Confusion over the government’s six-month ban on evictions has left tenants across the country worried they could be in trouble as the job market dries up.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for landlords and tenants to work together to reach an agreement if the tenant was unable to pay rent due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
“I would urge landlords and tenants to work this out,” Mr Morrison said.
“They are going to need each other on the other side. They are going to need each other — they are going to need the premises and the landlord is going to need the tenant.”
But not everyone has that leverage.
Taylah-Jane Patterson lives in Sydney with her partner, who has lost his job as a tyre fitter. She makes $17 an hour as a childcare cook and has lost 80 per cent of her shifts.
The couple are both 22 and support her younger brother.
They have lived in their Sydney house for 18 months and are meant to pay $600 a week in rent.
“I know this is affecting everybody, but I’ve never done the wrong thing. We always pay rent on time. So I emailed, asking if there was any chance of getting it minimised,” she told The New Daily.
Their landlord offered to reduce it to $420, but Ms Patterson says they won’t be able to afford even that.
Her partner’s Centrelink Job Seeker claim won’t be processed for another month.
The landlord’s counter offer included a clause that they wouldn’t ask for a reduction again.
“[The landlord] hasn’t asked her bank if she can freeze the mortgage,” Ms Patterson said. “I know she would be under stress, we are all in this, but I can’t do any more.
“Even with the $300 reduction we asked for, it’s going to be so hard to keep the household going.”
In some cases, landlords are asking tenants to apply for early access to their superannuation.
On its financial hardship application, agents Ray White Ascot Vale, asks tenants to answer if they intended to apply for early access to super.
A spokesperson for Ray White said they had contacted the franchise and would be making sure the form was not sent out again.
“We have specifically been instructing our offices not to issue financial advice and no form has been issued to our offices by us for use,” they said.
“On the other hand, we are aware that some of the institutes have issued such a form, which is obviously confusing for our members.”
In another case, Aleks Mothra has lost her job as a tattooist. She asked for extra time to pay her rent on her Melbourne house, where she lives with her 16-year-old daughter.
She was also refused by her real estate agent.
“I told her rent would be late. She said ‘No, I want it in full on the date. I don’t want the landlord to suffer due to your personal circumstances’.”
Her lease ends in two months and she asked for an extension because she did not want to move during the pandemic. That was also refused.
“I asked if I could extend. They said no you have to move out. They don’t want to negotiate.”
Tenants in a share house at Northcote, who did not want to be named, also told The New Daily they had been refused a rent reduction after two tenants lost their jobs and the third had half their shifts cut.
They have took the step of encouraging their landlord to ask the bank for a mortgage freeze.
“We asked for a 50 per cent reduction but said it was negotiable, and we wanted to revisit it month to month. We don’t want to do a rent freeze.
“Our landlord is still a person and has debt. It’s more an issue moving up the chain. The banks are the ones who need to give leeway and it’s becoming our job to push for that.”
The national cabinet is expected to meet on Friday to discuss a rental relief package, but it is understood it will not include a rent freeze.
Currently, Tasmania is the only state to pass laws prohibiting evictions for the next six months.
For the moratorium to work, the industry needs more clarity from the government, said Leanne Pilkington, the president of the Real Estate Institute of NSW.
“We just don’t know what the government is preparing to do,” Ms Pilkington said.
“We’re really asking them to get a solution and clear message out, but we do understand the complexity of the situation.”
The situation requires landlords and tenants to work together to find solutions.
“I know some landlords have been fantastic, and some landlords just can’t. Their mortgage needs to be paid, or it’s what they use to put food on the table,” Ms Pilkington said.
She said although it was difficult for everyone, tenants needed to realise they can’t get away with not paying rent.
“What tenants need to understand, even though the Prime Minister has come out and said there’s a ban, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to pay rent. They still have an obligation,” Ms Pilkington said.
“If the government finds a way to keep money flowing, that helps the tenants, and that helps the agent, which helps the landlord.”
Some tenants in Victoria have been directed by their agents towards Launch Housing, a homelessness service.
“We’ve fielded over 40 calls in the last four days from renters in distress,” Launch Housing chief executive Bevan Warner said.
“That’s a large increase. We expect that will continue while the confusion lasts and peoples’ economic situations are fragile.