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The tenant-landlord relationship during COVID-19

When COVID hit, landlords all over Australia held their breath, waiting for tenants to tell them they could no longer afford to pay the rent. With a large volume of young hospitality and retailer workers being put out of work, it was an intense time for everyone.

The impact the COVID-19 outbreak put on finances of many Australians really put pressure on the relationships between tenants and landlords. Some handled it well, negotiating terms up front that protected everyone’s interest. And some handled it not so well.

According to a study conducted by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI), there was a considerable strain between tenants and landlords with roughly a quarter of tenants experiencing immediate concerns in meeting their rent payments. Adding to that, around 35% were concerned they wouldn’t be able to pay full rent for months.

It’s hard to believe, but despite their struggles, a lot of tenants were apprehensive about requesting rental assistance – thinking it may result in poor references or property defects not being fixed. It was found only half the tenants in Australia who had asked for rent reductions said their landlords or agents accepted their requests.

The lead author of the AHURI study, David Oswald describes a significant disparity in the wellbeing of tenants and landlords during the pandemic. The pandemic has amplified many weaknesses — such as affordability, rental security, overcrowding and homelessness — in the Australian housing system, and in particular, exacerbated many existing challenges in the rental sector.

And while it may have seemed it was the tenants that were protected and the landlords were powerless when the pandemic and lock downs were at their peak, things are looking very different now. With moratoriums on evictions, rent decreases and mortgage deferrals all coming to an end, the issues uncovered by this research risk rapidly worsening.

Oswald said the study points to the critical role of the government’s financial support to enable tenants to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads. It was clear from our findings that without this government support, many tenants would be in a significantly worse position, including potentially homeless.

Both landlords and tenants reported confusion, stress and uncertainty about what would happen when government financial support packages end. While 2020 seemed like a pretty challenging year, the aftermath is pretty concerning too.

The findings of the study call for a need for the Government to strengthen its assistance to landlords. The study found the plans in place really hadn’t considered their needs adequately. With many landlords as Mom and Dad investors or rentvestors, there’s no slush fund to keep paying the mortgage. Without rental income, they’re up a certain creek starting with ‘S’ without a paddle.

What happens next is critical. Especially as job keeper and additional payments on job seeker wind up. It’s important the Government looks at how both the tenants and landlords are looked after. It’s also critical for tenants and landlords to work together to improve the success of their relationship – and economic and mental wellbeing.

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