Renters still recovering from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic fear they’ll be left homeless if moratoriums on evictions aren’t extended.

Protections are in place across Australia’s states and territories to prevent evictions due to coronavirus-related hardships, but the measures are set to expire in the coming weeks in several jurisdictions. 

In March, Greg* saw 90 per cent of his family’s income vanish over a matter of days.

At the start of the year, the 60-year-old Queenslander worked as a software developer for childcare centres, while also filling shifts as a personal trainer at a local gym. 

The family also operated a hair salon, with the earnings from all three operations helping provide for five young children, one of whom has learning difficulties, as well as Greg’s visually-impaired wife.

But when the pandemic forced the closures of all three businesses, Greg’s family was left “absolutely decimated.”

“Our income just got smashed because everybody was afraid and they were telling us to stay home,” he told SBS News. 

The family is renting a four-bedroom, two and a half-acre property in the leafy suburb of Ferny Grove in Brisbane’s northwest.

For the last five months, they’ve been living week-to-week, relying on the government’s coronavirus payments and Greg’s wife’s disability payment to help cover their expenses.

They unsuccessfully asked their landlord for a rent reduction. 

“He just said flat out no, and we even got one email from him that said you’re going to pay one way or the other,” Greg said.

The family was forced to take the matter to a tribunal to try and secure rental relief.

“The agent actually asked in a counter application for us to be declared non-COVID affected,” he said.

The tribunal awarded them a small reduction in their weekly rate. The family is still paying 40 per cent of their income on rent.

With Queensland’s moratorium on evictions to expire at the end of the month, they fear their landlord will move swiftly to kick them out of their home, without the money to relocate or even secure a new bond.

“If this actually does not get extended, my family will be out in the street and we don’t have anywhere to go,” he said.

“Who the hell are they going to get to replace us? Who’s gonna rent the places?”

Looming deadline

Moratoriums on residential rental evictions due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are in place across Australia.

Victoria, which has experienced a second wave of cases and shutdowns, has twice extended its moratorium, announcing Friday it would stay in place until 28 March.

“We know that the pandemic has significantly disrupted the rental market and we recognise that there’s an ongoing need to support households who are experiencing rental distress,” Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said.

“The one thing they shouldn’t have to feel is that their home is at risk, their place of sanctuary, their place of security in the current environment.”

In New South Wales, the moratorium remains in place until the year’s end.

But other states and territories are yet to announce plans to extend the protections, with the moratorium in Queensland set to expire on 29 September, leaving tenants experiencing financial hardship vulnerable to eviction.

Penny Carr, chief executive of Tenants Queensland, told SBS News she’s heard from a number of anxious renters set to lose their protections when the moratorium ends.

“We are very concerned and we’ve been also been contacted by a few renters who are similarly concerned and who are highly likely to be evicted as soon as possible,” Ms Carr said.

“There are people who are really living in states of anxiety about this.

“Right now, you can’t be evicted for unpaid rent of yours, but come 29 September, you can be.

“The forecast for the economy and jobs is not looking great and at some point, you come to a cliff.”

Renters are also facing reduced Commonwealth support, with JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments to be reduced from October. 

“It seems like the worst possible time to be getting rid of these protections,” Joel Dignam from Tenants advocacy group Better Renting said.

“If you’re a renter who might be in rent arrears at this time, they are the only thing between you and losing your tenancy.” 

International students at risk

Tenant unions also remain concerned that renters who don’t have permanent residency are at particular risk of being impacted by the lifting of the moratorium.

“Often international students particularly and a lot of people with temporary visas, because they don’t have the same rental history, they may not have the same capacity to compete in a very competitive rental market,” Leo Patterson Ross from Tenants’ Union of NSW said.

An estimated 1.1 million temporary visa holders also remain locked out of accessing JobKeeper and JobSeeker support measures.

“Often they’re just less familiar with their rights and landlords see them as easier to exploit,” Mr Dignam said.

“Extending income support to these people will make a big difference.”

Hardik*, an international student from Fiji living in Brisbane, was evicted from his residence when his landlord failed to agree to a rent reduction after he lost his job in childcare.

“I was staying in Fortitude Valley, we talked to the manager about it and he said no, he won’t reduce the rent, won’t give extra time and just kicked us out,” he told SBS News.

“I was left sitting on the streets, like for a few hours calling all my friends and everyone for help.”

Thanks to the gratitude of a local church, he has a roof over his head, but finding a new job has proven near-impossible.

He says returning back home to Fiji is also not an option.

“I can’t be going back because if I’m going back, I’m wasting my time and my money and everything that I have done for university,” he said.

“There’s a travel ban. You can’t go home, and you can’t earn money because there is no job. You’re stuck from both sides.”

While he has safe accommodation now, he remains concerned an end to moratoriums will see many other international students facing eviction in the next few weeks.

“A lot of my friends that are staying a few blocks over from me and like all international students in my group, most of them, they are worried to get evicted and will be given a heavy amount to pay all the rent that they missed.

“For most of those international students, after September, they’ll be homeless and jobless.”

*Names changed for privacy reasons

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