Tenants have reported having political signs endorsing candidates removed in the lead-up to the election, with agents citing safety concerns as the reason for removal.
Tenants Queensland says it has had four cases reported in the past five weeks and decried what it describes as an infringement of the right to political expression.
In the seat of Brisbane, Spring Hill resident April Broadbent was told to take down her signs on multiple occasions by her landlord, through her agent.
“In their words, it was detracting from the property. It wasn’t up to them to decide what looks nice,” Ms Broadbent, a Greens member, said on Tuesday. “Then the election was called; within a few days, I had corflutes [corrugated plastic signs] up on the window bars.
“I went away for a few days, and they were taken down with a knife and left by the letterbox.”
Ms Broadbent suspected either her agent or landlord of the removal and emailed them to confirm.
“In the response, they said it was a fire hazard, and it constituted a permanent fixture, which is not allowed in the lease,” she said. “It wouldn’t pose a fire risk, and zip ties aren’t permanent. And under the election laws, they have to be taken down within a week following the election.”
Gregory Real Estate principal John Roberts took down the signs and breached Ms Broadbent at the request of the landlord.
He told Domain he did so because of fears of damage to the heritage-listed property.
“If it caught on fire we would have a Notre Dame. They’re highly toxic so if they burned she’d be gassed,” he said. “The other thing was [the smaller, Stop Adani sign] was trapping water on the windowsill. Is she going to pay to replace the window sill?
“We have no problem with the signs whatever political persuasion. We were trying to protect the home.”
Ms Broadbent claimed she hadn’t mentioned anything about political motivations in her email; but then Mr Roberts claimed there was nothing political about their removal.
“In the response, they said it’s not politically motivated, but it’s for your safety. Which I thought was, frankly, bullshit.”
The signs were not displayed in a way that was considered illegal by the Brisbane City Council or Australian Electoral Commission so they should have been allowed to remain, Tenants Queensland chief executive Penny Carr said.
“We consider it a breach of a tenant’s reasonable peace, comfort and privacy for a lessor or agent to demand the removal of political signage so long as the signs are legal, and not causing damage to the property or making the sign a fixture of the property,” she said. “You have a right to political expression.”
Tenancy agreements generally forbid the permanent modification of a property but do not explicitly forbid temporary modifications.
Renters in apartments will find themselves subject to body corporate bylaws, which generally forbid any unsightly additions to verandahs or windows, sometimes even including drying washing in private outdoor areas.
Ms Carr said Tenants Queensland had assisted three more residents, two of them also in the seat of Brisbane, with the removal. The other was in the seat of Bowman; both are Coalition-held seats.
Tenants Victoria has had no such incidents this election, and neither has the Tenants Union of NSW, but it did during the 2016 campaign.
Real Estate Institute of Queensland chief executive Antonia Mercorella said as long as political signs did not breach the lease agreement or bylaws buildings with a body corporate, they should be OK.
“Our view is that tenants are entitled to their opinions and enjoy freedoms to express those views through political signage. “Of course, such signage must comply with body corporate by-laws, safety laws and the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act more generally.”
Real Institute of NSW chief executive Tim McKibbin said agents needed to get permission to enter the property and remove the signs unless they presented an immediate and deadly health and safety risk. In all states, it is illegal for an agent or landlord to enter a property without written notice.