Millions of households have been left to fend for themselves as the COVID-19 crisis has hit. They have been told by federal and state governments to do the impossible — negotiate with their landlords for a rental reduction.
More than 2.5 million households rent privately, with over half being in the bottom 40% of households by income and a third already suffering from rental stress.
Despite the job losses, generated by the pandemic, federal and state governments have prioritised commercial renters and landlords, refusing to provide packages for residential renters.
At the end of March, the federal government announced a six-month moratorium on evictions, but left it to the states and territories to design and implement residential rental relief packages. With the exception of Tasmania, which is considering a tenant support fund, the states are not doing enough to help the most vulnerable.
The Victorian government has implemented a six-month moratorium on evictions, alongside tax relief for landlords, who are supposed to reduce rents for tenants facing financial hardship.
Victorian has also amended the Residential Tenancies Act to include COVID-19 provisions that prevent evictions and suspend rent increases for those in financial hardship. However, landlords are still able to evict tenets if they are decide to sell their home.
These changes also restrict tenants from moving out of their rental properties early: they now have to gain a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal order if they wish to.
A $500 million package by the Victorian government to support tenants and landlords was announced, but it does very little apart from subsidising landlords for rent decreases if they are forced to reduce rent.
The governments of New South Wales and Queensland have not changed any laws, but have regulated to stop evictions for a few months for tenants who have lost income due to a COVID-19 business closure, for someone with COVID-19, or for someone caring for someone who has it. NSW is, however, providing relief for commercial renters.
In Queensland, residential renters can apply for relief if they can prove they have lost more than 25% of their income as a result of the pandemic.
Western Australia has declared a moratorium on evictions for six months, and has banned rent increases for six-months. South Australia has banned rent increases during the pandemic and tenants experiencing financial hardship cannot be evicted but must provide proof of financial hardship. Tasmania has also banned evictions of tenets who do not pay rent.
The Australian Capital Territory will provide tax relief for landlords who reduce rents by 25% and evictions have been banned until the June 30.
The Northern Territory has not implemented any measures to help residential tenants.
The state’s approach relies on renters being in a position to negotiate with their landlords. Experience shows that this is not easy for renters to do, even in good times.
While there is a moratorium on evictions, there is no moratorium on rents. Residential renters unable to pay rent for the next few months as a result of losing their jobs or hours are still expected to pay it back later.
There has also been reports of real estate agents advising tenets to withdraw their superannuation to pay rent.
Renters need help, so they can maintain a roof over their heads and respect the lockdown health provisions.
Some rent strike networks and others to defend people from being evicted have formed. An online petition calling on the NSW government to provide direct relief to residential renters is also circulating, and a physically distanced safe action has been organised for May 12 outside NSW Parliament when it next sits.
These initiatives are being taken because state governments have refused to implement a rent and mortgage payment amnesty and ban evictions for the duration of the pandemic.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has called on the federal government to build 30,000 public homes for households and individuals to be built as part of its response to the pandemic.
A recent Anglicare rental affordability snapshot found that out of 69,960 rental properties across Australia, only 9 were affordable for a single person on the JobSeeker payment.