Alarm sounded over NSW rent moratorium end

Ending a COVID eviction moratorium could make some renters homeless, NSW ministers have been told.
Ending a COVID eviction moratorium could make some renters homeless, NSW ministers have been told.

The looming end of the NSW government's COVID-19 eviction moratorium could force low-income renters into homelessness if they are not offered more financial support, a group of 40 organisations has warned.

The groups, which include the Tenants' Union of NSW, Community Legal Centres NSW, Jesuit Refugee Service, Older Women's Network and Vinnies NSW, sounded the alarm in a letter to two NSW government ministers on Friday.

The NSW eviction moratorium, introduced in April 2020 and extended in September, is slated to end in three weeks.

It will coincide with the end of the federal government's JobKeeper scheme and JobSeeker coronavirus supplement.

The NSW government on Thursday announced a six-month transition period of support once the moratorium ends, but the groups are concerned it does not do enough.

"NSW, particularly in regional areas, is in rental crisis," the letter states.

"Our organisations are seeing first hand the financial hardship and broader impacts many in our community are experiencing."

Even with the current moratorium in place, many households are reaching out to local community organisations for support, they say.

The groups want the government to extend eviction restrictions and rent reduction provisions for impacted tenants.

They're also calling for additional financial support for struggling renters, like a no-interest loan scheme or rental subsidies, and more funding for tenant support services.

The groups are concerned about the immediate risk of evictions and homelessness but also argue that economic hardship caused by COVID-19 will cause problems for renters in the medium and long term.

UNSW research released last month estimates at least 75,000 renters across Australia - roughly 27,000 in NSW - are currently living with deferred rent debts between $5600 and $8400.

Household debt for low-income renting households is increasing, they say, as well as energy, credit and phone debts.

"Renters in regional NSW and in outer Sydney will be hit the hardest by the moratorium ending as they face increased market rents and some of the lowest vacancy rates on record," the letter states.

The groups are particularly concerned about single mothers and older women.

The NSW government on Thursday announced the six-month transition would begin after the moratorium ends on March 26.

"Tenants and landlords will be supported to enter a repayment plan for any COVID-induced arrears and tenants can only be evicted if they fail to meet the terms of that plan," Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said on Thursday.

The six-month transition period will also include measures to prevent COVID-impacted tenants from being included on renting blacklists.

But the housing and community groups are concerned the transition measures may fall short of the protections needed to support the security of low-income renting households and the state's economic recovery.

In particular, they say it is not clear how the government's plan goes above and beyond pre-existing protections for renters who fall into arrears.

The expiring protections include restriction on evictions of renters affected by COVID unless landlords try to negotiate a rent reduction first, extended notice periods of other evictions, and allowing renters to end rental agreements where they need to avoid financial hardship.

Australian Associated Press