Calls growing for more support for tenants

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Calls for governments to provide more support for renters during COVID-19 are growing, with 70 organisations around the country putting their names to an open letter to the National Cabinet calling for further assistance for residential tenants.

The letter, signed by organisations including national tenant organisation Better Renting and the Tenants Union ACT (TUACT), asks governments to consider a range of measures such as binding arbitration for parties who cannot reach an agreement on rent reductions, and halting evictions for rent debt accrued during the moratorium.

“Unfortunately, too many renters are afraid to ask for reduced rent, and too many landlords are unwilling to negotiate in good faith,” said Joel Dignam, executive director of Better Renting.

“Many renters are being loaded up with debt. We need governments to act to avoid a second wave of evictions come September.”

In the ACT, the biggest concerns are for debts accrued in rental arrears and arbitration, according to TUACT spokesperson Charlie Faulder. He also said there has not been sufficient negotiations in relation to rent freezes and direct financial support for tenants.

The Conflict Resolution Service (CRS) was engaged by the ACT Government to provide free mediation services for tenants and landlords during COVID-19.The CRS is expecting demand for the service to increase over the next couple of months, having received numerous enquiries over the past six weeks from both tenants and landlords.

The CRS’s Alexander Floros said the organisation relies on the “goodwill of both parties”, with the outcome statement not legally binding: “that’s not something mediation does provide”.

The ACT Government’s other rental relief measures, announced in April, include financial incentives to both commercial and residential landlords to reduce rents for struggling tenants. There have been reports of low take up of the scheme from both commercial and residential landlords, which Mr Faulder puts down to unattractive incentives.                

“The lessors don’t have a good enough incentive to reduce the rent and assist renters who have lost their income or had a greatly reduced income,” Mr Faulder said. 

“It’s difficult for me to see how those tenants are going to get through this.”

Canberra Weekly has contacted ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s office for comment and is awaiting a response.

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