Was there a lack of focus on rental policies amid the pandemic?


Tenants and landlords alike seemed to have a dissatisfaction towards the emergency response by the state governments on the private rental market amid the pandemic.

A study by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) found that the implementation of eviction moratoriums, frameworks for rent variation, and rent relief programs were “patchy”, leaving landlords and agents responsible for the delivery.

AHURI lead researcher and University of South Australia professor Chris Leishman said while the emergency response appears remarkable on paper, discussions with sector stakeholders showed dissatisfaction with the rules particularly on rent variations.

“There was a feeling that policymakers should not expect the sector’s landlords and agents to cover critical events,” he said.

“In addition, only a small minority of tenants, between 8% and 16%, got a rent variation, while more were discouraged or refused and more moved out.”

Furthermore, the study also suggests that there is a significant underspending in most rent relief schemes.

What emergency support schemes were implemented?

Each state and territory implemented a six-month eviction moratorium with different scopes following the national cabinet decision on 29 March 2020 — none implemented a complete prohibition on evictions.

Tasmania offered the broadest and most complete moratorium, stopping evictions for all tenants except on grounds of sale, major renovation, or use of the premises for the landlord’s own housing needs.

All states and territories extended moratoriums past their original six-month timeframe except Queensland. However, by the end of March 2021, all had expired except those in South Australia and the Northern Territory, which have continued to date.

In terms of rent relief, state leaders only encouraged landlords and tenants in hardship to negotiate rent payment obligations. During this time JobKeeper was reintroduced.

“Of the states with formal frameworks for rent variations, all were based on conciliation between landlords and tenants, with only Victoria providing a clear process for rent variations to be determined by a tribunal where conciliation was unsuccessful,” the study said.

“All jurisdictions left to individual parties whether rent liabilities would be varied, by how much, and whether as reduction or mere deferral—except the ACT, which stipulated that a rent variation would be a reduction, not a deferral.”

In 2021, there were developments in the rent relief front, particularly from Western Australia, which introduced payments to landlords who entered new fixed term tenancies, at higher rents, with tenants receiving social security payments.

NSW also introduced a new scheme of cash payments for tenancies subject to the eviction freeze. This covered some of the gap between the rent amount and a COVID-19 impacted tenant’s part payment of rent.

The study indicated that the private rental markets are highly fragmented, and these emergency responses seemed to have not been coherent and systemic for the most part.

“Indeed, the evidence shows that income support interventions were far more effective in safeguarding homes, as well as incomes, than direct interventions, for example through eviction moratoriums or rent relief measures,” the study said.

“The research shows that for housing policy interventions to be most effective there should be better sharing of information between state and territory jurisdictions on a regular basis, as well as between and within government, business stakeholders and not-for-profit sectors.”

Photo by @olly on Pexels

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