‘Price to pay’: The unintended consequences of renter pet laws in NT

by | Apr 26, 2020 | Opinion | 1 comment

OPINION: Michael Gunner’s Labor Government continues to stand-over landlords with threats of imposing pet laws that presume a renter has the right to keep a pet regardless of the landlord’s wishes.

Despite the government’s claims it has put the controversial laws on hold, they refused to scrap them entirely when presented with the opportunity in Parliament this week. They also refused to hear the voices of thousands of Territory homeowners and investors by taking the extraordinary step of disallowing the tabling of a petition against the laws in the people’s house.

Let’s look at the facts and the unintended consequences of not scrapping these laws.

Sam Wilks.

Some 50 per cent of Territory rental properties are owned in some part or managed by the NT Government which allow pets. Pets are also allowed at federally-funded defence housing. Roughly 20 per cent of the residential market is units.

The changes in the Residential Tenancies Act cannot override the by-laws enacted by the body-corporate act, so units and apartments are not affected. That leaves about 30 per cent of the market which are privately owned properties; about 80 per cent of those already allow pets. 

So now, the removal of common law property rights could be imposed involuntarily on basically six per cent of the total residential tenancy market.

Why? Was it to reduce the crime problems that the Labor Government has been unable to address? Do they think that pets reduce alcohol consumption or domestic violence?

Do they have some grand social agenda, that might make these changes understandable, even if unjustifiable?

No, the Gunner Labor Government is virtue signalling again.

Attorney General Natasha Fyles’ own comments in Parliament reflect her ‘social justice warrior’ stance, at a time when Territorians just want to get back to work and get on with their own lives.

Where is the hard evidence that shows bringing in pet laws will improve the lives of Territorians?

The government’s own scrutiny committee, made up of their own members, clearly stated that these amendments were not necessary, reasonable, or justified.

So how much will it cost and what are the unintended consequences?

The restriction of a person’s property rights leads to greater uncertainty and deters investment.

Many investors have already called me and asked me to sell their properties due to this Labor Government’s interventions. Many salespeople can validate that the number of properties that would be on the market now would be triple the current offered stock, if not for the inability to meet the debt owed to the bank.

These massive losses are a direct result of continued government interventions. How will they mitigate the losses?

Has the government-imposed greater rights for owners to charge pet bonds in case damage is done to the property? No.

Have they stipulated additional measures in depreciation and maintenance of a property due to added wear and tear? No.

Labor now threatens property owners that don’t handle a social issue/pet ownership in their perceived ‘politically correct’ way with NT Civil Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) hearings and massive regulatory fines.

The NT Government has presumed the accused (the landlord) to be guilty and are not letting common-law safeguards get in the way.

There seems to be a dangerously large number of people who think that the law exists to give them whatever they want. Even when that means denying other people the same property rights that they claim for themselves.

Anything that fits the anti-capitalist and trade theme is seen as smart politics in this election year.

There is a price to pay for increasing the potential risks and costs onto a property owner. 

That price extends beyond the particular investors whose economic future and lives may be ruined by property damage.  The whole atmosphere of investing in the Territory is compromised. 

Property managers now have to dodge greater accusations of discrimination and potential lost revenue defending claims by political activists. Owners will need to mitigate risks or avoid them altogether.

The government has invested millions of taxpayers’ money into the property market with first home buyers grants and off-the-plan grants. It makes sense when they make millions from GST and stamp-duty revenue. It has had a rather devastating effect on many young buyers in the last decade as those without the willpower and discipline to save a deposit purchased homes with government subsidies.

Now many forced to move back home with their parents with their young families due to economic hardship are unable to cover the mortgages alone. They have placed their properties on the rental market. They are not sophisticated investors; they are desperate, and debt-leashed.

If the pet laws commence, the government has now provided another noose around their necks.

There is no way that many of these young property owners are able to refinance today, to repay the costs of any damage associated with this change. They were home buyers, not “business” people. Many wouldn’t get finance to even buy a home today, due to responsible lending practices imposed by the Federal Government.

There are many unintended consequences of these new pet laws that will poison the investment atmosphere in the Territory and diminish the economic survivability of those most vulnerable. Those the Gunner Government said they are representing: Territory families.

Sam Wilks is a property and security consultant based in Darwin

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