Australia's tenants who can't pay their landlords due to coronavirus are begging for a rent freeze

Renters who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis are struggling to keep up with payments. Source: AAP

Some landlords have heeded Scott Morrison's message to "work out a compromise" with their tenants and have shown compassion, but for others, they say it's not possible.

Sangeeta* moved to Australia from India in 2015 and now can't pay her rent after losing both her hospitality jobs in the Southern Highlands of NSW due to the coronavirus crisis.  

She said she has begged her landlord to reduce her rent but they said it was not possible financially for them to do without the income. 

“I was told I should appreciate the landlord has a mortgage to pay and there’s nothing they could do right now,” she told SBS News. 

After she spent most of her savings getting a visa to be able to move from Delhi, she is now considering asking her family for financial help.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. I tried to look online but the fact I’m on a skilled visa means I don’t have any benefits as a citizen,” she said. 

Toby Hemmings
Toby Hemmings has recently lost his job and is struggling to pay rent.

Toby Hemmings says the terrace apartment in the inner Sydney suburb of Newtown he lives in with three other tenants was the perfect home.

“This is the dream house, I loved the idea of living in Newtown in a big terrace,” the 25-year-old said.

"It was everything I wanted, but now I’m screwed." 

Two of Toby's housemates have moved out recently due to coronavirus impacting their incomes and Toby has also lost his job in retail.

He said he has been desperately trying to find new housemates to fill the apartment but without any luck so far.

To make matters worse, Toby said he sent his landlord an email asking for a "rent freeze" on their $1,000 a week rent given the current COVID-19 crisis but the response he received was blunt.

“The landlord called me back 10 minutes later in a fluster. He was in a state. He said ‘I can’t do it, I still have to pay my mortgage, I can’t just queue up at Centrelink like you guys can',” he said.

Rent freeze

'Rent freezes' or periods where commercial or residential tenants are granted exemption from having to pay their rent have been introduced in some countries, including France, in response to the crisis.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Sunday that Australian state and territory leaders had agreed to put a six-month moratorium on commercial and residential evictions for those unable to pay their rent due to the current economic downturn.

The details are still to be worked out and are expected to be announced in the coming days.

“My message to tenants, particularly to commercial tenants and commercial landlords, is a very straightforward one: we need you to sit down, talk to each other and work this out,” he said.

Some landlords, including Darwin-based environmental campaigner Monica Tan, have worked out a new arrangement with their tenants.

Monica owns a property in Sydney’s Chinatown district and after a plea from her tenants to reduce their rent after they lost their jobs, she agreed to lower it from $600 to $480 a week for the next month.

Monica Tan
Darwin landlord Monica Tan has offered her tenants a reduction on their rent.

“I know it must be really stressful and crazy. I’m really lucky to have my job,” she said.

But that has meant taking a hit to her own finances.

Her mortgage comes in at around $600 a week, meaning that if the bank doesn’t grant her financial hardship support, which she is applying for, she will have to cover the $120 difference out of her own pocket.

Still, she said she is happy to help as she is in a position to do so.

“It’s good to spread it around. Half the population have taken an immediate and violent financial hit and for those of us that haven’t, it just seems so unfair,” she said. 

SBS Punjabi on Saturday reported on a Brisbane-based businessman who has given the three international students staying with him a rent-free tenancy period while Australia grapples with the impacts of COVID-19. 

Renters seeking information about rental regulations and COVID-19 in New South Wales can go to the NSW Government Fair Trading website.  

*Name has been changed

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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