Residential renters and landlords were left with no resolution today as Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the nation with the latest measures to combat the coronavirus crisis.
Today, he simply reiterated the point he previously made on 20 March that help is on its way – but gave no indication on when that would be or what it would look like.
“It is an issue that’s a high priority, just like child care, and they’re complicated issues in many respects and we’ve got to work through them to get the right answers, but it is high on the list,” he said.
It’s clear any decision about assistance for landlords and tenants will be state-based, rather than a national approach.
“There is a lot of work being done together to try and get a consistent approach when it comes to residential tenancies,” said Morrison.
“They can’t be nationalised under a federal jurisdiction, these things will always remain the province of the states under the constitution, but there is a lot of work being done together to try and get a consistent approach.”
Renters are pleading for help
The health pandemic has had a devastating impact on tenants around the country, with many losing their jobs and not knowing how they will be able to pay their rent this month, or in the months to come.
Australian tenants are wondering if there will be a freeze or reduction on rent, or a no eviction clause during this difficult time.
Tasmania, which has one of the strongest rental markets in the country, has already proposed new reforms to help tenants through COVID-19.
If passed by both houses, a ‘no effect’ rule to rent arrears or eviction notices will be put in place for 120 days, with an exception of 90 days in certain circumstances.
This does not mean a rent holiday for renters, but it would become more difficult for landlords to evict tenants.
The legislation would also give the Tasmanian Government the power to stop landlords from increasing rent.
But time is of the essence for most tenants who are currently without work, with property managers already receiving multiple calls from tenants requesting a reduction in their rent due to financial hardship.
“At the moment it’s probably 5-7% of tenants [asking for some sort of assistance], which I think is actually a high number,” says Sam Nokes Head of Department – Property Management at Jellis Craig, which is a Melbourne-based agency.
“Certainly our numbers in Richmond, Prahran and South Yarra have been higher than anywhere else as well, I think that’s because we are disproportionately effected by having a lot of tenants in the hospitality industry and entertainment industry who have been impacted by the shut downs because they are more likely to be in part-time casual hospitality work,” he says.
No legislative change for renters
It continues to be a waiting game for struggling tenants across Australia. For now, the tenancy laws in place before the pandemic remain the same.
However, tenants are encouraged to communicate with their property managers and landlords if they feel they cannot pay rent on time due to loss of income. Nokes says that, so far, landlords have been sympathetic towards his tenants’ situations.
“We actually had a landlord offer a rent reduction before the tenant had to ask for one – he said I love my tenants, they’re really good people and you guys did a great job choosing them,” he says. “[He said] I don’t want to lose them, so if you can call them up and say if they lose their job, not to worry, not to move I’ll look after them, and that was probably three weeks ago.”