Tenants left without financial help face tough road out of COVID-19 lockdown



Victorian tenants who have been unable to work through the recent lockdown will struggle to afford to eat let alone pay the rent, after losing an average $817 in wages, a new Tenants Victoria survey has revealed.


More than half of the 1122 tenants surveyed said they would not be able to pay their rent after another two weeks out of work. Even as stage four restrictions across the state ease, many casual workers will be unable to return to their jobs in sectors like hospitality that will reopen at a reduced capacity or, in some cases, not at all.


Some tenants have more complex situations, such as being on a payment plan to backpay unpaid rent from 2020, which is then in jeopardy from the past two week’s lost income.


Jason Clough is one of those tenants now worried he won’t be able to make ends meet, particularly as his landlord recently raised the rent by $20 a week.


Mr Clough rents a property in Moe, in Gippsland, regional Victoria, and had to stop working in hospitality — one of two casual jobs he has — during the lockdown.


“Even though I was fortunate my community services employer was able to give me some extra hours, it’s not enough to cover the shortfall,” Mr Clough said.


He now fears he will have to go to the Salvation Army and use other local community services, as he did last year during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, to be able to eat.


Like many other tenants, Mr Clough is unable to access the federal government’s temporary COVID disaster payment of $500, announced last week, because Moe is not considered a hot spot.


The Victorian government has refused any funds for struggling tenants — acting Premier James Merlino ruled out bringing back the ban on evictions for tenants who were unable to work because of the lockdowns. The ban, introduced last year, had been in place until March. He also ruled out paying relief grants.


“The government does not intend to reintroduce the moratorium on evictions for the period of this lockdown,” Mr Merlino is quoted as saying in parliamentary Hansard documents.


“We will continue to very closely monitor the impacts of the pandemic on the rental sector and vulnerable tenants as we transition out of the eviction moratorium and into our new rental reforms [laws].”

The lack of help has hit international students like Danielle Cordeiro, who is studying a master’s degree in food science and technology at RMIT University.


Ms Cordeiro shares a small apartment in the inner city with another student and had, until recently, been working as a casual chef. She has had to seek food from the CBD food bank so she can afford to pay her rent, but she’s worried about the coming months.


“I am lucky I have a little bit of savings to help pay my rent this month, but with fees due next month as well as rent, it’s going to be difficult,” Ms Cordeiro said.


The growing issue for vulnerable tenants has seen peak bodies including Tenants Victoria and the Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) continue to lobby for governments to reintroduce protections and payments for those facing an incredibly tough time.


Tenants Victoria director of community engagement Farah Farouque said there were hundreds of tenants fearing they would not be able to make ends meet now and into the future.


“We’ve been surveying renters in real time during the lockdown and we are seeing a lot of financial pain and pressure, including some people having to cut back on food and turning to charities for the first time in their lives,” Ms Farouque said.


Renters and Housing Union secretary Eirene Tsolidis Noyce said the group would continue the fight to ensure tenants could not only survive, but pull themselves out rental debts they accumulated last year during Victoria’s months-long lockdowns. Some tenants were estimated to be in $18,000 of debt.


RAHU has sent an open letter of demand to the state and federal governments asking for a moratorium on rents and for money to be provided for those in need. More than 1300 people had already signed the petition since last week.


Rental issues were not just a problem for people in Victoria, Ms Tsolidis Noyce said, but for renters across the country who could find themselves in the same situation should lockdowns occur in their city or states.


“We do need a national response to this. We need to reinstate Job Keeper and address rental debts by cancelling them,” Ms Tsolidis Noyce said.



Ref: MELISSA HEAGNEY | SENIOR JOURNALIST  (on 11 Jun 2021). Tenants left without financial help face tough road out of COVID-19 lockdown. Retrieved from https://www.domain.com.au/news/tenants-left-without-financial-help-face-tough-road-out-of-covid-19-lockdown-1062390/.


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