Renters have been told by landlords and property managers that they will face eviction if they don’t pay rent, even as tens of thousands of Australians have been stood down or have lost jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
James* told Yahoo Finance that Ray White had sent him an email on Wednesday inviting tenants to come forward if they thought they might have difficulty paying rent.
However, the same email sent to tenants also outlined that “standard” eviction procedures would remain in place throughout this period.
“Tenants are required to continue paying rent under the Residential Tenancies Act and standard arrears monitoring processes will remain in process throughout this time,” the email states.
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The email includes a table that outlines the steps to eviction.
“It’s important to understand that many of our landlords require rental payments to service the mortgage on your property, and a lack of rental income can have severe outcomes,” the email continues.
“It’s important that you are aware that in any rent default scenario, we still must respectfully issue normal breach notices and follow standard arrears management processes.”
The federal government is currently in talks with state and territory leaders to come up with new measures as part of a third stimulus package that would offer relief for tenants in financial hardship due to business shutdowns.
‘Slap in the face’
James told Yahoo Finance that receiving the email, which appeared to start off well, had been a “slap in the face”.
“[The email] went into a table that said, ‘if you don't pay rent we’ll evict you in two weeks’, so that was a shocker,” he said.
“It was a jab, it felt offensive – kind of like a big screw you. ‘We understand about coronavirus, but screw you, you're evicted if you don't pay rent under these laws’.”
James’ flatmate Stanley* told Yahoo Finance he did not feel overly confident that Ray White would work with them to make arrangements if they fell on hard times.
“It’s the same old bulls**t, they're not really going to try to help anyone,” he said.
“‘It doesn’t matter if you can't pay, you still gotta pay and this is the way the world works.’”
A user on Twitter told Yahoo Finance that if the government did not introduce measures guaranteeing eviction immunity, he and his family would be turfed from his home.
‘Emails sent out in error’
A Ray White Group spokesperson denied that tenants would face eviction and said the emails, which she claimed were limited to only one branch, were sent out by mistake.
“We'd like to sincerely apologise for a handful of emails that were sent out in error by one of our franchise offices in regards to rent payments in this difficult time,” the spokesperson said.
“Tenants can be assured that, as recently announced by the Government, no tenant will face eviction in the next six months.”
The federal government is expected to announce measures providing rent relief in the coming days, while the NSW government has recently agreed to new laws that prevent landlords from evicting tenants hit hard by Covid-19 but has not yet passed into law. The Tasmanian Parliament are debating a similar bill.
“We'd like to sincerely say sorry to anyone to whom this may have caused distress to, and please know that our expert property managers are here to help you, no matter what your situation.”
Yahoo Finance can confirm tenants of at least two separate Ray White branch offices – Rockdale and Runaway Bay – received the emails with the step-by-step evictions process, countering the spokesperson’s claims of only one office.
Government needs to step in
Tenants Union NSW senior policy offer Leo Patterson Ross said the email demonstrated why “urgent” government action was needed.
“While some landlords and agents are trying to do the right thing, others are not,” he said.
“It is also worth pointing out that many landlords can already approach their bank about mortgage relief.”
Twenty-two of Australia’s biggest banks announced on 22 March that they were throwing a $100 billion lifeline that would include deferred business and home loan payments for small businesses as well as individuals of up to six months.
“People should rightly question whether their landlords have accessed those hardship provisions that are already in place.”
“This is a very sad situation for everyone. We know as well that many property managers are underpaid and overworked by their bosses and are often renters themselves.
“This is a whole community problem, and unfortunately the forecasted 1 million unemployed Australians will include some property managers. They should be supported the same as everyone else.”
Other renters told to pay up
One Twitter user said it was “madness” he was not only asked to pay full rent, but his rent had been hiked.
Canberra resident David* was sent an email by LJ Hooker advising of new procedures put in place to safeguard the health of tenants and staff, such as health checks, implementing remote signing of leases to limit face-to-face contact and requiring tenants to take photos of the property in lieu of house inspections.
The email also stated it was an “expectation that tenants follow their tenancy agreement. Obligations of the lease still stand.”
“If a situation occurs where you are unable to pay rent, please contact us immediately so that we can work with you and the lessor a way forward.”
David said receiving the email had irked him and felt that too much responsibility was placed on the tenant.
“I just find it annoying that they lecture us about having to uphold our side of the tenancy agreement but they also want us to essentially do part of their job to assist with inspections,” he said.
“Like I get we should be trying to help each other but it feels like it’s all one way.”
*Note: Names have been changed for anonymity. This story was amended on 31 March to remove the inclusion of Urban Springs as a branch that sent out emails with the eviction process.
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