Looming pain for tenants with freeze on rental evictions set to end as economic fallout of coronavirus continues

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Tenants Queensland says the Federal Government must extend a moratorium on rental evictions to stop thousands of tenants in financially precarious situations from “falling off a cliff” amid the ongoing economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, the Government imposed a ban on landlords evicting tenants who had […]

Tenants Queensland says the Federal Government must extend a moratorium on rental evictions to stop thousands of tenants in financially precarious situations from “falling off a cliff” amid the ongoing economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year, the Government imposed a ban on landlords evicting tenants who had lost jobs or income due to the pandemic.

The freeze has applied to any tenants who has suffered an income loss of 25 per cent, and to those whose rent equates to more than 30 per cent of their income.

With the freeze on evictions due to end on September 30, advocacy groups and tenants are anxious for extensions to be granted until December 31.

Mum risks homelessness amid rent dispute

Joanne Harding-Smith rents a shopfront in Samford, north of Brisbane, where she runs a travel agency business.

Due to global coronavirus travel restrictions, Ms Harding-Smith lost 97.3 per cent of her income, leaving her in a dire financial situation.

“It’s been a tough six months financially, as well as all the anxiety that goes with it as well,” she said.

When Ms Harding-Smith tried to negotiate her rent down, she was only offered $50 off her weekly rent, which she said wasn’t enough.

She has written to her real estate agent 13 times since March asking to discuss the matter further.

“I still to this day don’t know what the situation is. I’m happy to negotiate, but all they would give me was a deferral option.”

When Ms Harding-Smith tried to explain that she wouldn’t have the money at the end of the rental period, her landlord took her to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

QCAT ordered her to pay the unpaid rent in a decision Ms Harding-Smith describes as “gut-wrenching”.

“I’ve drawn on my super to pay rent and put food on the table.

“I’m a single mum to two teenage boys.”

She said when the moratorium ends she could end up homeless.

“I’d like to see a more tailored approach where it’s not a blanket, ‘oh everyone gets an extension’,” she said.

She said she hoped it would take into account the industry someone worked in and how impacted it might have been by the pandemic.

Tenants risk financially ‘falling off a cliff’

Tenants Queensland chief executive Penny Carr said some renters were also facing a reduction in Commonwealth payments at the end of the month.

“The impact on their jobs particularly [in] travel, events, arts [sectors] — they’re not seeing any return of those jobs,” Ms Carr said.

“And at the end of September, not only do the protections from evictions get removed, they’ll also be facing a lower income level as the Commonwealth income payments are reduced and they’ll also have a return to those contracted rents.

“So all of those things coming together are a big cliff and those people are not going to be in any better situation to manage their problems — the problems that they’re already experiencing.”

Ms Carr said thousands of Queenslanders had gone through mediation with the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) since the onset of the pandemic.

“We’ve probably got 2,500 to 3,000 people that have gone through RTA’s dispute resolution,” she said.

“What we don’t know is how many people are out there who are managing their own negotiations.

“We are aware of a number of people, a number of tenants who think that they’ve negotiated a genuine rent reduction, only to find out that the information that they sent back on the forms wasn’t returned.

“They’re now being approached to start paying that rent back.”

Burden of income loss should be shared

Ms Carr said the pain of coronavirus job losses should be shared between landlords and tenants.

“What we’re seeing with our clients is there’s a push from the real estate industry for tenants to bear the whole burden, so there are many people out there who don’t want to give them any genuine reduction,” she said.

“People don’t want to give their tenant a genuine reduction, they want a rent deferral so if that’s all the tenant ever gets is a rent deferral, the only people paying in this situation is the tenant because eventually the owner and the agent gets their cut.

“So the tenant who lost their job pretty much overnight, probably is going to be the one paying.”

Chief executive of the Real Estate Institute of Queensland Antonia Mercorella said the moratorium had given renters stability, but had also caused pain to some owners.

“It would be naive to suggest that we won’t see any evictions occurring in a post-September world,” Ms Mercorella said.

“A six-month moratorium has been reasonable in the circumstances.

“I think extending it further would frankly be quite unfair and difficult for many private owners.

“The majority of properties that exist as rental properties in Queensland are owned by everyday Queenslanders, by mum-and-dad investors.”

Ms Mercorella said there would still be protections for tenants for the rest of the calendar year.

She said protections included a database that was designed to protect tenants from being listed on a tenancy blacklist if they were to fall into rental arrears due to the pandemic.

There were also protections for domestic violence survivors and the right to refuse entry due to COVID-19 health restrictions.

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