With the number of COVID-19-impacted tenants now dropping, Australia’s professional real estate body is leading a call to the national cabinet to scrap the rental eviction moratorium.
Ahead of the next national cabinet meeting on Friday, 5 February, the Real Estate Institute of Australia’s (REIA) president, Adrian Kelly, said it is time for all COVID-19 rental eviction moratoriums to be removed so that some form of normality for both tenants and property owners can resume in 2021.
“The rental eviction moratorium was the absolute right decision at the time by our nation’s leaders and played a critical role in Australia’s initial COVID-19 line of defence,” he began.
“However, issues around tenants being impacted by COVID-19 and their ability to pay rent have not been anywhere near what was expected in early 2020.”
He argued that the policy is no longer needed, given some states have ended rental eviction policies, while unemployment has dropped to 6.6 per cent.
Mr Kelly said the percentage of COVID-19-impacted tenants is now less than 5 per cent in major cities and less than 1 per cent in regional areas.
“Despite this, almost all jurisdictions, except for Queensland and the Northern Territory, continue to extend the moratorium period far beyond six months, with most extending until the end of March.”
The president explained that Queenslanders felt minimal impact when their eviction moratorium was removed.
“And with economies now opening up, it is now time for all the states to do the same,” he iterated.
Victoria, South Australia and NSW have all extended their support of tenants to the end of March 2021.
For tenants in the ACT, the eviction moratorium will continue until the end of April.
Mr Kelly said continuous extensions “have the potential to cause hardship on many landlords who may already be struggling”.
“Funding of sorts remains available in most jurisdictions for both tenants and property owners who remain impacted, and we call on all state governments to provide that targeted support to landlords and spend these funds,” he said.
The call from the REIA comes as paused mortgages look set to resume accumulating interest, which means property owners are reliant upon rental payments resuming to pre-pandemic levels.
Therefore, it would be sensible for moratoriums to be equally re-examined on a national basis, Mr Kelly concluded.
The national cabinet will meet again on Friday, 5 February 2021.
Canberra to stop commercial tenancy relief
Mr Kelly’s call comes as the ACT government announced it would be ending commercial tenancy relief as planned – on 31 January 2021.
The territory’s Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury, said hundreds of local businesses have been assisted by the scheme.
“As our city recovers and business starts to return, the needs of our business community are changing, so we need to ensure the support government provides is appropriate to the circumstances,” he said.
Other COVID-19 measures will continue to operate, including mediation assistance through the COVID-19 local business commissioner.
Commissioner Brendan Smyth has already supported more than 400 businesses to renegotiate their rental agreements since the onset of the pandemic, and will continue to provide support after the commercial tenancy relief measures end.
Attorney-General Rattenbury is encouraging of commercial tenants and landlords to continue working together and adjusting leasing arrangements as necessary.
He advised: “It’s in the continued interests of all Canberrans, including landlords, to help and support our local businesses through COVID-19 and the challenges that remain.
“The government will do our part to kickstart the journey to recovery in the ACT, and we encourage tenants and landlords to do what they can to support one another along the way.”