This Woman Says She Was Evicted For Running A Nonexistent Clothes-Dyeing Business Out Of Her Home

    There's a push to eliminate "no grounds" evictions in NSW.

    Alice* found the rental house in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west after going through a drawn-out break-up with her long-term partner.

    The 33-year-old said she “loved” living in the property. “It was the first place that I really had independence.” The rent was affordable, it was well located, and it had a driveway.

    But after she moved in, she started hearing from a neighbour that her landlord – an older woman who lived next door – was complaining that Alice was operating a clothes-dyeing business out of the apartment, and that she was worried that the fumes were making her go blind.

    Alice works a full-time office job in community welfare. “The last time I dyed clothes was in Girl Guides,” she told BuzzFeed News.

    Worried, she called her real estate agent, and said she was assured her that everything was fine. But a month later she received an email giving her 90 days notice to move out. She had been in the property for eight months.

    When the agent came around for a pre-planned inspection, she told him how much she loved living in the property, and asked to be able to hear the landlord’s concerns and do a mediation.

    During that inspection, the agent asked her if she dyed clothes. Her neighbour had also told her that the previous two tenants in her home had been evicted for dyeing clothes, and while the agent wouldn’t confirm it, “he did say something like, ‘we were never able to prove that they were dyeing’,” she said.

    While Alice says the agent did try to reason with the landlord on her behalf, he was unsuccessful. She moved out about a month ago. Finding a new place was “really hard”, moving was expensive, and she’s now living with flatmates to subsidise a higher rent.

    She describes the experience as “distressing”, particularly after having been out of the rental market for the eight years before the tenancy. “I forgot what it was like to have such little rights,” she said. “I’d finally set up my independence and it got taken away because someone isn’t living in reality.”

    Alice believes that had she been able to appeal the eviction, she would still be living in the apartment. She says she paid her rent on time, got on well with her neighbours, lived quietly and kept the property in good condition.

    In NSW and most Australian states and territories, landlords have the power to evict a tenant without giving a reason. In NSW, the requirement is that they give notice of 90 days.

    So-called "no grounds" evictions have emerged as a key battleground as the NSW government shepherds its reforms to renting law through parliament.

    The renting reform bill, introduced last month, would give renters greater rights. It would allow renters to undertake minor modifications, such as installing picture hooks, without the landlord’s permission; introduce minimum standards for properties; and cap rent increases to once a year. However, unlike the renting law passed in Victoria last month, the bill doesn’t outlaw no grounds evictions.

    Labor and the Greens will support the bill, yet both argue that it doesn’t go far enough, and that it should eliminate no grounds evictions.

    Last week a group of 45 housing academics signed an open letter stating that eliminating no grounds evictions was the “single most important reform” in tenancy law, and asking the NSW parliament to act.

    “The prospect that a ‘no grounds’ termination notice may be given hangs over all tenancies, discouraging tenants from raising concerns with agents and landlords and undermining the legal rights otherwise provided for by their leases and the legislation,” the letter said.

    They asked for legislation to prescribe a set of reasonable grounds on the basis of which landlords could legitimately evict their tenants, such as if the landlord wants to live in the property themselves.

    “The only inconvenience would be to the retaliators, the discriminators and those who cannot cope with even a modest level of accountability,” the researchers added.

    Felicity*, 38, was living in a “really lovely property” in Sydney’s Wolli Creek, when water started to seep from the bathroom to the lounge room. She found slugs on the water-damaged area, and the timber of her back door began disintegrating.

    When she asked for repairs to be done, she says the property manager “indirectly threatened” to terminate the lease, saying if they were to get the work done she would have to move out.

    While she wasn’t evicted, her rent increased by $40 a week and the landlord did not complete the repairs. She moved out.

    In her previous property, she says she had been forced to leave less than a month before she was due to give birth, after the owners decided to sell.

    “I’m extremely upset that I don’t have housing security,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I think the experience I had when I was pregnant has really impacted me quite badly. It’s part of living in Sydney. I know lots of other sole parents who are in a similar position and who are regularly moving house.

    “The only solution that I can see is that I actually need to buy somewhere to live. Hopefully I’ll be able to afford in Sydney soon.”

    Leo Patterson Ross, senior policy officer at the Tenants’ Union of NSW, says most of the calls the union receives are about repair issues. “We know that there are many people who refrain or hold off on even asking for repairs because they’re worried about the potential implications,” he told BuzzFeed News. “The main possible retaliation is an eviction, because the system makes it so easy to do.”

    NSW law allows a tribunal to overturn a 'retaliatory' eviction, if it’s satisfied the landlord was motivated by the fact that a tenant was trying to enforce their rights. However, this is discretionary.

    Tim McKibbin, CEO of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, the peak body for the property services industry, told BuzzFeed News he thought the law got the balance right by giving a tenant 90 days to find a new home. He says those advocating for a prescribed list of reasons to justify evictions are “looking for problems”, and that it would be difficult for landlords to prove the eviction was legitimate.

    “This is about an investment,” he said. “I think people often forget this. If somebody bought Commonwealth Bank shares, then we would describe that person as an investor. If somebody buys a rental property and rents it out, the community to some extent starts not to view them as an investor, but as somebody that is providing housing. And I think this is where some of our problems come from.”

    He argued that it was not in landlords’ commercial interests to evict good tenants, and that it was “not uncommon” for landlords to reward good tenants with rent that is “well below” market rate.

    McKibbin also raised questions about the government’s proposal to let tenants install picture hooks. “That is is just opening up a Pandora’s Box,” he said. “This is the landlord’s property, and the landlord says to the market, ‘This is my property, do you want to come rent it?’ And if you say ‘Yes, I do’, you don’t say, ‘Yes, I do, provided I can start boring into the walls and start hanging paintings’.” He says these kinds of alterations should be negotiated at the start of a lease.

    Labor and the Greens may be able to build a big enough coalition to force an amendment to eliminate no grounds evictions, after Christian Democratic Party member Paul Green said in debate that he had asked the government to “acknowledge the challenges faced by tenants regarding no grounds termination”.

    The bill passed through the NSW lower house at the end of September, and will return to the upper house for consideration of possible amendments in mid-October.

    * Not their real names.


    NSW law does not ban retaliatory evictions, but instead gives a tribunal the discretionary power to overturn them. An earlier version of this post stated that NSW bans them.