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Real estate agent defends 'heartless' email warning of Christmas 'eviction season': 'Landlords are not millionaires'

A real estate agent has issued a warning to tenants to 'prioritise' their rent because landlords can't cover the costs if they fail to pay.

An Australian real estate agency has defended sending an email to tenants warning Christmas is “eviction season”, claiming it has to protect landlords relying on the income stream from those who “don’t prioritise their rent” and fall behind over the holidays.

The email, sent to tenants on Monday by Professionals Taylors Lakes, in Melbourne, has been described as a “heartless threat” to vulnerable Australians battling the rental crisis.

“Christmas time is also known in property management circles as ‘eviction season’ as so many people choose to use their rental payments for Christmas spending instead of ensuring that their family accommodation remains top priority over this period,” the email said.

A letter telling tenants to prioritise paying rent at Christmas or face eviction imposed on a picture of Professional real estate office.
Real estate agency Professionals is under fire over an email telling tenants to prioritise paying rent or face eviction. (Credit: Professionals/Yahoo Finance)

Are you a landlord or a tenant with an opinion? Contact belinda.grantgeary@yahooinc.com

The email goes on to advise that rent is a tenant's “biggest financial obligation”, noting property managers have difficulty when they get the “unfortunate job of having to remove and evict these tenants from their homes”.

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“We find this action very unpleasant for everyone concerned and we all enjoy our Christmas much less because of it,” the email states.

Joseph Abraham from Professionals Taylors Lakes told Yahoo Finance he apologised for any offence, noting the “timely reminder” was sent without “malicious intent”.

He went on to justify the contents, noting that most eviction notices were issued in January and February and that, while they wanted tenants to “have a good time”, it was their job as property managers to ensure they “prioritise paying their rent over all other things”.

“Many of our landlords rely on rental income to make ends meet. For instance, many of our landlords are first-home buyers who rely on rental income to meet their mortgage repayments in the face of high interest rates,” Abraham told Yahoo Finance.

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“These people are not millionaires and are struggling just as much as some of our tenants. Our obligation as property managing agents is to ensure that tenants clearly understand their obligations and responsibilities. Timely reminders, such as the email that was sent out, form part of what we do to ensure that the message is being delivered clearly to all involved.”

Renter rights advocate Jordie Van Den Berg, more widely known by his moniker Purple Pingers, told Yahoo Finance he had been contacted by Professionals to advise the letter had only been sent to tenants who had been falling behind in rent.

“I don’t think it’s particularly defensible. It’s heartless. I’ve been talking to a number of tenants who got the email and said that’s just objectively not true,” Van Den Berg said, noting many feared retribution if they spoke out.

Van Den Berg said a significant number of Australian renters knew there was “nothing they can do” to defend themselves in a rental system with a “massive power imbalance” skewed toward landlords and a crushingly low vacancy rate.

“They have to go up against their landlord and their real estate agent and they can't do that without fear of eviction, or abuse or even a bad reference," he said.

The Melbourne founder of ‘shitrentals’, which allows tenants to submit horror tales about the industry, questioned the justification for the targeting, particularly with no thought to offering financial support to those struggling with payments.

“They do particularly prey on vulnerable people," he said. "By their own admission, they said, 'We only sent this disgusting email to tenants that have consistently been behind on rent', with no thought as to why that might be or what they can do to help.

“Imagine a bank sending a threat like that, without offering payment plan options or, at the very least, the national debt helpline.”

The national chief executive of Professionals Real Estate, Katherine Gonzalez-Cork, said the email was not endorsed by the company’s board.

“[It] does not represent our company’s expectations of communication with our property renters. On behalf of the Professionals, I wish to apologise to the recipients of the email,” Gonzalez-Cork told The Guardian.

Housing crisis breakdown: Mortgage holders and tenants struggle

Vacancy rates have been at a record low across much of the country, marking a slight uptick to 1.1 per cent in November data released today. But SQM Research, which noted the 3,164 additional properties nationwide, said market conditions “remain challenging for renters”.

Mortgage holders are also under significant pressure, despite the Reserve Bank (RBA) holding the cash rate at 4.35 per cent last week. The 13 rate rises since May 2022 means the average borrower has already spent up to $24,000 in interest since the RBA’s attack on inflation kicked in, and almost half a million more will roll off low fixed rates to higher variable rates next year.

Canstar Consumer Pulse report found 34 per cent of mortgage owners and 38 per cent of investors said they feared they would not be able to cope if rates were held in 2024. The Big Four banks’ economists all think borrowers will be waiting until at least mid-way through the year before any interest-rate relief arrives.

" This is just to maintain repayments at the current amount and doesn't even account for any further rate increases that could eventuate if the RBA increases the cash rate again to tame stubborn inflation," the Canstar report states.

NAB has forecast another rate rise in February.

“You're going to have to tough it out and it's going to be as tough in the first half of next year as it is now,” financial expert David Koch told Yahoo Finance recently.

If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help dealing with financial stress, you can contact free advice and counselling from the National Debt Helpline. You can call 1800 007 007 between 9.30am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

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