A DECISION by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has tenant advocates worried more renters will become homeless now that the moratorium on evictions has ended.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis last year, the state government introduced emergency measures to protect renters, including bans on evictions where renters were unable to pay their rent because of the pandemic.
These measures proved crucial not only in ensuring renters could keep a roof over their heads but in reducing the spread of the virus by limiting the movement of people.
However, the protections ended in late March leaving many renters, unable to return to work due to rolling lockdowns and at risk of homelessness.
“The protections may have gone away, but the virus has not,” Peninsula Community Legal Centre CEO Jackie Galloway said. “This leaves families in our area vulnerable to eviction where rent has gone unpaid due to a drop in income. It also comes at a time when rental providers are increasing rents, especially on the peninsula, as people flee the city in the wake of COVID-19.”
The legal centre runs a tenancy assistance and advocacy program where staff are seeing an increase in rent-related debts.
“In the past it was unusual to see rent arrears accrue beyond a couple of thousand dollars,” Ms Galloway said. “Now we are increasingly seeing renters with arrears of over $10,000. Many people have limited means to pay their rent and nowhere to go as rents are rising and housing is being snapped up by the sea-changers.”
The legal centre has operated throughout the pandemic and says it has helped many renters negotiate reductions with their landlords. However, with the crisis still unfolding, renters needed ongoing protection.
“With every lockdown comes the very real fear of how to pay your rent,” Ms Galloway said. “There is no longer a mechanism to get rents reduced, and the rental relief grant is no longer available.
“With VCAT now saying that renters can be evicted for rent arrears accrued during last year’s lockdowns, renters are at a heightened risk of homelessness with little means to repay their debt.”
Ms Galloway says renters cannot be evicted without an order from the tribunal. “If anyone receives a Notice to Vacate for rent arrears or any other reason they are urged to contact us for advice,” she said.
Contact the centre on 9783 3600.