Given the steeply rising levels of unemployment in the wake of recent Covid-19 restrictions (not to mention already wild Sydney rent prices), many Sydneysiders will be worried about affording their rent in the coming weeks and months. With thousands of people out of work already just weeks into the crisis, and lines for Centrelink snaking around blocks, it’s a very common situation to be in right now, but also one fraught with confusion. To help demystify the issue, we’ve put together a guide on what you can do if you're feeling rental pressure.
What should I do if I’m worried about not being able to pay my rent?
At the first instance, you should reach out to your landlord if you have a direct line of communication with them or your real estate agent. Many landlords have come to the table and reduced or frozen rent during the pandemic. The Tenants’ Union of NSW has come up with a draft email you can download, tailor to your circumstances and send off to your landlord or agent.
It’s a good idea to open up these lines of communication as soon as possible, so you can start the negotiation process early. If your landlord has time to plan for their future, they might be more amenable to reducing or deferring your payments for the time being. Landlords can themselves apply to their bank for financial hardship support, and the ‘big four’ banks have already agreed to pause mortgage repayments.
Sadly, there are also many landlords who haven’t been willing to negotiate with tenants, which could be as a result of the financial and mortgage pressures they themselves are facing. If they refuse to negotiate, you can reach out to the Tenants’ Union of NSW or call the National Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007 to talk through your options.
Will my lease help me out?
Each lease is different, and some rental leases will have hardship provisions which cover things like changing financial circumstances – but this is only really helpful if you’re trying to break your lease. If you wish to retain your current rental agreement, it's best to begin with landlord negotiations before sifting through the fine print.
Should I be accessing my super as a renter?
There have been reports of agents encouraging tenants to access their super early in order to make rental payments on time. The NSW Tenant’s Union does not recommend you do this. If an agent suggests this to you, you may want to refer them to a recently published Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) release which states that any real estate agent or landlord pressuring a tenant to access superannuation early may be in breach of legislation prohibiting unlicensed financial advice.
Can I be evicted for not paying rent?
You can technically be issued a termination notice if you’re 14 days late on your rent in NSW. The process of actual eviction takes place four to five weeks following this. On March 29, Scott Morrison announced a moratorium on evictions, however, this hasn’t yet been implemented in NSW and details surrounding how it might be administered or upheld are unclear for now. Tasmania, however, has proven it can be done.
Facing this kind of financial hardship can feel pretty damn bleak – but remember that this is a holistic, society-wide problem that is unprecedented in our times. It won’t be solved in a single step, or without proper legislation firmly in place, but you can do your part to protect yourself. Check out the Tenants’ Union NSW’s factsheet on renting in Covid-19 for further details.