond because I thought I was going to lose it. And I still need to get my bond back from this guy, you know?”
The same month she moved out, the apartment was rented for $990 a week, $300 more than she paid, according to data lodged on Domain.
Century 21 was contacted for comment and asked if the owner moved in but they did not respond.
“The story that I got about the owner, the agent laid it on,” Fiona said. “[He said] the owner’s mother’s just died and she’s in a really bad situation.
“I’m thinking, ‘OK, I can have empathy for that … but for that to just be a complete lie, it’s unbelievable.”
Right before Fiona moved, she found out she had breast cancer, which has now been successfully treated. She did not look to see if the apartment had been relisted until December, when she saw it had been put back on the market shortly after she moved out.
“The owner never intended to stay herself and realised that a single mother was never going to pay the maximum rental value,” Fiona said.
She said she felt like she had been “thrown out” so the landlord could secure the highest rent.
In NSW a tenant is evicted every 18 minutes, according to a recent Fair Trading end-of-tenancy survey.
The state government has made repeated promises to end no-grounds evictions, but it is unclear when the policy will be introduced or what it will look like.
The NSW rental commissioner, Trina Jones, said the government will end no-grounds evictions this year.
“Ending no-ground evictions is a significant reform for NSW and the goal is to rebalance the rental market and increase certainty for renters and landlords,” Jones said.
“I want to take the time to ensure we get this reform right in consultation with the people whose lives and livelihoods will be impacted.
“I am continuing to consult widely on the detail of implementing no-ground evictions.”
The Tenants’ Union of NSW chief executive, Leo Patterson Ross, said the state “needs to get this right”.
“This really demonstrates why we need the new grounds eviction reform. If you have to lose your home, if you have to move out, there should be a good reason for it,” he said. “And you should be able to trust the reason is a genuine one.”
Patterson Ross said getting it right means ending no-grounds evictions during a rolling or fixed-term lease.
“We’ve seen Victoria and Queensland both fail to implement new grounds reform properly,” he said. “What that means is both periodic and fixed terms have to be addressed. You can’t only do periodic.”
On top of ending no-grounds evictions, the best way to help tenants was to implement a cap on rents, a report by Macquarie University commissioned by Shelter NSW and the Tenants’ Union recommended last year.
“Price regulation is an important part,” Patterson Ross said. “We need to have a proper conversation about it. We can’t dismiss it.”
* Guardian Australia has chosen not to use Fiona’s last name