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Issue #1929      August 24, 2020

Renters organise eviction defence

On Wednesday, 12th August, the Renters and Housing Union (RAHU) held its first Eviction Defence forum. Speakers from Brisbane and Sydney shared ideas and experiences resisting eviction. A resident spoke from the public housing towers, which were placed into hard lock-down, and a presentation was given by a RAHU member on the political and economic position of landlords, real estate agents and renters. These efforts are part of the preparations for what is looking to be a very bleak October.

On the 29th September, the eviction moratorium in Victoria will be lifted. This situation may change as this paper goes to print. Regardless of whether the eviction moratorium is extended or not, the underlying problems with the housing market will remain until there is a fundamental restructure of property in this country. At the start of October, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, which are keeping millions of workers afloat, will be reduced. Employment prospects across the country have not improved, nor is there a Jobs Guarantee plan in place. The economic situation is looking dire. The ongoing struggle between the financial interests of property owners and people’s basic housing needs is increasing in intensity.

Renters are still struggling to negotiate rent reductions as landlords and agents ignore directions from state and federal government to negotiate “in good faith” and “form partnerships.” Landlords are dragging renters into Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to attempt tenancy terminations (during the eviction moratorium) based on undefined terms in the temporary COVID-19 Omnibus changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. No fault evictions are continuing.

In this environment the need for eviction defence once again arises. In the 1930s the Communist Party of Australia formed the Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM), local bodies which formed Anti-Eviction Committees (AEC). UWM speakers would address lines of the unemployed while they were waiting to collect their rations (1930) or coupons (1931 onwards). The AECs would organise pickets and occupation of dwellings where the bailiff was attempting an eviction. They would keep these pickets up as alternate housing was organised for the occupant. At the time private bailiffs would be appointed by a court to carry out evictions. This changed in June 1931 when the police began to carry out joint operations with bailiffs. This is the situation which persists to this day.

Landlords are hoping there are still some people left with stable incomes as the real situation of our over-valued property market begins to be revealed. To retaliate for the shame of providing a discount on rent, tenants will be given the boot. Notices will be served so that landlords can ostensibly move back into the property or renovate (keep your eyes peeled for misuse of the HomeBuilder aka Kitchen Reno package). Large claims to bonds are already being made and these will escalate as landlords do whatever they can imagine to claw back some of what they “lost.”

A myriad of defence ideas were put by the speakers. These included naming and shaming agencies and landlords who are unfairly evicting tenants since landlords and agencies are sensitive to public-image damage and are unaccustomed to public scrutiny. Successful eviction resistance depends on community connections. Do you know your neighbours? Talk to them. On eviction day, sympathetic neighbours will be very important in providing community dissent to eviction. Homeowners can stand in solidarity with renters. Property owners contacting agents and telling them they will not conduct business with an agency based on eviction activity is powerful.

The final months of this year are going to be a melee of VCAT rulings, rising poverty and eviction actions. As renters, we can take grim solace in the fact that the value of the property market is falling. Until then we must organise.


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