Clarity for Renters

Some east-coast loonies have been whipping up a social media storm demanding a “rent strike” be allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re calling for free rent for as long as the pandemic lingers, hopeful that the property owner will be granted the same leniency by their bank through providing them a re-payment free holiday on their mortgage.

If you ask nicely, the banks may pause your re-payments for a while but the interest on the debt capitalises, adding significant length and additional expense to the life of the loan. And, what about council rates, levies, water rates, land tax, maintenance and insurances? Whilst little sympathy is ever afforded real estate agents, they’d go broke overnight because no rent equals no income. Thousands more would lose their jobs and livelihoods as a result. Who would the tenant call to re-light the hot water system if that happened?

It’s true that some tenants have lost employment and can no longer meet their full rent commitments but the temporary moratorium on evictions means tenants are able to stay in their homes if they fall behind.

Naturally, some tenants have heard “moratorium on evictions” and think that means “free rent”.

The Premier, Mark McGowan effectively put an end to that idea earlier this week by stating, “tenants must continue to pay rent. If a tenant can’t pay their rent they will still have to pay it later.” Tenants unaffected by COVID-19 are expected to continue paying their rent as normal. Those impacted should pay what they reasonably can to ensure that at the end of this period any rent arrears that have accrued will not lead to eviction proceedings after the moratorium is lifted. It would not be useful for tenants who think a “rent strike” is a good idea to be faced with an enormous rent debt in six months’ time, face eviction and cop a poor tenancy history post-COVID-19.

The WA government have introduced some other useful measures to help tenants and landlords understand their obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tenants will be able to prematurely end their fixed term leases without having to pay break-lease costs. This will help impacted tenants seek more suitably priced rental accommodation.

Tenancies on fixed terms will also automatically revert to periodic tenancies if they end during the emergency period and rents cannot be increased during the period of declared emergency either.

Landlords who are also suffering financially due to COVID-19 will be able to avoid spending money on non-essential maintenance.

The Commissioner for Consumer Protection will also be given extended powers to assist in mediation procedures for those tenants and landlords that can’t reach compromise agreements on future rents and other matters.

Whilst it is somewhat disappointing the government has failed to provide tangible cash relief to tenants suffering financial hardship during this time, other measures such as the federal Job Keeper allowance and other measures will enable most tenants to meet their rent commitments now so as to avoid a large debt later.

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