For the latest info see our Renters' Guide to COVID-19.
This is an awful time for everyone. We all have fears for our health and that of our loved ones, and many have fears for our livelihoods or have already lost all income. Some of us are afraid that we will lose our homes, making us even more vulnerable to sickness and poverty. Many renters are in a particularly precarious situation.
The Tenants’ Union, along with a coalition of around 100 other organisations, has been campaigning to protect our communities during the Coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, firstly through a moratorium on evictions. Last week we delivered the #NoEvictionsCovid19 petition to the Prime Minister with more than 10,000 signatures. The campaign continues.
We have seen some positive developments. Last week a NSW government public health directive was issued banning open house inspections for conduct of an open inspection of premises for the purposes of the sale or lease of the premises. But much more needs to be done.
A moratorium on evictions?
Over the weekend Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced ‘a six-month moratorium on evictions’. This is a huge announcement, but the details are unclear – it's possibly only for people in financial distress and hardship.
It may not cover landlords evicting for other reasons or people not in formal tenancies. It would be a real shame if landlords were able to evade the Prime Minister's announcement by simply serving a 'no grounds' notice. We cannot leave anyone in the community behind, we cannot risk people's health by allowing evictions for no grounds.
The next stage is for the NSW government to implement the moratorium. Tasmania was able to protect all tenants – they proved that it is possible. All states and territories now need to do the same.
We know there are many people waiting to hear about the rent relief side of things to make decisions about their home. There was also no detail yet on possible relief around rents.
Tenants need rent relief
There are lots of phrases being used at the moment to describe some kind of change to the way we’ve gotten used to renting. People are discussing all sorts of ways for government to step in – ‘rent waiver, rent reduction, rent control, rent deferral, rent freeze, rent strike’. But some of these phrases might not mean what people think they do. We’ve written a quick explainer around the language different kinds of rent relief that governments, landlords and tenants might use.
We need a system where renters aren’t saddled with massive debts at the end of all this. We need to make sure that the whole community can bear the cost of this in a fair way, and that we can all join in the recovery.
This crisis is a whole community problem – the whole community has a role to play here. And that means banks as well as landlords will have to realise their incomes may be affected and reduced, as workers have been affected.
This is why are are arguing that governments need to step in to facilitate rent relief.
Tenants don’t want to be in arrears – it’s a bad feeling if you’ve gone back on a contract. But if paying your rent leaves you without money for food, for healthcare, what are you going to do? In terms of the weekly spend for most households, the housing cost – whether it’s rent or a mortgage cost – is usually the biggest single spend. But it’s clear that food and healthcare are crucial and will do more for the broader economy than rents and debts.
If you’re worried about being able to pay your rent, we suggest you start by talking to the landlord or agent. Some landlords have come to the table and shown that they understand. Unfortunately there’s a large portion who haven’t. We are also suggesting that tenants shouldn’t leave their homes at this moment if possible – at least wait and see what the government will do in the next few days so that you can make an informed decision. For more on your rights as a renter, see our article Renting & Coronavirus: What you need to know.
Sadly, some landlords and agents have already told tenants that we will face eviction if we can’t pay rent, as this article reports. The fact that some unscrupulous landlords are already saying that they’ll evict tenants clearly demonstrates why we need urgent government action. While some landlords and agents are trying to do the right thing, others are not.
This is a whole community problem and needs the whole community to look at solutions. We are keen for government to look at how it can assist to remove barriers that prevent landlords from accepting rent reductions. These barriers include capitalised interest payments and insurance policies that discourage negotiations. It is worth pointing out that many landlords can already approach their bank about some mortgage relief. People should rightly question whether their landlords have accessed those hardship provisions that are already in place.
Centrelink payments are two to three rent payments away, so there is little tenants can do if they can't find other unemployment. Even then, Centrelink won't be sufficient. Median rent across Australia is more than $400 per week. In NSW it's nearly $500. Tenants don't want to be in this position and are here through no fault of our own. When landlords or agents refuse to be flexible, it demonstrates the need for government to step in and give clear directions.
Agents, especially the industry licence holders and lobbyists, need to be more honest here – they are legitimately worried about their own businesses, because weekly commissions are a backbone of their business model. This is a very sad situation for everyone. This is a whole community problem, and unfortunately the forecasted 1 million unemployed Australians will include some property managers. They should be supported the same as everyone else.
Helping people to spend less on their housing also makes economic sense. If we can keep people spending less on housing and more on other things – groceries, healthcare, deliveries, online shopping, whatever it may be – we can see that chain effect and see wages keep flowing in those industries.
We’re also particularly worried about the impact on people without the formal protections of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010, like boarding houses and some student accommodation. Without the oversight of government or Tribunal, evictions can happen very quickly and residents are at risk. Two students we've been in touch with share their stories in this article – thanks to both Aman and Liz.
The situation is changing rapidly. Please look after yourself, your family and your community. Stay up to date by checking back at this website, following us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribing to our email news.
For the latest info see our Renters' Guide to COVID-19.