The State Government’s proposed COVID-19 rent relief package is under attack from the REIQ. Photo supplied.
The State Government’s proposed COVID-19 rent relief package is under attack from the REIQ. Photo supplied.

REIQ: ‘So many tenants hating on us right now’

The Real Estate Institute of Queensland has slammed the State Government's temporary plan to make property owners "pick up the tab" for renters who can't pay due to COVID-19.

In response to the Queensland Government's proposed Special COVID-19 Protections for Residential Tenants and Owners released last Thursday REIQ CEO Antonia Mercorella said the "tab would have to be picked up" and why should property owners have to be the ones to pick it up.

She said "very, very upset" property owners were calling on the government to back down from its proposed plan to give rent relief to tenants impacted by the coronavirus.

"We have so many renters hating on us right now," she said.

"We are sympathetic to tenants in that position but what this package does is transfer this debt to owners and owners have their own financial commitments to make."

"This is not the Government saying to owners we are happy to waive your debt this is a new law that will ask landlords to pick up the tab on that because the tab will need to be picked up."

"Even if you can press pause on your mortgage repayments it will add further debt to owners and there is no assistance package for owners to pick up that debt."

Greens MP for Maiwar Michael Berkman disagreed saying homeowners had access to a raft of relief and softening any protections for renters during the pandemic crisis should not happen.

"Everyone needs to share the burden of responding to COVID-19, and that includes landlords," Mr Berkman said.

"Banks are offering mortgage repayment pauses right now and the State Government is offering $400 million in land tax relief."

Greens MP Michael Berkman.Pic Annette Dew
Greens MP Michael Berkman.Pic Annette Dew

Mr Berkman said it was essential the proposed measures ensured people were not evicted at this time.

He said renters should not have to repay debts incurred during a period of rent relief.

"Everyone is hurting right now and many people have almost no income," he said.

"The first priority is to make sure everyone has a home. Landlords have access to JobSeeker, JobKeeper, land tax relief, mortgage repayment pauses and other benefits just like everyone else."

He said in addition the government's proposed break-lease provision was not unreasonable.

Last Thursday Housing Minister Mick de Brenni announced changes which propose a special pandemic related freeze on evictions, a waiver on rental payments and a ban on non-essential inspections and maintenance.

"Neither landlords nor tenants are to blame for this, and now is the time for them to work together to get through this pandemic" Mr de Brenni said.

A Department of Housing and Public Works spokeswoman said the "COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Queenslanders across the state and we know many people are doing it tough".

"The Queensland Government has announced that it will implement the National Cabinet decision to freeze evictions due to rent arrears for Queensland tenants impacted by COVID-19, retrospective to 29 March 2020," she said.

"If a tenant is struggling to pay their rent as a result of COVID-19, we're encouraging the tenants and property owners to come together to work out a solution. These agreements should be in writing and clearly state all the terms of the arrangement."

The spokeswoman said renters and property owners not significantly affected by COVID-19 should "continue to honour their existing obligations and rental agreements".

"Where hardship is being experienced, property owners are encouraged to speak with their financial institutions to access available supports," she said.

"Land tax relief is also available from the Queensland Government."

She said the department had consulted with stakeholders on the temporary covid-19 measures.

 

Antonia Mercorella wants the rent relief package dropped and replaced with rent deferrals.
Antonia Mercorella wants the rent relief package dropped and replaced with rent deferrals.

Ms Mercorella said the REIQ wanted rent deferrals "rather than permanent rent waiver rights for tenants", introduction of a minimum income threshold for tenants to meet before they qualify for protection measures, introduce a standard requirement for tenants to substantiate their rent reduction request and make clear guidelines about property entry requirements.

The Institute also called for the complete removal of the break lease right that it said would allow tenants to "walk away from tenancy agreements with only one weeks notice".

She said the proposal did not consider that property owners were 'ordinary' people who had "made financial sacrifices to improve their future position for retirement, which is still decades away for most investors".

Ms Mercorella said the Queensland Government was taking an approach that was different to "all other states".

"It is not consistent with what the Federal Government has announced," she said.

"We understand there will be tenants in distress for a period and not just during the six month period but subsequently and we understand that in some cases it will be unrealistic for those people to pay back those debts and those are the people the State Government should be assisting."

Ms Marcello said "very, very upset owners" had contacted the REIQ over the announcement last Thursday by Mick de Brenni.

"We accept there will be some people who will never be in a position to repay that debt but there needs to be a mechanism for that and we may not know what that is today but the starting position must be a rent deferral," she said.

"And then ultimately we will need to deal with, on a case-by-case basis, those people who can't pay rather than on day one saying they can pay reduced rent and landlords have to pick up the unpaid rent."


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