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A simple guide to taking on your landlord, and winning, during Covid-19

·Contributing Editor
·5-min read
Here's how renters can hold your ground in negotiations with landlords. (Source: Getty)
Here's how renters can hold your ground in negotiations with landlords. (Source: Getty)

They say the two most stressful periods in your life are getting married and moving house.

There’s a certain amount of joy that comes with getting married, so the pain is worth it.

Often though there’s no reward in moving home, especially when it’s not your decision to move out!

And I’ve seen my fair share of unhappy campers in the past few weeks.

In this time of working from home and isolation I’ve been doing plenty of exercise. During my regular jogs I’ve seen, mostly women, carrying boxes from their homes with unhappy looks on their faces.

This shouldn’t be happening.

Let’s look at what policies are in place now, and how you can hold your ground as a renter in coming weeks and months.

These are your rental rights

The NSW State Government, for example, has ordered a six-month moratorium on new forced evictions if the tenant is in rental arrears because they are suffering financial hardship due to coronavirus.

The moratorium applies to tenants who have lost 25 per cent or more of their income.

Under the scheme, a landlord or managing agent is required to enter into negotiations with a tenant who is having trouble making rent payment.

This isn’t optional.

Indeed an interim 60-day moratorium is now in place for new applications to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for forced evictions over COVID-19-related rent arrears.

Tenants will be protected from eviction until the tribunal is satisfied that negotiations have been finalised.

The Government is allocating $220 million to this support package while another $220 million will go towards commercial rent.

What if things go wrong?

Of course, life doesn’t always run smoothly.

Anecdotally I can tell you I’ve had one hairdresser tell me his landlord “didn’t make it easy” for him during negotiations for rental concessions and demanded the business owner hand over all of his accounts.

Another business owner, who runs a dry-cleaning business, told me despite turnover falling 70 per cent, his landlord had asked him to pay “anything he could”.

Here are three practical ways you can stand-up to your landlord, whether you’re a small to medium business, or in the private residential rental market.

1. Know your rights

I implore you to visit the website of your state authority. For NSW residents it’s Fair Trading. For Queensland residents it’s the Office of Fair Trading.

In Queensland, for example, you are encouraged to start negotiations with your landlord for a longer-term reduction in rent if needed.

In addition: The Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020 was released on 24 April 2020 and contains temporary amendments to the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 to support sustainable tenancies in the residential rental sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s also advice to "keep paying what you think is reasonable", which the Qld Government specifies is 30 per cent of your income.

The point is, right now, you cannot be evicted if you’re short of cash due to COVID-19. You’re encouraged to pay if you can. But if you can’t…

2. ‘Go in hard’

it’s one thing to know your rights, but it’s another entirely to confidently act upon them. Many state governments have made it clear that if your landlord isn’t playing fair, you are within your rights to withhold payment.

If it escalates you don’t need to threaten legal action, but having this trump card up your sleeve will help. Your landlord doesn’t need to know you don’t have the time to see the process through.

There are other organisations that can help too, including: the Financial Rights Legal Centre and the Consumer Action Law Centre.

3. Get on the front foot

Don’t wait for your landlord to contact you. If you feel as if you will struggle to pay the rent, call your landlord or arrange a meeting, and be courteous.

It’s amazing much more productive you can be when you speak with someone directly. Email communication and text messaging leave open the opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstandings.

You don’t want negotiations to take a turn for the worse. If possible, keep conversations civil.

End game

These are stressful times.

The sooner you can find more income, the sooner you can get the landlord off your back.

The problem with all the government (both state and federal) assistance that’s been offered up is that it’s only for a finite period – simply because it’s all too expense for government to foot indefinitely.

But take heart, you’re far from alone. Ask others what they’re doing to cope, and if you’re doing OK, lend others your own wisdom.

And remember, all the rent, eventually, will need to be paid at some point, as anything unpaid will accrue as arrears during this period.

So, in the meantime, it’s best not to increase your spending by any extra amount you have. Act is if you’re still paying rent.


Tune into Episode 4 of the Yahoo Finance Breakfast Club: Live Online series on Thursday 21st May 10am AEST.
Tune into Episode 4 of the Yahoo Finance Breakfast Club: Live Online series on Thursday 21st May 10am AEST.

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