I laughed. I laughed so loudly that people across the building came over to see what the joke was. The joke was a press release from the Opposition party outlining a reform for the social housing system that we have here. The line that cracked me up the most came at the end of the release, and said, in part, “South Australia needs results, not spin.” BRILLIANT!! This was tacked onto a release that, at best, was mere spin and at worst, totally misleading.
Why? Because the release appears to have been written to appeal to the lowest common denominator; those people that listen to talk back radio, hang onto every word by the Local Media Man and actually believe the ill-informed crap that he sprouts. The release says, in part, that, “…through a reform, over 700 currently vacant public houses would be made available to families across the state.” Yes, another reform, on top of one that we’ve just had. That’s exactly what the state, the department and the public needs – more confusion and lack of clarity of services. Each time a new party wins an election they immediately begin to dismantle the infrastructure that the previous party had in place. This means that, no matter how good the intention, services are disrupted for around six months as staff are removed, reassigned and generally messed about with. At the end of it all not much actually happens other than some CEO’s being moved on and front line staff given more work.
Other highlights from the release include such gems as, “Poor management of tenancies, properties and redevelopments mean that hundreds more houses sit vacant than elsewhere in Australia.” “…the number of vacant properties has blown out to 4%, almost twice the vacancy rate of public housing authorities around Australia, which average a vacancy rate of just over 2%. In real terms, this means that almost 1700 homes are left vacant while thousands remain on the waiting list. If we brought our vacancy rate down just to the national average for public housing authorities around Australia, an additional 721 families could be given a home.” Yes, and perhaps Led Zeppelin will reform and tour with The Beatles, because that’d happen before any of this does.
The release doesn’t make any comment as to why there are roughly 1700 vacant homes around the place, just that they are empty. It makes no mention that the bulk of the empty properties aren’t fit for vermin to live in, let alone people (although there are a few exceptions to that rule). One reason for empty properties is because they’re currently being pulled down so brand new, better, safer houses can be erected in their place, which will give a higher quality of house available and also assist in home ownership for low income earners. The houses that are selected for this scheme are generally the same houses that the opposition has been demanding that something be done to, as they’re pretty much dilapidated to the point of collapse. These are the same properties that you see in the papers and on certain one sided current affairs programs. But that matters not, the perception is that all is required is a coat of paint and few nails and BANG! Habitation. You'd not live there, but then you're being told to.
If only it was that simple, but it isn't. The cost of getting some of these properties back up to speed is, at times, only a shade less than the write off to rebuild value. And what’s better, a suburb with shiny new houses, or a suburb with forty to fifty year old double units? You can rename the suburb, pretty it up and hopefully encourage people to move to it to boost the local economy, or you can keep the old properties, whack the same old people into them and continue a new generation in a slum. Which is preferable? I know what I’d rather.
Even better the release goes on to state that, “…the policy also includes: enforcing a genuine “three strikes” policy for Housing SA tenants (and) ensuring properly notified inspections proceed even in the absence of the tenant.” Ok, let’s look at both of these ‘policies’ at the same time. The current tenancy system, and any future system, is governed by the Residential Tenancy Tribunal, not my favourite people. Any eviction proceedings must be channelled through them, you can’t simply evict someone without going through the proper channels, no matter what the Local Media Man might say. Why? For the same reason why you can’t kill people that piss you off – because it’s against the law. The RTT is there to protect the rights of the tenant, at times this is at odds with the rights of the landlord and that’s the frustrating part. If someone has ‘three strikes’ then they can’t be instantly removed, no matter what this policy says. The lease can expire and it not be renewed, or an eviction procedure has to take place. The thought that anyone can just walk up and throw someone into the gutter at will is the thought of someone who knows absolutely nothing about housing, social or otherwise.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for tighter controls on tenants that go wild, and those who don't play the game. In a perfect world any tenant, ANYWHERE, in any form of housing, be it private or public, would be fair grounds for instant eviction if they caused major property damage or serious assault against a neighbour, but, sadly, this world is far from perfect. To suggest that anyone can effect a 'three strikes and you're out' policy is being very disingenuous at best. It's unworkable. Even private landlords, and real estate companies, can't have such a policy in effect, which is why people are asked to sign short term leases with private landlords and real estate companies. That way it's easier to remove them from a property if they become troublemakers down the track. You simply fail to renew the lease and allow them to leave. What we could be doing is enforcing lease conditions and renewals better.
The other goldie in the above is this section, “…ensuring properly notified inspections proceed even in the absence of the tenant.” Sorry, under the law, as governed by the RTT (and I’m not making this up, search the RTT site yourself and see), no landlord, anywhere, Government or otherwise, can enter any property without legal entry. We don’t keep keys, so I have no idea how a person is supposed to gain entry – kick the doors in perhaps? Break and enter through a window?
The Residential Tenancy Act of 1995, the current act, section 72.1 (Right of entry), states that:
It is a term of a residential tenancy agreement that the landlord may enter the premises if (and only if)-
(a) the entry is made in an emergency; or
(b) the landlord gives the tenant written notice stating the purpose and specifying the date and time of the proposed entry not less than seven and not more than 14 days before entering the premises; or
(c) the entry is made at a time previously arranged with the tenant (but not more frequently than once every week for the purpose of collecting the rent); or
(d) the entry is made at a time previously arranged with the tenant (but not more frequently than once every four weeks) for the purpose of inspecting the premises; or
(e) the entry is made for the purpose of carrying out necessary repairs or maintenance at a reasonable time of which the tenant has been given at least 48 hours written notice; or
(f) the entry is made for the purpose of showing the premises to prospective tenants, at a reasonable time and on a reasonable number of occasions during the period of 28 days preceding the termination of the agreement, after giving reasonable notice to the tenant; or
(g) the entry is made for the purpose of showing the premises to prospective purchasers, at a reasonable time and on a reasonable number of occasions, after giving the tenant reasonable notice; or
(h) the entry is made with the consent of the tenant given at, or immediately before, the time of entry.
Although there is nowhere in that act that states how the entry is supposed to take place I'm sure that the law, and the RTT, frown upon illegal entry into a premises by anyone, including landlords. There is enough in that act to notify the tenant of an inspection and then enter the premises without their presence, but first you have to have a legal point of entry. No tenant will leave the doors unlocked, and, as stated, no tenant keys are kept by any office, there is no such thing as a ‘master key’ (despite the urban legends), so how the writer of this new ‘policy’ thinks that legal entry will take place is light years beyond me. I’d not want to enforce it. We attend, we knock. If no-one answers, we wait, knock again, do something else, knock again, leave a card urging for contact and then leave. Obtaining what is called an access order is a long and tedious task, and isn’t always successful. Again, no-one is going to break a door in or smash a window in order to do a routine inspection, so that policy is kaput before it even gets off the paper.
It’s generally incumbent that any potential new government do due diligence when making such announcements, and sadly it appears that this hasn’t happened in this case. I can only hope that they fix all of this before they take office, if elected, and thus prevent yet more broken promises and/or a complete and utter balls up. These half baked ‘policies’ will only result in old, often dangerous, houses being re-used, money being wasted in bringing them back up to vacancy standard, projects and growth being stopped and promises that cannot be carried out. It’s all well and good wanting to reform departments – hell, I have my own ideas there – but do your homework first. You can't fix something if you don’t know why it’s broken in the first place, or to what extent.