Tenant News

Lockdown safety net: our analysis

From the early days of this lockdown, the Tenants' Union and others called for financial support and protection for renters. So we welcomed the measures announced on 13 July from the Commonwealth and NSW Governments to support impacted renters. The income supports and the incentives for landlords to reduce rent will make a real difference. The stop on evictions will also help impacted renters to stay in their homes at this critical time.
 

What are the key support measures?

  • Increased weekly COVID-19 Disaster Payment
    The COVID-19 Disaster Payment is now weekly, and has increased from $325 to $375 for people who have lost between 8-20 hours of work, and from $500 to $600 for people who have lost more than 20 hours of work.
     
  • 60 day stop on eviction for ‘impacted' tenants
    Renters who have lost at least 25% of household income are protected from eviction due to rental arrears. You must give notice to your landlord that you are an impacted tenant and continue to pay at least 25% of your weekly rent. This protection is in place until 11 September 2021.
     
  • Support for landlords who waive rent
    The government is strongly encouraging landlords to provide ‘rent relief’ and to negotiate to reduce rents. The government will be providing some relief for landlords who waive some or all rent, and who pass the full amount of the discount on to their renters. Landlords can access land tax relief, or a $1,500 payment if they are not eligible for land tax relief.
     
  • Additional temporary accommodation
    $10 million to increase the accommodation available (through hotels and motels) for people experiencing homelessness during lockdown.

What are the major gaps and concerns?

  • Many will not be eligible and will miss out on payments
    A number of groups of renters are not eligible for support. Previously, additional ‘top up’ payments to income support recognised that people needed help to ‘stay home’ – whether they were struggling as a result of lost work, or just because rents are so high and income supports so low. People can’t stay home if they can’t afford the rent. 
     
  • No protection from other evictions, such as 'no grounds'
    Impacted renters are only protected from eviction due to arrears. A renter who doesn’t quite fit the definition of ‘impacted’, or gets an eviction notice for some other reason, can still be forced to move.
     
  • No clear obligation on landlords to negotiate reduced rent
    Sadly we know from experience that if they think it's going to be too much hassle to apply for the payment, some landlords won't bother and won't reduce rent at all. A much more effective way of delivering the payment would be to provide it directly to the tenant.
     
  • Access issues
    Landlords and their agents are still able to force a range of entries into renters' homes against the wishes of the occupants. More info below.
The above points are a summary. For the full analysis, see Lockdown safety net: our analysis by Jemima Mowbray and Riley Brooke.
You'll find more detail on the current measures, comparisons to previous measures, questions for the future, and a call to implement better, and permanent, hardship provisions...
Lockdown safety net: Our analysis

Renters' Guide to COVID – updated

As always, we are working hard to keep our Renters' Guide to COVID-19 up to date. In particular we have made major changes to these sections:
Also, for more general legal info on the lockdown, see Redfern Legal Centre's
Lockdown laws: NSW COVID-19 rules & Police Powers in Greater Sydney.
 

Access during lockdown

Unfortunately, the Public Health Orders so far have continued to allow landlords and their agents to force a range of entries into residential premises against the wishes of the occupants. 

We have heard from many renters over the past few weeks that agents and landlords are continuing to book in routine inspections, or make appointments for viewings for prospective buyers or tenants in their home, even while COVID is spreading rapidly in the community. This includes people who are immunocompromised, elderly, and otherwise especially vulnerable.
"David lives in locked-down Sydney, which means he and his family are not allowed to leave the house without a reasonable excuse. But on Saturday a series of strangers will come through his inner west home to see if they want to buy it. His rental property, where he's halfway through a 14-month lease, is for sale. 'If people are told to stay at home, why are they walking through my house? Why can't this just wait?'"  NSW renters fear inspections virus risk (Canberra Times)

"Shortly after lockdown began, James' real estate agent told them their house would be listed for sale and they'd have to leave the house during inspections on Saturdays. 'We've been told so many times that we shouldn't (leave the house) and yet we all have to go and find something to do on a Saturday while a bunch of people come and look all around our house,' James said. The housemates put questions to the agent around the COVID-safety plan. A few days later, they received an eviction notice." NSW renters fear inspections virus risk (Canberra Times)

"About two and a half months ago, they decided to put the house on the market, [they were] doing inspections every Sunday morning. I did that for a while, and then just recently, they sent a possession to vacate notice, which is basically a notice of termination." 'Stressful: Sydney tenants served eviction notices during lockdown (SBS The Feed)

"I just couldn't understand how anyone in their right mind could think it was okay to bring strangers into someone's home given the Delta variant and aerosol transmission." Tenants asked to leave home for inspections during Sydney lockdown (SBS The Feed)
The Public Health Orders don’t yet allow renters to refuse access, even though the non-essential nature of many of these requests seems to clearly go against the intent of the strong messaging being sent out from NSW Health and daily from the Premier and Chief Health Officer. We are currently advocating for stronger restrictions on access into renters' homes and we need your case studies and stories. If you or someone you know has had requests for access during lockdown, please tell us about it via our very quick survey.
Requests for access during lockdown – survey

Meanwhile, the housing crisis continues

Even before the added pressure of the current COVID outbreak and lockdown, renters were facing a massive housing crisis, particularly in regional areas.
On our blog, Sally Latter, Coordinator of the Northern Rivers Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, discusses the region's soaring rental prices, social housing issues, housing instability and homelessness – Call for systemic change amid Northern Rivers housing crisis
Across the media, similar stories of the housing crisis continue to flood in:  

Crisis sparks new conversations on rent price caps


Even mainstream commentators are now asking, As Australia faces a rental crisis, is it time to re-introduce price caps? (Domain). This surprising – and welcome! – article offers a fairly neutral definition of the concept:
"Known overseas as rent regulation, stabilisation or control, the idea is that a government or statutory body places a ceiling on the amount a landlord can charge for rent, usually by capping rent increases each year."

The article considers several models of rent regulation in place around the world and historical examples in Australia. The article quotes a number of knowledgeable supporters, including Dr Chris Martin and Tenants' Union CEO Leo Patterson Ross, who says: “We have price control in reality in a few other places like energy and utilities. We acknowledge that the thing being sold is too important to leave entirely up to the market, and consumers have insufficient power to adequately influence the supply chain with just their actions alone. That’s really similar to renting. Price control is not a naive or ideological thing to suggest. We’re trying to find solutions to a tricky problem, and it’s not sensible to ignore what other people are doing."

An idea whose time has come perhaps?
Rent price caps (Domain)

Young renters: We hear you!

Together with Youth Action we've just published a new report, grounded in over 300 responses to our survey of young renters, plus roundtable discussions with 15 young renters. 

Earlier generations may have seen renting as a ‘stepping stone’ to home ownership, but that is now out of reach for many. One respondent wrote, "Most of us will never own our own home and don’t aspire to it; we’ve given up, as we know it’s an unachievable dream... Renting is permanent for us." 
For young people, the lack of affordable housing is compounded by economic insecurity in the job market. Affordability of rental housing was an issue for 84% of respondents. Younger households are at greater risk of housing stress, and the intense competition for rental housing is just increasing this. 

68% of people surveyed said repairs not being carried out is an issue for them. Young renters  said they feel uncomfortable asking for repairs – due to fears of a retaliatory rent increase or eviction. 
Young Renters Report
The report also received media attention – including Will we be renting for life? (Triple J Hack) and Young renters afraid to ask for repairs (7News).
 

A day in the life of a Tenant Advocate

Neissa Carpenter Holmes is a Tenant Advocate with Murra Mia Tenant Advocacy Service. She assists Aboriginal renters in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven area. She gives advice, represents clients at Tribunal, follows up with clients’ cases, negotiates with housing providers, and more. We recently caught up with Neissa to give you a glimpse of her day to day work...
A day in the life of a Tenant Advocate

Renters deserve warm homes in winter

Riley Brooke, Policy and Campaigns Officer

Like many Sydneysiders who rent, I live in an apartment that, in winter, is perpetually flippin’ freezing! Day-to-day, this means a whole lot of inconvenience and expense for me. I’m using far more electricity than I’d like to on heating.
My (very common) experience is indicative of a broader problem. There are no legislated minimum energy efficiency standards for rental homes in NSW. This means many of us who rent are living in homes that are inefficient and either too cold in winter, or too hot in summer. We are paying higher energy bills just to make our homes liveable, and potentially our health is also suffering. Many renters also face the impossible choice of going without food or medicine, or affording energy bills.

Overseas there are many examples of successful implementation of legislated minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties. Improving energy efficiency in rented homes would also have a positive impact towards reducing current emissions. So what could minimum standards look like? And what is the #HealthyHomes campaign? Read on to find out...
Renters deserve warm homes
Meanwhile, in public and community housing, recently published research found dangerous levels of under-heating in many homes. The researchers noted that energy inefficient homes are blamed in part for higher winter death rates in Australia than other much colder nations, such as Sweden. One tenant said: "I put the heater on the other night for 20 minutes — it didn’t do much. But the whole time it was on I was freaking about the cost. No good — die of cold or die of stress, take your pick." Social housing is frequently colder than global health guidelines (The Conversation)
 

Tenant Databases charging for access?

Did you know it is unlawful for tenant databases to charge you for access to the information they hold on you? Since 23 March 2020 tenant databases have been required to give free access to information about a NSW tenant's listing if they request it. But one of the largest databases, TICA, doesn't seem to agree – we scoured their website and found only fee-based options.  

The Tenants' Union has raised a formal complaint with NSW Fair Trading, but we need your help. If you, or someone you know, is a NSW resident and has paid for access to their information in a tenant database, please request a refund and make a complaint to NSW Fair Trading. If Fair Trading considers this serious enough behaviour, there is a maximum $1,100 penalty for each time TICA has unlawfully charged for access to the database. TICA boasts of having 7 million tenancy records. How many people from NSW have been tricked into paying for access to their own information over the last year?
TICA charging for access? No more!

Fees to pay rent? Third party rent payment services: An explainer

There’s been a little bit of buzz lately around third party rent payment services, especially across social media. These services will take money out of your bank account and put it in your rent account at the real estate agency. They might be helpful for some renters, but there are significant drawbacks: they charge both regular fees for using the service at all, and default fees. More broadly, there's clearly a problem with a system where renters have to pay even more of their own money, just to pay rent. But what does the law say about these services? And what can you do if your real estate agent is pressuring you to use one of these services? Read on...
Fees to pay rent: An explainer

Oz International Students Hub launched

International students have faced incredible hardship through COVID. Excluded from government benefits and even told to “go home” by some, many found themselves without jobs, and unable to afford rent or food.

At the peak of the pandemic, six international students began regular online support sessions. These sessions sparked an idea for a physical hub where international students could support one another, share stories and build skills. The Tenants’ Union worked as part of a Sydney Alliance organising committee to develop the idea and lend our support to a grant proposal, which was successful! Grants were received from the City of Sydney ($100,000) and Investment NSW ($120,000), and on 26 May 2021, the Oz International Students Hub officially launched in Surry Hills!

The Tenants’ Union continues to work with the international student organisers as part of their advisory committee and now in developing tenancy-related content for support sessions they are organising. 
International Student Hub launched

Vale John Mant, planner and policy leader


The renters of NSW owe a big thank you to John Mant, who died recently aged 84. He left a legacy still in the making, especially in the field of urban planning. With a passion for public policy and social justice, he claimed many distinctions as lawyer, planner, public servant, and politician.
In 1993 John was the author of a report to Robert Webster, the NSW Housing Minister on how client services should be delivered. This report was positive about the Tenants' Union model of tenant services and contributed to the refunding of tenant services, which have received bi-partisan support to this day. 
Read more: Vale John Mant – supporter of TAAS 
 
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