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For some renters, being evicted is a death sentence

Today, writer and campaigner Jesse Noakes on the deadly consequences of evictions, and the new push to protect renters.
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As a homelessness crisis escalates around the country, there’s one jurisdiction where the situation is particularly stark. 

In the wealthiest state in Australia, more than 120 people have died on the streets in the past two years. 

And while the causes of homelessness are complex, there’s no doubt Western Australia’s tenancy laws are making things worse: especially when it comes to “no grounds” rental evictions. 

Today, writer and campaigner Jesse Noakes on the deadly consequences of evictions, and the new push to protect renters. 

Socials: Stay in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram

Guest: Journalist, Jesse Noakes.

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

##RUBY:
From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*.

As a homelessness crisis escalates around the country, there’s one jurisdiction where the situation is particularly stark. 

In the wealthiest state in Australia, more than 120 people have died on the streets in the past two years. 

And while the causes of homelessness are complex, there’s no doubt Western Australia’s tenancy laws are making things worse: especially when it comes to ‘no grounds’ rental evictions. 

Today - writer and campaigner Jesse Noakes, on the deadly consequences of evictions, and the new push to protect renters. 

It’s Wednesday August 3. 

[Theme Music Ends]

##RUBY:
Jesse, could you begin by telling me about the scale of the homelessness crisis that's unfolding in Australia right now? 

##JESSE:
Yeah, absolutely Ruby. 

So the latest census figures haven't quite come in on the scale of homelessness in Australia in 2022. But we do know from the last census in 2016 that more than 100,000 people are homeless around the country. On any given night, 116,000 people were homeless. 

We also know that in terms of the immediate solution to the homelessness crisis, public housing around Australia has continued to go backwards in recent years.

##Archival tape -- News:
“Families living in tents, mothers separated from children and people struggling to put a roof over their heads. There is a real housing crisis happening right now in this country.”

##Archival tape -- News:
“50,000 families and individuals are waiting up to ten years in NSW.”

##Archival tape -- News:
“Experts say we are facing a rental market surge not seen since the global financial crisis in 2008.”

##JESSE:
What this means is that vulnerable families who at the end of the day simply need somewhere safe to raise their children, are thrust upon the private market, which is completely incapable of coping with the burgeoning need, or are left out on the streets or couch surfing or in overcrowded, temporary or family accommodation, where the risks to these already vulnerable families and their children are only increased. 

##RUBY:
That's a lot of people without anywhere to stay on any given night. Could we talk a little bit more specifically about Western Australia, Jesse - because that’s where you are and that’s the richest state in Australia, yet we're hearing these stories about rising numbers of people becoming homeless, and of deaths related to that?

##JESSE:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the numbers are pretty appalling. 

So over the past two years, since the start of the pandemic, more than 120 people have died on the streets in Perth.

That came to national attention last year following the deaths of a cluster of young Aboriginal women within a few weeks last winter.

##Archival tape -- News:
“The pain still runs deep for Claudette Smith as she remembers her cousin Jennifer found dead outside Perth train station, the two grew up as sisters.”

##Archival tape --Claudette: 
“She never ever went back home after her dad died.”

##JESSE:
In a very, very small section of the Perth CBD. 

##Archival tape -- News:
“Hers was the latest in a spate of homeless deaths sparking protests.”

##Archival tape --Claudette: 
“Being cold on the streets I think she would have died of pneumonia or something like that anyway.”

##JESSE:
Now, Aboriginal people make up at least a third of those who've passed away in the past two years in Perth, where approximately 40% of the thousand or so people on the street on any given night are Aboriginal. 

Ultimately, most people become homeless because at some point they've been evicted from the housing that they did have. And so that makes evictions really the pointy end of a homelessness crisis that in Western Australia over the past two years has killed more people than COVID has during the pandemic.

##RUBY:
Well, let's talk a bit more about that then, what typically leads up to a person being evicted and what are the reasons that this might happen?

##JESSE:
I mean, there are a number of reasons that can cause a family to end up in court facing eviction.

But part of the big problem that we have in Western Australia and still elsewhere around the country is that there's a whole class of evictions that don't need a reason at all.

In the case of a fixed term tenancy. It's still possible in Western Australia for a family to be evicted from their home at the end of a fixed term lease with no reason given at all. 

And at any point during the course of a periodic tenancy, a family can be kicked out simply with two months notice in which they have to try and find a new place to live. And obviously, as we've seen, given the scale of the housing crisis around the country and the homelessness crisis, especially in Western Australia, that's no small ask. 

And so many people, once they are evicted from their homes with their families, find themselves languishing for months and often years waiting for somewhere new to live.

##RUBY:
And so you've worked with people who've experienced this, who've been evicted for no reason from their rental properties. Could you tell me about that, about some of the cases that you've worked on?

##JESSE:
I'm still in regular contact with one of the people I spoke to for this story, a young First Nations woman who was evicted from her private rental property in the middle of the pandemic when there was supposed to be a moratorium on evictions. But somehow she managed to slip through the cracks.

##Archival tape --Alice: 
“I got given 30 days to be evicted from the premises due to being $400 behind in rent.  I had the money to cover that and they still would not renew my lease.”

##JESSE:
In the meantime, since she was made homeless two years ago, her baby nephew, who she'd been caring for, has had to find somewhere else to live because she doesn't have the stability or security in her life to look after him without a home. 

##Archival tape --Alice: 
“It’s just caused chaos. Between his learning processes and things like that. We don’t have stability, he needs to be able to be stable and have a home where he can grow and have all those learning capabilities.”

##JESSE:
I get a call from her every couple of weeks. And she's been waiting for priority public housing ever since she's been made homeless. But two years later, she's still waiting.

##Archival tape --Alice: 
“I just feel sad. Like it’s pretty emotional. So yeah it comes with a lot of different feelings, you know, and things like that, being homeless.”

##RUBY:
We’ll be back in a moment. 

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##RUBY:
Jesse, is there any recourse for a person or a family who is evicted in this way for no reason? What typically would happen if they tried to fight that eviction? Are those cases ever won?

##JESSE:
The short answer is no, they're not. For cases involving fixed term tenancies or where landlords are terminating periodic tenancies without giving any grounds. There's simply no defence available to tenants. There's no evidence that's required to be presented in court. There's no justification that the landlord needs to give. 

It's as simple as if the landlord takes issue with the tenant, 60 days later, in Western Australia, they can legally remove them from the property without having to explain why once, whether to a real estate agent or to a magistrate in court. 

The only good news is that recent reports over the past week or so suggest that in WA we may be about to substantially mitigate some of these risks following other states, such as the ACT, which this week announced that they were removing fixed term tenancies altogether. 

Meanwhile, the McGowan government is undertaking what it calls the most comprehensive review of residential tenancies laws in Western Australia in well over a decade. And it's well overdue and hopefully it begins to bring WA up to speed with the rest of the country where these outdated and punitive tenancies are gradually being reformed.

##RUBY:
Okay. And so can you tell me more then about what is being considered as part of that review? Is the idea of these kinds of no reason evictions also going to be included? 

##JESSE:
Yeah, absolutely. The understanding the government has given is that they're considering removing no grounds terminations from periodic tenancies, that is, tenancies that don't have a set end date, which would mean that landlords would need to give a reason to breach a tenant if they wished to evict them. And that in the case of fixed term tenancies, it'll only be the end of the first fixed term that still provides a provision for evicting someone without giving a reason.
 
##RUBY:
Is there much pushback, though, to all of this? Because I suppose the people who own a house and are renting it out would say that because it's their property, they should be able to choose a new tenant once a lease is over, regardless of any other considerations.

##JESSE:
There has been pushback. Predictably, the real estate industry is fairly influential politically and publicly, as you could imagine, and there are lots of landlords out there who presumably will find the new restrictions on their practises unwelcome. 

So the real estate industry has actually claimed they've put out a report just this week in Western Australia claiming that the changes to no grounds, evictions and also limiting rent increases will spook investors to the degree that thousands of homes will be removed from the private rental market. One particularly colourful analogy that was used by the president of the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia, Damian Collins, this week was to suggest that because no grounds divorces are still legal, no grounds evictions should also remain so. I mean, I think it's a slightly unusual analogy to suggest that renting a property from a landlord is comparable to being married to them. You don't live in the property with the landlord. Generally speaking, you certainly don't have children together or raise a family. 

But predictably, the real estate industry is suggesting that the rental market will overheat even further. However, Victoria implemented precisely these reforms last year and thus far there's no evidence of increased rents or of properties being taken off the market since those reforms were introduced. 

So it appears that it's a slightly specious scare campaign from the real estate industry, which is entirely predictable but also based on past precedent, does have a habit of spooking the government when they get to the pointy end of considering reforms such as these. 

##RUBY:
And Jesse, what does all of this say to you about the, the fundamental tension that we have in Australia as the property market has boomed and that is the competing interests of investors who buy property as a way to make money versus the essential role of housing, which is a place for a person or a family to safely live. 

##JESSE:
Yeah, well, I mean, I think it's been remarked upon elsewhere that the right to extract profit from rent is not comparable with the right to safe housing to protect children and raise families. And I think that points to the fundamental contradiction here between the economic and commercial considerations of the real estate market and what housing means to Australians versus what it means to vulnerable people and families who face homelessness.

And while the homelessness crisis around Australia and certainly in my home state of Western Australia, continues to worsen without governments being able to properly finance and produce the resources in the form of public housing that's necessary to meet the scale of the demand, the private rental market is really the last recourse for many desperate people. 

And so I think it's imperative and long overdue that reforms are made to ensure that the basic protection of a safe home to raise a family remains enshrined in Australian law. And these protections that are currently on the table in WA and have recently been implemented elsewhere around the country, will hopefully go some way towards ensuring that the basic human right of housing is maintained in Australia, despite the obvious structural economic pressures that are making it harder and harder for many families to ensure they have what they need, which is a home to raise their kids. 

##RUBY:
Jesse, thank you so much for talking to me. It's a really sad story that you're outlining.

##JESSE:
I really appreciate the opportunity to share it with you. Ruby, thank you. 

[Advertisement]

##RUBY:
Also in the news today,

The Reserve Bank has made the historic decision to raise rates for a fourth consecutive month, raising them by 50 basis points at its board meeting yesterday.

RBA Governor Phillip Lowe said in a statement that more interest rate rises were likely before the end of the year.

And the US government has announced it has killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zawahiri was the long-time second in command to Osama bin Laden and assumed leadership of the group after Bin Laden’s death in 2011.

US officials say he was killed in a drone strike, targeting a house in Afghanistan on Sunday morning.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*. See you tomorrow.

[Theme Music Ends]

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