Reforming residential tenancy acts in Australia

Residential tenancy laws in Australia are crucial for maintaining a balance between landlords and tenants.

To ensure safe and sustainable rental housing for all Australians, reforms to the various Residential Tenancy Acts (RTAs) across Australian states and territories — alongside recent RTA reforms— must be considered to include a greater sense of care for the needs of each party (that is, stewardship). Key areas of RTA reforms that may increase stewardship[i],[ii] — leading to ‘other oriented’ behaviours[iii],[iv] mutually benefiting all parties — include redefining tenant‑landlord dynamics relating to safety, well-being standards and expectations, property upkeep and accountability and tenancy requirements and practices. Integrating a stewardship approach can be seen to provide benefit to both tenants and landlords.

Embracing a stewardship approach can prove advantageous for both tenants and landlords[v]. When tenants adopt the role of stewards, they assume the responsibility of preserving and nurturing the rental property as if it were their own [vi]. This encompasses adhering to safety and well-being criteria, promptly addressing property maintenance, and fulfilling tenancy obligations. Tenant stewardship signifies a proactive stance towards ensuring habitable living conditions, showing reverence for the property's integrity, and engaging in transparent communication with landlords. Through adopting stewardship principles, tenants contribute to the overall calibre and sustainability of the rental housing sector, fostering a harmonious rapport with landlords and a shared sense of duty.

Similarly, when landlords assume the role of stewards, they safeguard and conserve rental properties to ensure the welfare of both tenants and the property itself. This role entails compliance with legal and regulatory mandates and a genuine dedication to upholding liveable conditions and cultivating positive tenant-landlord relationships. As stewards, landlords prioritize property maintenance, promptly address upkeep concerns, uphold safety benchmarks, and maintain open communication channels with tenants. This proactive engagement cultivates an environment of equilibrium and sustainability in rental housing, benefiting all parties involved and bolstering the general stability of the rental market.

Drawing inspiration from the stewardship concept, these reforms can augment the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. In particular, integrating stewardship into RTAs can cultivate a deeper sense of care and consideration between these two entities. The proposed reforms, aimed at incorporating stewardship principles, are designed to foster fairness and contribute to establishing a more sustainable and impartial rental housing sector in Australia[vii],[viii]. The thrust of our article lies in outlining recommendations and providing guidance for proactively addressing prevalent issues tenants and landlords face. Moreover, it seeks to resolve immediate concerns and institute effective protocols to perpetuate sustainable housing practices throughout Australia.

By Dr Tracey Dodd and Mr Nicholas Alex Gerald Marzohl, Adelaide Business School, the University of Adelaide.

This is a summary of an article originally written for the Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity Magazine.

Nickolas Marzohl and Dr Tracey Dodd

Dr Tracey Dodd and Mr Nickolas Alex Gerald Marzohl

[i] Consumer and Business Services 2023, Review of SA’s Renting Laws, Government of South Australia, au/campaigns/review-of-sas-renting-laws

[ii] Commissioner for Residential Tenancies 2023, February, Changes to Renting Laws, Victoria State Government,

[iii] Davis J H, Schoorman F D and Donaldson L 1997, ‘Toward a Stewardship Theory of Management’, Academy of Management Review, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 20–47.

[iv] Hernandez M 2012, ‘Toward an Understanding of the Psychology of Stewardship’, Academy of Management Review, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 172–193.

[v] Power E R and Gillon C 2022, ‘Performing the “Good Tenant”’, Housing Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 459–482.

[vi] Power E R and Gillon C 2022, pp cit.

[vii] Power E R and Gillon C 2022, op cit.

[viii] Morris A, Hulse K and Pawson H 2017, ‘Long-term Private Renters: Perceptions of Security and Insecurity’, Journal of Sociology, vol. 53, no. 3, pp. 653–669.

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