The heavyweights of Queensland strata community have joined forces to urge landlords to speak out against a host of measures giving the green light to tenants to permanently waive rent, without an option to defer, as a result of the coronavirus health crisis.
The proposal is one of a number of initiatives included in a special Rent Protection Package announced by the Palaszczuk Government last week (April 9) aimed at protecting tenants in financial distress due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Termed the Special COVID-19 Protections for Residential Tenants and Owners, the proposed framework includes the following measures:
- the ability for tenants to permanently waive rent, without an option to defer
- no requirement to substantiate to the landlord that a loss in income has indeed occurred
- an automatic right for the tenant to extend a lease for an additional six months (with the reduced or no rent, creating an effective 12 months moratorium on evictions)
- the ability for a tenant to break the lease with one week’s notice
- the ability for a tenant to not let tradespeople and the real estate agent onto the premises to keep it in good repair (and even decline virtual inspections).
The package is expected to be passed on Wednesday April 22, when the Queensland Parliament next sits.
While recognising the need to offer protection to both renters and landlords during the crisis, both the Real Institute of Queensland (REIQ) and the Queensland branch of the Strata Community Association (SCA Qld) have spoken out against the proposed legislation, arguing the measures are an entirely disproportionate response to the pandemic.
In a strongly worded letter to the Premier’s office, REIQ chief executive officer Antonia Mercorella claimed that in its current form the package will cause “significant and permanent harm”, impacting 600,000 property owners who provide the bulk of rental housing supply to the one in three Queenslanders who rent.
In addition, they would have a devastating impact on the future of the Queensland property market with flow on effects for the broader Queensland economy, the letter stated.
Of chief concern to the groups is that mortgage payment deferrals are not readily available to landlords and that landlord insurance would not offer any assistance under these circumstances.
In requesting that the state government consider what it termed a “more equal assistance package”, REIQ implored the state government to consider introducing rent deferrals rather than permanent rent waiver rights for tenants to align with the Federal Government model and framework being adopted in other jurisdictions.
In addition, it suggested introducing a minimum income reduction threshold for tenants to meet before they qualify for the protection measures and proposed introducing a standard requirement for tenants to substantiate a rent reduction request to allow landlords to make properly informed and fair decisions about rent reductions.
Among the other amendments the real estate group requested was that the Palaszczuk Government remove the proposed break lease right that allows tenants to walk away from tenancy agreements with only one weeks’ notice owing to the fact tenants are afforded all the other protections provided under the Renter Protection Package; and remove the proposed automatic right to a six-month tenancy agreement extension.
In response, SCA Qld has sent out an email to its membership base stating that it shares the REIQ’s concerns and reaffirming its position that quick action is required to help construct a more equal assistance package.
“To be clear, SCA Qld agrees with the intent of the package and supports the need to aid both owner and tenants through these troubled times, but we believe that this package is far too broad and imbalanced to result in the desired outcomes. The REIQ have put forward sensible proposals for a fairer and more balanced framework and we believe they represent the best chance of creating equitable protections for both owners and renters.”
What can you do?
SCA Qld has called on all landlords to support the REIQ campaign and has created a template letter for all concerned tenants and property owners to send to the Premier to outline the imbalance of the package, ahead of the package’s April 22 deadline.
In lending its support to the campaign, Smarter Communities has made the decision to reprint the contents of the letter in its entirety below and wishes to join the chorus in encouraging all its Queensland-based landlords to make their voice heard.