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Community groups call on NSW Government to extend eviction moratorium

Tenant advocates are concerned that low-income renters impacted by COVID-19 may face homelessness after the moratorium ends.

Photograph: Renters and Housing Union

In an open letter published today, community advocacy groups called on the State Government to extend the NSW Eviction Moratorium and provide stronger financial support for tenants.

The NSW Government introduced the moratorium last March to support renting households that were struggling during the pandemic. It was originally due to end in October 2020, but was extended by six months due to the ongoing impacts of COVID.

Under the moratorium, landlords considering an eviction must first negotiate a rent reduction ‘in good faith’ with tenants who have fallen behind in rent and meet the income-loss threshold of 25%.

It also extends the notice period for most evictions to 90 days and protects tenants from being listed on databases for rent arrears accumulated during the moratorium period.

Yesterday, Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson announced a six-month ‘transition period’ for tenants to negotiate repayment plans for arrears owed to landlords following the end of the moratorium on March 26th.

Advocates welcomed the proposal in the open letter but expressed concern that it would fall short of the support needed to ensure security for low-income renters who are continually impacted by COVID, some of whom are facing homelessness.

The additional support community groups are calling for include: a stronger framework around rent reduction negotiations, incorporation of other types of evictions under a moratorium, implementation of No Interest Loan Schemes or targeted COVID rent relief payments for tenants struggling with rent, and additional funding for services supporting tenants.

“Even with the proposed ‘transition’ measures, we are very concerned about the moratorium protections ending on 26 March, just as COVID-19 income supports drop away.”

Households reliant on income support may soon be facing heightened financial insecurity, as JobKeeper and the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement are set to expire in the same week as the moratorium.

“In addition to the immediate risk of evictions and possible homelessness we are deeply concerned about the medium and long-term financial impacts of COVID on renting households.”

Housing and homelessness advocates are seeing a crisis in regional NSW and Outer Sydney, with tenants struggling to secure housing in the face of mass rent increases and vacancy rates of less than 1 per cent.

“Renters in regional NSW and in outer Sydney will be hit the hardest by the moratorium ending,” the letter states.

Some renters have been forced to move into their cars or tents after being evicted for alternative reasons, and advocates worry that there will be a surge in homelessness if the eviction moratorium isn’t extended.

“The balance here has certainly tipped in the landlord’s favour, and exploitation is rife,” said the coordinator of a regional NSW tenants’ advice service.

One renter who will be impacted by the end to the moratorium told Honi that “As a family who is about to be forced out of our home by a rogue landlord and a constantly rising housing market, in a country so rich we have to ask ourselves is this all there is for our future?”

Community organisations have also raised concerns about the inordinate risk of housing stress and homelessness that women — particularly older women and single mothers — will experience when the moratorium ends.

Manager of the Older Women’s Network, Yumi Lee, said that “The stress this causes is horrendous, and it’s being inflicted on a group of older people whose health is particularly compromised. It’s just cruel.” 

The open letter has been endorsed by 40 community groups including the Students’ Representative Council at the University of Sydney.

“Students are one of the many vulnerable groups that would be affected if this moratorium was not extended… After all of the strife and difficulties that students have been inflicted with over the past year, a mass wave of evictions would be devastating,” SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu told Honi.

Lia Perkins, Welfare Officer of the SRC, said that “People should never be evicted from their homes, especially not during the ongoing pandemic and recession.”

This article was updated with comment at 7:40 pm, 5 March 2021.