By ALLISON HORE
On Tuesday 24 March, amendments by the Greens to the NSW Parliament’s COVID-19 Emergency Measures Bill were successful, ensuring protections for renters would be included in the emergency response.
“This isn’t just a human rights issue: it’s a health issue. You can’t stay home to social distance without a house. You can’t limit your shopping without a fridge. You can’t rest and recover without a bed,” Greens NSW Housing Spokesperson, Jenny Leong said in a statement.
The changes will give relevant ministers the powers to act on any decisions made in the national cabinet’s meeting on tenancy without having to wait until parliament resumes in September. These special powers will last for 6 months or until the government chooses to revoke them. They also allow ministers to make a similar decision regarding commercial tenancies, and gives them the power to enact rent freezes if they decide to.
“The amendments give the power to the relevant ministers in NSW to create regulations to put a moratorium on evictions, prevent people having their lease terminated and make other changes to what current powers landlords and owners have over tenants,” explained Ms. Leong.
“These are extraordinary times, and these are extraordinary powers, powers that can be used for good – right now – to protect residential and commercial tenants from evictions.”
The 2016 census revealed that over 30% of Australian households are renters, and they are considered especially vulnerable as they are more likely to be casual workers employed in some of the many industries that have faced shutdowns.
As the coronavirus situation escalates across the pond, evictions from rental properties have already been banned in several US cities, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. France has also taken measures to protect renters, not only by banning evictions, but going further to suspend all bills and rent.
More than 80 organisations, including the Tenants’ Union of NSW and the Australian Council of Social Services, came together to form a coalition to research housing problems and protect the rights of renters during the COVID-19 epidemic. The coalition has been lobbying governments around Australia to ensure no evictions happen during the crisis.
“An eviction into homelessness at this time puts great pressure on families and communities in overcrowded homes, crisis accommodation and people sleeping rough,” they said. “Support services will already be struggling to deal with increased demand and as a community we cannot afford to make it worse.”
Measures to address rental stress were slated to be discussed and signed off at the national cabinet on Tuesday night, however, the meeting ran overtime and it was unable to be addressed. When asked about the matter Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped support will be finalised as soon as possible, but that the issue is complex.
“This is obviously a complicated issue because you’ve got a tenant, you’ve got a landlord, you’ve got creditors and all of those issues and you need to solve for the entire chain that’s there,” Morrison said.
Further decisions regarding the tenancy laws will be discussed on Friday, 27 March