Queensland renters left in the cold as end of eviction moratorium and jobkeeper cuts collide | Australia news

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Greg received a letter from his landlord last week, demanding unpaid rent and threatening to send around debt collectors.

The father of five from Brisbane has lost his sources of income during the pandemic. On Monday he will lose $300 a fortnight in jobkeeper payments. And two days later – when Queensland lifts its coronavirus eviction moratorium – Greg and his family expect to be ordered to leave.

“I’m a personal trainer and I develop software, which at the start of the year was starting to do really well,” says Greg, whose family also runs a hair salon.

“From that position at the beginning of the year, we’ve been nearly wiped out. The personal training has gone, software has gone and the hair salon has lost 95% of its income.

“We kept paying rent for a while even though we had no income. But when we couldn’t pay the rent [the landlord] played hardball with us all the way down the line. He will not give any quarter.”

Queensland this month announced it would extend an eviction moratorium for commercial tenants until the end of the year, but the residential protections will be lifted on 30 September.

Every other state has extended their moratorium. Last week, community organisations, health services and unions signed an open letter asking for it to be extended, fearing a spike in evictions and homelessness among people still affected by the pandemic.

Many renters who were either unable to negotiate a rental reduction with a landlord – or who agreed to pay arrears – now fear they are at risk.

Greg’s wife is sight-impaired. He sent the Guardian photographs of mould and long-overdue repairs at the property, including a broken sewerage system, which he says the landlord has refused to address. Greg coughs as he speaks and is worried the mould and sewerage issues are affecting his family’s health.

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal awarded Greg and his family a $100-a-week rental reduction, but the decision meant he was liable for unpaid rent dating back to March.

Ten days ago he received a “letter of demand” for the unpaid rent. A week ago, the landlord threatened debt collectors.

blonde woman sitting at a desk with travel brochures in background

Queensland travel agent Joanne Harding-Smith has seen her income reduce by 97.3% as a result of the pandemic. She has moved in with a friend fearing eviction with the end of the moratorium.

“We’d happily go somewhere else, but we can’t afford to. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are the only state that is lifting the moratorium.”

Joanne Harding-Smith has run Maverick Travel at Sanford near Brisbane for the past 15 years. Her income reduced by 97.3% during the pandemic. Jobkeeper payments are keeping the lights on in the shop; she has dipped into superannuation to keep food on the table for her two children.

“My lease was up on 10 July, so straight away I knew because of the moratorium I had until 30 September,” she says.

“Eventually [the landlord] offered a $50 rent reduction and I said that’s not enough, I can’t afford to pay. I said I’m happy to add a clause that I’ll pay you when I can, but that wasn’t good enough.”

Harding-Smith and her landlord went to Qcat, which assessed her as being Covid-affected but ordered her to cover unpaid rent.

With the end of the moratorium looming and expecting to be evicted, Harding-Smith moved in with a friend at the weekend.

“I’ve come to an arrangement with a friend of mine and that’s nice for me, but other people aren’t so fortunate. They think because they put these emergency measures in place, they’re being followed. They are not.

“You can’t make do when the borders are closed and 97% of your income is gone.”

Queensland already allows for “no fault” evictions, meaning that in many cases, where leases have expired, landlords can act unilaterally. The moratorium had only been in place for people who could prove they had been affected by the pandemic, and social services organisations say there is no reason that cannot remain in place as a safety net for those who remain unable to pay.

“These regulations are not generic, they protect people who can prove they’ve been impacted by Covid,” says Aimee McVeigh, the chief executive officer of the Queensland Council of Social Services.

“We’re nowhere near through the economic health crisis – arguably we’re at the very beginning. Jobkeeper is masking the levels of unemployment. We’re walking into more difficult economic times and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

“It’s really difficult to understand [the lifting of the moratorium] given there’s no evidence that Queensland renters are in a better situation. It’s absolutely impossible to tell how many people are going to be affected, all we can look at are the risk factors, and those factors are growing while they’re taking the protection away.”

The state had established a housing security subcommittee and the majority of organisations represented – QCOSS, Queensland Shelter and Tenants Queensland – wanted the moratorium extended. The Real Estate Institute of Queensland was the only group on the committee who supported the end of the protections.

“A return to rent normality is a positive sign for Queensland’s property market and in particular property investors, many who have faced extremely tough financial difficulties,” REIQ chief executive officer Antonia Mercorella says.

“[It] is also a strong indicator that we’re starting to navigate through to the other side of this pandemic.”

“What’s more, jobkeeper and jobseeker payments will still provide tenants with the ability to cover rental expenses without accumulating any deferred debt which is a further positive outcome. Queensland still remains one of the most affordable places to rent.”

The state housing minister, Mick de Brenni, says protections would remain in place, including to stop tenants being listed on a database for unpaid rent; allowing tenants experiencing domestic violence to end their lease quickly; and relaxed repair and maintenance obligations.

“The freeze on evictions was important in the residential sector when movement in Queensland was much more restricted,” he said in a statement announcing the lifting of the moratorium.

“Because of our strong health response, we’ve been able to keep the economy more open and we’ve already started delivering Queensland’s plan for economic recovery.”

De Brenni also says the volume of calls to the Residential Tenancies Authority had reduced since earlier this year.

“With the Australian property market expected to continue to change over the next period, we’re asking all parties to continue to work together.”

McVeigh says both the federal and state governments had acted swiftly at the outset of the pandemic to keep people out of poverty.

“But [the lifting of the eviction moratorium] is a bad decision. That September cliff everyone has been talking about is here.

“They are extraordinary times and in extraordinary times we need extraordinary measures.”

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Queensland renters left in the cold as end of eviction moratorium and jobkeeper cuts collide | Australia news

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