Tenant News

The COVID-19 transition period begins

Last month we saw the end of the COVID-19 Eviction Moratorium period – which began in April 2020 and finished on 26 March 2021. During that period, landlords were restricted in their ability to evict COVID impacted tenants. At the same time, the end of JobKeeper income support has threatened many tenants and other disadvantaged people with a major crisis. 

Following widespread calls for continued support, the NSW government announced a six month Transition Period, during which there will be limited protections against eviction for tenants with COVID-induced arrears. The Tenants' Union, along with over 40 other community organisations, welcomed the announcement but expressed concern that these protections are not adequate. Our joint Open Letter called for stronger protections for renters and additional financial support, and garnered some media attention e.g. Alarm sounded over NSW rent moratorium end (7News).

Updated resources

The Tenant's Union is keeping our Renters' Guide to COVID-19 up-to-date to reflect the new rules. We have also published a short new infosheet: COVID-19 and renting – after 26 March 2021, which is available in both pdf and online formats. Please share these resources with COVID impacted renters. 
COVID and renting – after 26 March 2021

What happens next?

For many renters, the future is very uncertain. We don't know how this period will unfold, but there are evidence-based predications that at least 2.6 million people will face poverty (The Conversation), and there are already reports from Victoria that landlords have wasted no time issuing eviction notices (Domain).

In a context where so many are struggling to find an affordable home, rental scammers are targeting desperate tenants (ABC News) – there has been a 32 per cent increase in rental scams according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

And homelessness is a real fear for many...

The looming threat of homelessness

In the wake of COVID, regional areas in particular are seeing a crisis involving huge increases in rents, competition for homes, and evictions. In a number of areas, crisis accommodation is at capacity and rental vacancies are virtually non-existent. Even renting families with two incomes are struggling to find a home. Domestic violence victim-survivors are being forced to stay with perpetrators or sleep rough.

Hunter Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service participated a tent city action in Newcastle on Monday 29 March, along with several other community groups and homelessness services, to highlight the looming crisis. 
Tent city action in Newcastle. (Photo by ABC Newcastle: Giselle Wakatama)
Nicole Grgas, Coordinator of Hunter Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service. (Photo by ABC News, Ross McLoughlin)

Nicole Grgas, Coordinator of Hunter Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service took part in the tent city action, and has been speaking up about the crisis faced by renters:

"We've been receiving a lot of calls, certainly a lot more calls than around this time last year… almost 50 per cent of our calls now relate to people facing eviction. What tenants are reporting is that when they're going to open houses, they're finding there can be upwards of 30 groups going through, so that's a lot of competition. Even if they might have had some time to find alternate premises, they just aren't able to find something that's within the region and within their price range." – Rental listings soaring in some areas but renters still struggling to find affordable homes (ABC News) 

"We are speaking to more tenants who have orders from the Tribunal that it is time for them to leave their homes. What they are saying is, 'I have to move into my car, I have to split my family up into different relatives' houses because I have got nowhere to go.'" – NSW homelessness deemed 'humanitarian crisis' as new wave hits amid rental market squeeze (ABC News)

"We are speaking with people who have never had issues finding a rental before who are now facing the real risk of homelessness for the first time in their lives. They are terrified." – Hunter homelessness at record levels (Newcastly Herald)

Renting through flood and fire

Flooded home on the Hawkesbury River. Photo: Domain, Nick Moir.
Last month's devastating floods saw 20,000 people flee their homes and affected many more, including thousands of renters. The Tenants' Union Disaster Damage factsheet online has been viewed over 6,000 times in the last month – 5,000 more views than it gets in a 'normal' month.

Advice for flood-affected renters

Speaking in Domain, Tenants’ Union CEO Leo Patterson Ross offered some key points of advice to tenants in flood-affected properties:
  • If the premises have become uninhabitable, meaning it may be risky to your health to stay or an authority has said you can’t remain, then the rent reduces to zero until you can return. 
  • If part or all of the premises are uninhabitable, regardless of the root cause, then the tenant should first attempt to negotiate with the landlord and/or agent in writing.
  • Be specific from the outset about your claims and provide evidence to reduce the chance of a dispute arising later on.
  • If you do not reach an agreement promptly, apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order that the rent reduces or abates from the time the premises became uninhabitable. The Tribunal can order the landlord to repay any overpaid rent.
  • If a landlord has failed to maintain a property in a reasonable state of repair then they may be liable for both a rent reduction and provision of alternative accommodation for the tenant, as well as paying for damaged belongings or other costs.
  • Tenants can also break a lease immediately, whether it is fixed or periodic, if the property is wholly or partly uninhabitable, if tenants have a written record of the landlord failing to keep the property in a habitable condition prior to a natural disaster (such as failing to repair ceilings or gutters).
  • Tenants should get advice in relation to their specific situation from their local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service.

After this disaster and the next... rent hikes & housing shortages?

Renters in flood-affected areas will now face rent hikes and housing shortages, according to analysis conducted by suburbtrends.com and reported in the Financial Review. The COVID-related housing crisis in regional areas will be further exacerbated. People displaced by floods and looking for rentals "will tip many of these markets into a crisis point, especially for low income families." Among the areas that were hardest hit are Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Maitland, Taree and Lake Macquarie, where vacancies have fallen to about 0.2 per cent. – Tenants in flood-affected areas face rent hikes amid shortage (Financial Review, paywalled)

In the wake of the floods, questions have again been raised about planned housing development in Western Sydney's flood plain. While some see the floods as an opportunity to push through the controversial plan to raise Warragamba dam wall, others ask whether it is sustainable to build homes (and whose homes?) in the path of disaster – especially given increasing extreme weather and disasters associated with climate change. 

Good news in Glebe!

Public Housing action in Glebe. Photo: Hands off Glebe

Glebe public housing activists have been fighting for any redevelopment of their homes to deliver new public housing in their community. Last month, Hands Off Glebe and supporters organised a vibrant protest against the sale of a publicly owned terrace in Glebe.

Subsequently, we saw a positive announcement from Melinda Pavey, Minister for Water, Property and Housing, that the NSW Government housing development on Cowper Street and Wentworth Park Road in Glebe will now deliver 100% new social housing. The $34 million project, initially expected to increase the number of social housing dwellings on site from 19 to 35, will now deliver more than twice that number again, with a total of 75 new social homes to be completed, including five three-bedroom homes for larger families.

We could certainly do with more commitments like this. Recent analysis suggests that the Federal Government needs to build 12,000 homes a year help cover the shortfall in public housing, just for over 65s – Warning over growing rental pressure on elderly Australians (ABC). Similarly, in Western Australia, without more investment, it would take 1300 years to house every person on WA’s social housing waitlist (Sydney Morning Herald) – without accounting for any COVID-related increase in homelessness. 

Can I have a pet and a home? It depends...

It is well known that pets can make you fitter, calmer and healthier (Sydney Morning Herald), but the the battle for a fair approach to pets and housing in NSW continues. Despite last year's landmark decision that a blanket ban on pets in strata is “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive” the Tribunal has now ruled that unit dwellers in Camperdown can keep a cat but not a dog (Domain).

While we're talking about strata, it's worth repeating that almost half of all residents in strata schemes are renters, and yet renters have little to no say on the way in which the building their home is in is managed and governed. The Tenants' Union recently made a Submission to the Statutory Review of NSW Strata Scheme Laws. The submission draws on on the experience of renters in strata schemes to make recommendations on strata law reform including fairer pets laws.

As part of the review process, government ran a quick poll that reached 21,500 people and found that most people think that strata schemes shouldn't be able to ban pets. Community feeling is clear that people should have the right to keep pets.
Submission to the Strata Law Review
Meanwhile in Queensland, animal refuges are seeing an increase in surrendered pets as renters are forced to compete in an increasingly tight rental market – Queensland rental crisis deepens as family pets are surrendered to avoid homelessness (ABC).

Check out this fantastic illustrated explainer, Can I have a pet and be housed, too? It all depends… (The Conversation) This piece explores the barriers to housing for people with pets around Australia and newly released national research by six housing experts. Pet ownership laws are changing nationally but are highly inconsistent. A systematic national approach is needed to reduce the number of people who have to give up their pets to secure housing.

Reaching out to young people

The Tenants’ Union has been working to develop our support for young renters. We organised stalls and distributed resources at a number of uni o-weeks, together with local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services.

Last month we also held a roundtable of 17 young people, (as well as policy officers, community educators and youth support workers) together with Youth Action.
The roundtable met to follow up on our survey of over 300 young renters, to listen to young people’s experiences of housing and to begin to co-design projects to improve the renting lives of people under 30 in NSW. We were inspired by the ideas of the young people who attended, and we are excited to see how this project develops! Watch this space!
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Legal information in this email is intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. It applies to people who live in or are affected by, the law as it applies in NSW, Australia.

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