As Sydney residents wait to hear whether a two-week lockdown will end on 9 July as planned, tenancy advocates warn an extension could push some renters into financial difficulty.
Stay-at-home rules have meant many Sydneysiders are unable to work, especially casual workers. While there is financial help currently in place, advocacy groups say it may not go far enough due to Sydney’s high median rents.
Currently, those unable to work due to a COVID-19 lockdown, hotspot or period of restricted movement may be eligible for a COVID-19 Disaster Payment (between $300-$500 dependent on hours of work lost); a Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment; or a one-off Crisis Payment.
“This [financial support] is an important change from last year and will make a difference but we should also acknowledge that the amount isn’t large,” Tenants NSW CEO Leo Patterson Ross explained.
“The median rent in Sydney is $500, so for many people this will cover rent only and not food or any other costs,” he added.
Tenants holding up for now
Partner at Di Jones Real Estate in Sydney Pamela Styling said her team has not received many requests for rental assistance or deferment during the current lockdown. She said she believes this time around tenants are better versed on how to get the help they need to get through lockdowns.
“I believe the current relief packages on offer for this short period may be sufficient to get those through this lockdown period,” Ms Styling said.
“I think tenants seem to know the drill now; where to access information to help them as they need it, and how to stay updated about their rights and responsibilities.
“We have open channels of communication with anyone that needs to talk, of course, but we haven’t seen anyone really take it up right now. This may change if the lockdown extends considerably without any additional relief package being available for those unable to earn an income,” she said.
While tenants are holding up for now, Mr Patterson Ross said rent arrears usually happen once tenants have exhausted their savings, and he expects these requests will come, especially if lockdown is extended.
“Rent arrears will usually come after people have already sacrificed what else they can on food and other areas,” he said.
“We also don’t want to see people, as we did last year, getting forced to choose to move because they can no longer afford the rent.”
Renters concerned about home inspections
Tenants NSW reported a spike in people seeking information about the rules around inspections, with many tenants concerned about having additional people in their household while case numbers remain elevated.
Currently, the directive from government regarding dwellings in Greater Sydney is that inspections for lease or sale are limited to one person by appointment. Attendees must also wear a face mask at all times.
For all of NSW, real estate agents must have a COVID-19 safety plan in place to open a home to inspection.
Ms Styling said she has noticed an increase in the number of requests for repairs on rental properties, signalling tenants are using the time at home to tend the niggling things around the house they’ve been putting off.