‘Dire’ outcome for thousands of renters as end of eviction moratorium looms

 

Tenant advocacy groups and welfare organisations are concerned for thousands of Victorian renters as the state government’s ban on evictions and rental increases, introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, is set to expire at the end of the month.

 

The end of the key protections for Victorian renters, introduced to prevent them from being evicted for the non-payment of rent due to rising unemployment and reduced incomes amid the coronavirus pandemic, coincides with the scheduled finish of JobKeeper payments, also set for March 28.

 

Tenants Victoria CEO Jennifer Beveridge said despite many Victorians still feeling the financial impacts of COVID-19, “the cliff edge is looming for many renters”.

 

“As the peak body for renters, Tenants Victoria is worried about the prospect of a wave of evictions when the state eviction moratorium and federal JobKeeper payments end at the end of March,” she said.

 

“We are bracing for a surge in ‘notices to vacate’ being given to renters on March 29. Based on our experience working with renters, we expect these numbers to be significant.”

 

The deadline comes as new figures from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) and Homes Victoria reveal 4500 Victorians experiencing rental distress sought rental relief in the form of grants or rent reductions in January.

 

In March last year, the Victorian Government established a rental assistance fund to provide rent relief payments of up to $2000 – which were later increased to up to $3000 – for Victorians experiencing rental hardship due to the pandemic.

 

More than 23,000 Victorians have benefitted from the program, with $74.5 million in grants helping tenants maintain stable accommodation.

 

In January 2190 Victorians applied for the grant, which is paid directly to landlords on the tenant’s behalf. In the same month, 2455 rent reduction agreements were registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

 

A spokeswoman for CAV said more than 70,000 rent reduction agreements had been registered with the organisation as at February 24.

 

“Consumer Affairs Victoria is continuing to assist tenants and landlords wherever possible during this extremely challenging time,” she said.

 

“We encourage tenants and landlords to work together to come to an agreement on any issue they may have. If parties are not able to reach an agreement, they should contact Consumer Affairs Victoria for assistance.”

 

Originally due to last six months, the key protections for vulnerable tenants have twice been extended, first until the end of December 2020, then again until March 28.

 

Tenant advocates are now calling for further protections to prevent a spike in evictions and homelessness when the current extension ends.

 

“Many renters in our state are still facing a challenging COVID situation and this was starkly demonstrated  by the recent snap lockdown which, once again, highlighted the precarious circumstances many people find themselves in as they face loss of income,” Ms Beveridge said.

 

She said people working in retail, hospitality and the fitness and entertainment sectors were particularly vulnerable.

 

“The arrangements to transition from COVID laws to a new Residential Tenancies Act – which will happen on March 29 – do not currently support people who continue to be impacted financially by COVID,” Ms Beveridge said.

 

“Urgent action is needed to keep people in their homes, and this includes a mechanism for VCAT to make decisions on ongoing COVID-related tenancy matters and consideration of extended financial supports for renters who are hurting from COVID-related loss of income. “

 

Better Renting executive director Joel Dignam said cuts to the current JobSeeker payment of $50 a week, which come into effect on April 1, just days after the rental protections end, will be “dire” for many Victorian renters.

 

“We are extremely concerned for Victorian renters with the eviction moratorium ending and rental increases looming for many people at the same time that we are seeing some pretty awful cuts to income support. It is going to be pretty dire for a lot of people,” he said.

 

“The feedback we’re hearing from a lot of renters at the moment is that they are stressed and anxious about being able to afford their rent if it goes up at the end of the month or if they are forced to leave their home — will they be able to afford a new place to live in.

 

“We aren’t through this crisis yet and people are still very concerned about their ability to pay their rent.”

 

Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) Victoria organiser Jesse James Frances said she was also concerned for the thousands of Victorians experiencing rental debt.

 

“The most conservative estimate says that 84,000 Victorians are in rental debt after 2020,” she said. “[There are] 84,000 people [who] potentially face eviction on March 29, at the same time as Jobseeker is pushed back below the poverty line.

 

“Community legal centres, peak bodies and unions have all called for rental debt to be cancelled to avoid a wave of evictions in April, but we’ve heard nothing on rental debt from the government.

 

“Nobody should be made homeless because of the pandemic … We urge the state government to protect us from evictions and crushing rental debt, and immediately house all Victorians, while we work together towards building an equitable and stable housing system.”

 

 

Ref: RACHEL WELLS (on 05 Mar 2021). ‘Dire’ outcome for thousands of renters as end of eviction moratorium looms. Retrieved from https://www.domain.com.au/news/dire-outcome-for-thousands-of-renters-as-end-of-eviction-moratorium-looms-1032008/#:~:text=Photo%3A%20Peter%20Rae-,’Dire’%20outcome%20for%20thousands%20of%20renters%20as,end%20of%20eviction%20moratorium%20looms&text=%E2%80%9CAs%20the%20peak%20body%20for,of%20March%2C%E2%80%9D%20she%20said.

 

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