Uncertainty and fear: evictions during the pandemic

Jemima Mowbray • 07/04/2020

This piece originally published at https://10daily.com.au/news/australia/a200409tgmno/loopholes-could-allow-people-to-be-evicted-during-coronavirus-20200409 and republished with permission of 10daily.

A couple days ago, we received a call from a colleague who works in the homelessness sector.

He’d just received a message via social media from a woman upset and in a panic. As she messaged him she and her kids were standing outside their rental home as the sheriff directed the locks to her front door be changed.

"Isn’t there supposed to be a ban on evictions at the moment?" my colleague asked.

Less than two weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced states and territories had agreed to a moratorium on evictions for the next six months for people in financial distress. Organisations and housing and public health experts -- in fact, over 100 including the Tenants’ Union NSW -- have been calling for a stop on all evictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The PM’s announcement was welcome news for renters who’d suddenly lost jobs and were anxious about meeting next week’s rent. Renters worried about keeping a roof over their head just as everyone was being advised to stay ‘safe at home’.

In the past few weeks, local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Services and Tenants’ Union NSW have been flooded with calls from people seeking advice. People have a range of questions. Most are worried about potential eviction.

A post from our private network group for tenant advocates. (Image: Facebook)

Renters are calling seeking assurance, or at least some clarity. Unfortunately, advocates can’t yet provide this. The PM has made clear the details of the moratorium on evictions and any other measures to assist renters will be determined by the state and territories. We’re still waiting for an announcement from the NSW Government on how the moratorium will be implemented here -- at time of publication it’s not yet in place.

But while an announcement can’t come soon enough, it’s really important they get it right.

If the NSW eviction moratorium is too narrow and covers only evictions for rental arrears many renters will fall through the gap. Landlords may take advantage of this ‘loophole’ and evict for other reasons -- or indeed for no reason (i.e. ‘no grounds’). And what about people who’ve already received an eviction notice? They face securing a new property and packing up their lives during lockdown. We’ve been contacted directly by numerous renters facing exactly this situation.

We heard from Amrita who has just lost all her casual shifts, and her husband who had to give up driving a cab because he falls into a ‘high risk’ category. When they reached out to their landlord to ask about reducing their rent last week, they mentioned some repairs the house needed due to recent damage from heavy rains. Instead of rent relief their landlord immediately sent them a ‘no grounds’ eviction.

Kye told us she’d been renting her home along with her five-year-old daughter for nearly two years. Two weeks ago she received a ‘no grounds’ eviction. She’s really worried.

“I can't afford to move," she said. "And have you ever tried moving with a five year old under your feet? I don’t know how we’ll find something decent in the middle of this crisis. I’ve faced homelessness before. I do NOT want to face it again”.

Garry emailed explaining he and his partner -- both in their 70s -- have significant medical issues, including heart and respiratory problems. They’ve just received a ‘no grounds’ eviction after four years in their home.

"It is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING," he wrote.

Aida received her ‘no grounds’ eviction via registered post three days after the Prime Minister’s announced moratorium:

“My partner and I are still able to pay rent, but my landlord told me he wants his son to move in -- which I dearly understand. But in the context of pandemic we must all just stop and shelter in place. The more people in public, the more risk for everyone. This situation is broader than the individual, we must stop where we are.”

Melissa explained she’d been in her current home for six years. In February she received a 'no grounds' eviction notice, and her vacate date is fast approaching. Melissa is a single mum and her kids have disabilities. She doesn’t have family support close by and if she falls sick and is hospitalised, her kids need to be go into 24-hour homecare.

As the health crisis got worse she approached her real estate agent asking for an extension on the vacate date, given the current pandemic and the fact she and her kids have low immunity. Her real estate agent refused.

“I just don’t know how I can possibly organise to move with the current restrictions in place," Melissa told us. "It’ll have a big impact for us financially. I truly hope the evictions moratorium will help, and let us stay in our home during this time.”

A moratorium on all evictions ensures the health and safety of individual households, but it is also keeps our communities safer. If someone gets evicted they need to leave their house to find a new home, to bring people into their home to pack and move furniture. They may need to move between the homes of friends and family, until they find something more permanent. They may approach homelessness services, already at capacity providing support for people experiencing homelessness prior to this health crisis.

We need to ensure the protections announced extend to all evictions and all renters. Otherwise the moratorium just won’t do the work we need it to do. And if we don’t also look at rent relief and how we mitigate against the mounting debt crises for those we’ve kept safe at home, we’ll just be dealing with a second wave of evictions once the moratorium lifts.

So what of the distraught renter standing outside her home? She was locked out after scrambling to pack bags for her children, not sure where they would spend the night. It’s heartbreaking. We, along with our colleague, connected her with available supports, but it was already too late to save her housing.

 


For the latest info see our Renters' Guide to COVID-19.

Renters Guide to COVID-19