Amid widespread fear of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s now one saving grace amidst the panic.
NSW now has the power to halt evictions and freeze rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic, after the NSW parliament passed the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020.
Drafted by Greens member for Newtown and our new lord and saviour, Jenny Leong, the amendment empowers the NSW Housing Minister to ban evictions and freeze rental periods in an attempt to strengthen renters’ rights in the current economic climate.
Leong affirmed through Domain that the goal of the amendment is to provide reassurance for a large and vulnerable group of Australians, as well as open up other avenues for long-term arrangements.
“It gives people the security to have discussions about how we can solve the ongoing problem,” she said.
“[We need to] make sure renters don’t have massive debt and to make sure landlords don’t default on their own mortgages or credits.”
However, Leong also emphasised that there are still better measures to pause the payment of rent that could also be implemented, such as a government loan scheme preventing tenants from being evicted for failing to pay rent during a six-month suspension.
The new powers from the amendments can be used if the NSW Parliament is not sitting, and won’t be sitting within two weeks of the regulations being instated.
The amendment also includes extra stimulus packages for Centrelink rent assistance payments and a “mortgage holiday” to help homeowners and landlords.
Australia’s federal cabinet also announced on Wednesday this week that renters cannot be evicted if they have financial hardship because of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis.
The federal cabinet has not made any decisions on rent freezes because tenancy law is a state issue. However, further decisions are to be made by Friday.
Data from the 2018 Productivity Commission indicated that more than 1 million working-class and low-income households in Australia rented.
More than half of these households had less than $500 a week to live on after paying housing costs, and over two-thirds were spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
This 30 percent benchmark is described as the standard for rental stress. However, with more Australians unable to make an income in the first place, this ‘stress’ is edging towards a widespread spate of evictions if support measures aren’t put in place.
“The Government should not be leaving people behind as they deal with the consequences of the coronavirus. If you can’t pay rent or your mortgage, you should not be forced out onto the street. It’s that simple,” a mission statement on The Greens website reads.
However, NSW’s peak body for real estate agents, the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales (REINSW) believes that attempts to freeze rental payments during the COVID-19 crisis are “effectively asking the landlord to provide social housing”.
In a statement released on Wednesday night, the industry body said that occupants could exploit new government measures designed to remove tenants obligations to pay rent temporarily.
“Once the opportunity to avoid paying rent is made available, some tenants who do not require assistance may see the opportunity to avoid their contractual obligations,” the statement said.