September 08, 2020 |
The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) risks increasing rates of homelessness in Victoria by calling on landlords to stop negotiating rent reductions for tenants, the Federation of Community Legal Centres has warned.
The call, which came after the Victorian Government released its roadmap for easing COVID-19-related restrictions on Sunday, risks further harming many Victorians and increasing instances off homelessness across the state.
“It is irresponsible, inappropriate and very disappointing for the REIV to be attempting to subvert the protective measures put in place by the State Government in this way,” said the Federation’s Director of Policy and Engagement Shorna Moore.
“This is a time when Victorians should be coming together to support each other to stop the spread of this insidious pandemic. It is not a time for Victorians to be pitted against each other in bitter disputes that could see many Victorians evicted from their homes and left out on the streets.
“The REIV also needs to be mindful that rent relief and bans on evictions are not a recommendation, they are enshrined under state law.”
The State Government introduced new laws in April in response to the pandemic pausing rental increases and introducing a temporary ban on evictions. Renters who have been impacted by the pandemic can seek rent reductions through their real estate agents, while landlords can access land tax concessions if they agree to reduce rents for tenants in need.
In a statement on its website the REIV has urged its members to refuse to negotiate rent reductions, effectively pushing negotiations into dispute via Consumer Affairs Victoria and potentially leading to further clogging dispute systems for CAV.
Ms Moore said the REIV response risked forcing Victorian families out of their homes at a time when the state was trying to get people off the streets and keep them safe from a global health tragedy.
“We’re talking about people like Amir*, who runs a restaurant and supports his wife and five-year-old daughter. His daughter has severe autism while Amir is diabetic and so is at increased risk of the effects of COVID-19,” she said.
Amir’s income dropped 80% as a result of the pandemic, meaning he could no longer afford to pay his rent, fortunately he was able to negotiate for a three-month rent reduction. In August he was still unable to pay the rent, but with the help of Justice Connect he was able to negotiate an extended rent reduction until December.
“These are the kinds of hard-working Victorians we risk failing, these are the kinds of families who could be forced on to the streets if landlords listen to the calls from the REIV,” Ms Moore said.
“The COVID rent reduction process works, it means people can stay in their homes, it means landlords are not scrambling for new tenants and, most importantly, it means Victorians are not forced out on to the streets, but instead can maintain some kind of stability to get back on their feet when Victoria comes through this pandemic.”
Victoria’s community legal centres are at the forefront of helping Victorians most affected by injustice, including those impacted by rental decisions and housing issues.
If you have a rental dispute, contact your local community legal centre to find out what options are open to you. A list of Victorian Community Legal Centres can be found here.
* Name changed