Thousands of Australians have either lost their job or been stood down in recent weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19, creating confusion in the rental market and leaving both renters and landlords unsure of their rights.
Many Australians living in rental accommodation say they are now struggling to pay their rent, while some landlords say their possible loss of rental income will affect mortgage repayments and other expenses.
On 22 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced state and territory leaders had agreed to put a six-month moratorium on commercial and residential evictions for those unable to pay their rent, but regulations in each jurisdiction differ significantly.
Renters have been encouraged to get in contact with their landlord or their real estate agent if they face financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus shutdown.
Some renters have joined strikes across Australia, with tenants refusing to pay if real estate agents or landlords are not willing to negotiate a temporary rent-relief solution.
Sydney filmmakers Violeta Ayala Daniel Fallshaw, who have a five-year-old daughter, are part of around 17,000 Australians who have signed up for the COVID-19 Rent Strike. It is a movement started by union group Industrial Workers of the World where signatories have pledged to stop paying their landlords this April.
Ms Ayala said the family’s decision to stop paying rent was not just about them, but “our entire society”.
Sydney filmmakers Violeta Ayala, Daniel Fallshaw and their daughter.Supplied
“When we asked the real estate agent for a rent reduction, he answered immediately, ‘it’s business as usual’, she said.
“People are losing their lives and livelihoods, we can’t see our loved ones, our five-year-old doesn’t go to school and the real estate agent says it’s business as usual?
“It’s morally wrong to demand rent from people that could potentially lose everything, even their lives or the lives of our loved ones during this pandemic.”
‘A grey area’
While much of the headlines have been on the plight of renters, Melbourne landlord Bassem Abousaid believes it is just as tough for property owners.
“The information out there is not very clear so it’s just a bit of a worry and everything is just a grey area about what their rights are and as a landlord what our rights are,” Mr Abousaid said.
“I’m just a bit concerned that landlords are kinda getting a kicking as some sort of multimillionaires that are evil and Scrooge McDuck. I wish that was the case but it’s far from it, to be honest.”
Melbourne landlord Bassem Abousaid says investment property owners are doing it just as tough as rentersSupplied
Mr Abousaid, who owns one investment property, said he has yet to hear from his tenant but said he would be open to a discussion about the terms of the lease.
“I’d be happy to help, everyone is a bit squeezed,” he said.
“We’re already under stress as it is worrying about work and bills and things like that.
“I’m sure everyone within reason is happy to help where they can.”
‘We’re all in this together’
While rent-related negotiations have not been easy for some Australians, others have reported positive experiences.
Sydney woman Charlotte Westbrook rents in the inner-Sydney suburb of Leichhardt with her friend Isabelle.
When their third housemate had to move out because of a pay cut, they struck a deal with their landlord and real estate agency to reduce their rent so they could stay in their home.
“Moving in this kind of environment, in this climate, we just thought would have been really difficult and we just fostered a dog,” she said.
“We would have had no help either because of the social distancing measures… so we’re just really glad this has been the result.”
New assistance programs are being implemented around the country to encourage landlords to help their tenants keep a roof over their heads.
In Queensland, the state government will begin a three-month freeze on land tax for property owners who agree to provide rent reductions.
Similar deals are being made with landlords in NSW, South Australia and in Victoria.
Gerard Hill, director of real estate agency Raine and Horne in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, said being able to strike a deal is a win-win for both tenant and landlord.
“You know, this is really new and it’s created a lot of extra workload for every real estate agent and for landlords and for tenants,” he said.
“Please be patient, be kind to each other – we’re all in this together.
“We want to get through it at the end of the day and we want to get through it with a roof over our heads.”