- by Bree Booth
- The Guardian
- Issue #1955
The JobSeeker supplement ended on 28th March; four states have already extended their moratoria or do not currently have protections in place for tenants.
In September 2020, Queensland’s moratorium on rent increases and evictions was replaced with the 30th September Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulations. The protections with the new regulations are nowhere near as robust as the moratorium regulations. As it stands:
There is no moratorium on rent increases or evictions
There are no protections for extensions on fixed-term tenancy agreements.
Conciliation is no longer required in cases where tenants seek protections for severe hardship – tenants will have to apply to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT)
This is accompanied by an additional ridiculous requirement that persons leaving their home due to domestic violence must give seven days’ notice that they intend to end their tenancy. The bar for capping lease break costs has also been raised: households must now have lost seventy-five per cent of their income and have less than $5000 in savings.
All of this combines to place Queensland renters in a particularly vulnerable situation as the JobSeeker supplement ends in March and the cost of housing in the state skyrockets.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Waiting lists for public housing in the ACT have increased dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The average wait time in Canberra is now three and a half years. The problem is compounded by a lack of supply in the private rental market in Canberra as well as increased income stress, with more and more people turning to public housing because they have no other option.
While there has been rental relief in the capital for those who are already in public or community housing, this is a small comfort for those on the wait lists and private renters struggling to get by. The eviction moratorium has now ended there and the territory is in a transition period which is set to expire on 30th April this year.
As it stands in the ACT, evictions are limited but not banned, tenants may continue to negotiate rent reductions, and the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) must still consider the impact of COVID-19 on tenants in making decisions relating to rent and evictions. The question remains: transition out of what? The pandemic is not over and things are only going to get worse once the JobSeeker supplement ends.
The cost of living in the NT has increased so much in the past year that it is now more affordable to buy than to rent. Rent there is regularly exceeding $400 per week as demand far outstrips the supply of private rentals.
The Darwin Community Legal Service reports a disturbing trend – more and more tenants are being evicted with no grounds. Some tenants have reported feeling compelled to pay more than the asking price for their property so they have secure housing. This is absolutely appalling.
Notably, while the Territory government did institute some protections for tenants, it never introduced a moratorium on evictions or rent increases. The protections that did exist were rarely used and largely ineffective. For example, the extension of notice periods for evictions to sixty days is useless where the housing market is so competitive that tenants regularly struggle to find another property within sixty days.
Community advocates in the Territory are calling for permanent protections to be added to the Residential Tenancies Act there. Notably, they call for the government to follow the example set by other states and ban no grounds evictions.
The South Australian state government has endorsed various “initiatives” to assist renters up until 28th May this year, including instituting a short-term moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent, preventing rent increases, and providing general protections for tenants who breach their agreements.
The information on the state government website is vague, and there has not been much reporting on the situation in South Australia, but it is clear from the rest of the country that renters there are and will continue to face hardship due to the pandemic.
The circumstances that Australian renters are facing right now were not inevitable. They were manufactured by a series of reckless and irresponsible – if not purposefully destructive – government policies. The patchwork system of eviction moratoria and temporary protections, never robust enough to begin with, is set to collapse within weeks. With it, the fragile thread by which many are clinging to stability.
We are still in the midst of the pandemic. Yet, most state governments appear to be acting on the assumption that COVID-19 is a thing of the past. While he emphasises how seriously Victoria is taking the pandemic, Daniel Andrews has failed to implement the structural measures needed for long term management of its economic effects.
Measures designed to protect Australians from the worst impacts of the pandemic are still needed. Pandemic protections are about more than social distancing and vaccines. To offset its worst effects, structural changes to the way we live are needed. Public housing is a pandemic control measure. Affordability of rentals is a pandemic control measure. Resources for homelessness are a pandemic control measure. A living wage is a pandemic control measure.
The glaring disparity between the number of homeless and the number of empty homes in this country shows that we have more than enough resources right now to house those who need it. Our federal government, which spends billions annually on the military and detaining refugees in concentration camps, is more than capable of providing a living wage if only it reprioritised its spending. The issue is clearly that it just doesn’t want to. Effective pandemic control is expensive. And apparently, our lives and livelihoods just aren’t worth it.