Apart from being discriminated against for having a boyfriend (even if the discrimination was not strictly illegal), I’ve had some other strange experiences looking for accommodation.
I went through an accommodation application process earlier in 2015, which just got weirder and weirder.
An application for accommodation asked some intrusive personal questions. These questions would likely be illegal in my jurisdiction (the Australian Capital Territory, or ACT), were it not for the fact the landlord intended to live there. However, in the specific circumstances, the domestic accommodation exception to discrimination may not have applied, as the legislation says “lives and intends to continue to live on the premises”, and the place was empty on inspection. (I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.) The landlord only disclosed their intention to live on the premises very late in the process, after repeated email exchanges. (At this point, it had become so weird, I was never going to move in there.)
I tried reporting these terms to the responsible ACT Government department, and they directed me to the ACT tenants union, which is understaffed, and takes phone messages for callbacks for 90 minutes per day. At that point, I got the impression that services addressing my concerns were underfunded, to say the least. So I gave up on that strategy for addressing my concerns.
Here are some of the actual questions, and my concerns:
Disability Pension yes/no
Rent Relief yes/no
3. DO YOU HAVE ANY DISABILITY AT ALL?
4. ARE YOU APPLYING FOR RENT ASSISTANCE?
These questions could be used to discriminate against persons with a disability, or on a low income. There is an assumption that people receiving government benefits don’t pay their rent on time. (Which may be generally accurate, but in my case, I had financial support available to pay rent and other essentials.) A non-discriminatory alternative is requiring a larger deposit, and/or larger rent payments in advance.
6 ARE YOU, SINGLE, MARRIED, DATING, HAVE CLOSE FRIEND?
7 WILL YOU HAVE OVERNIGHT VISITORS? Ie FAMILY/FRIEND?
13 WHAT IS YOUR AGE?
14 HAVE YOU BEEN TO COURT OR TRIBUNAL BEFORE?
15 WHAT IS YOUR ETHNIC BACKGROUND?
16 WHAT ARE YOU STUDYING/WORK?
After all these questions, the potential landlord has pretty much made a clean sweep of the grounds on which you are not permitted to discriminate in the ACT. This is quite alarming: Did they use the list from the Act to produce these questions? Or, do people instinctively discriminate based on certain criteria?
Terms and House Rules
Following the application form, the landlord sent me some terms and house rules. Here are some of the more interesting ones, again with commentary:
C. The Licensee has sought independent advice and attempted to negotiate terms prior to signing this agreement.
This clause is intended to avoid a contract of adhesion (standard form contract), where a tenant is placed in a “take it or leave it” position. Adhesion contracts can result in terms being invalidated due to unconscionability, or ambiguous terms being resolved in favour of the tenant. I am not a lawyer, but it appears like a pretty spurious term to me: unless there was actual independent advice and negotiation of terms, assenting to this term is essentially meaningless. (And, ironically, this term could even become the very thing it intends to prevent: an obvious “take it or leave it” term. If the occupant feels they have to lie about genuine negotiation to secure accommodation [or doesn’t know they’re lying, because they haven’t read the terms], then that’s not genuine negotiation.)
It’s as if they’ve read up on the rights tenants have in the ACT, and deliberately tried to revoke them via an occupancy agreement. This pattern continues:
E. The Licensee is to pay $ towards a holding deposit, before being issued with one entry key per occupant. The deposit amount does not include bond payment.
Holding deposits and key deposits are illegal for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.
K. The Licensee shall be given a reason for termination of occupancy. The reason may be a breach, or any trivial reason as the Licensor think fit.
This seems like a pretty weak term (“any trivial reason”), but may either be poorly expressed, or cover some legal eventuality. Again, reasons are required for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.
(viii) The Licensor will not compensate the licensee where premises become unsuitable for habitation.
Compensation is also required in some circumstances for a residential tenancy, but not an occupancy.
(v) Not interfere with the legal rights of others and not cause psychological harm to others on the premises
There’s a long and somewhat bizarre list of things not to do to other tenants under this one.
15. Overnight guests are to be introduced to all occupants. Any visitors who intend staying overnight more than 2 days are to apply for accommodation at the above premises. All visitors are to be approved before entry by the Licensor (see clause 11).
This clause seems reasonable, except for the pre-approval of visitors. This is impractical, unless, of course, the landlord is always present on the premises. (Which is how I finally obtained her disclosure that she perhaps intended to live there.)
All in all, I don’t really know what to say about this whole situation, except that I got out when it got weirder and weirder. (And I wish I hadn’t wasted as much time on it.) I feel bad for people who have assented to these kinds of intrusive questions and terms. There has to be a better way of protecting tenants than the current arrangements, or lack thereof.