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Australia Renters in arrears fear an eviction backlash when government coronavirus protections end

14:30  18 june  2020
14:30  18 june  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Graphic artist Alisha Wormald and her partner John are dreading September.

That is when a moratorium on evictions for residential tenants unable to meet rental payments due to COVID-19 will end.

"Our fear is that once the moratorium is lifted that we will be evicted, 100 per cent," Ms Wormald told 7.30.

"Because we've been consistently behind since COVID has struck and we're still trying to play catch up on our rent.

"So, they will boot us out."

The couple are both out of work because of the coronavirus shutdown and, even with JobKeeper payments, they are $700 a week worse off.

Renter suffering hardship given two eviction notices

Organisers of the newly formed Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) say government measures to protect tenants have not prevented some real estate agents from threatening to evict.

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The government says it took action to support renters during the pandemic. Its principal policy manager Joe Lane warned renters are now facing a countdown to the end of "What we want the government to do is make sure there are protections for people who have fallen into arrears due to

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"Not only have people lost their incomes almost entirely, and their means to be able to rent a home, but they're also having the prospect of losing their home entirely looming over their head come September," RAHU organiser Eirene Tsolidis Noyce told 7.30.

"It's incredibly concerning, the power dynamic between renters, real estate agents and landlords."

Melbourne renter Michelle Buckle has received two Notices to Vacate from her real estate agent since March, despite suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19.

"It feels like an incredibly intimidating and scary situation to be in," she told 7.30.

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She hasn't worked for months and, even though she receives a disability support pension, her income has halved during the lockdown.

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"The Government has said that we are supposed to be safe during this time, that we can't get evicted.

"We're supposed to be able to negotiate a rent reduction with our agents and with our landlords, but they have not been interested in that at all."

Rent reductions for some, deferrals for others

During the shutdown, renters who had lost their income were encouraged to contact their landlords to negotiate rent reductions.

Seeking relief, Ms Wormald wrote to her real estate agent asking for six months of rent relief.

Their landlord responded with an offer of a $40-a-week reduction, but only for three months.

"It hasn't made a significant difference," Ms Wormald said.

"We're struggling to pay bills.

"We fell behind on paying rent."

Emails and documents obtained by 7.30 reveal that some real estate agents have been pressuring tenant into rent deferrals, rather than rent reductions.

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"A lot of renters have been stung, potentially, with huge debt racking up that they'll be faced with in September," Ms Tsolidis Noyce said.

Ms Buckle said she would be happy to negotiate with her agent.

"Obviously I don't want to be financially putting anyone else out," she said.

"But it feels like you're being put in an impossible situation, and then being told it's your fault."

Landlord 'are not moneybags'

Many landlords are also facing financial hardship but they feel their voice isn't being heard.

"It comes back to that mentality that landlords are moneybags who can afford it when, in actual fact, they're not moneybags and they can't afford it," property manager Jo Natoli told 7.30.

As principal of The Rental Specialists, a company that specialises in property management, she thinks rent deferral should be an option for landlords.

"I do think it's fair for a landlord to say, I am deferring a portion of your rent and entering into a payback later on," she said.

"The landlord shouldn't be out of pocket, just as the tenant shouldn't be out of pocket.

"It is fair, in certain circumstances, absolutely."

President of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, Adrian Kelly, agreed that more help was needed for both landlords and tenants.

"Many of our property owners have also lost employment," he said.

"Now, whilst they've been able to hit the pause button on their mortgages, that can't go on forever.

"So, the tenants can't not pay rent forever.

"This is going to have to be managed and some form of rental assistance for those tenants is going to be required."

A coalition of more than 70 organisations, including tenant unions and frontline housing services, have written to the National Cabinet calling for rental protections to be urgently extended.

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