Landlords are still reeling from the shock from the government’s unjustifiable extension of the no eviction for rent arrears ruling that has devastated many landlords and shredded any belief that a lease is a legally binding document, supported by legislation.
As health reasons for the government’s drastic and one-sided residential tenancy interventions have long past, the government is now declaring the basis for their short-sighted decision is economic, stating in its recent media release that the extension is due to the “ongoing effects of COVID-19 on the Tasmanian economy.” Being presented with such a generic rationale, landlords are left to assume that, according to the government, the requirement for them to be paid for the product they provide is dependent upon Tasmania’s economic conditions. Since when does rent only have to be paid when growth, spending, unemployment, and other measures are within acceptable ranges? The precedent the government has set is astounding.
Short-sighted is the most succinct way to describe what has unfolded in residential tenancies over what is likely to be almost a year of unfathomable government intervention in a single buyer-seller arrangement. In delaying the inevitable lifting of the no evictions ruling, the government is helping neither landlords nor tenants. Tenants may know they can have Christmas in their current location, but the debt that is snowballing behind many will follow them for years. Add to this that securing another rental will be even more challenging as rentals are leaving the market and being snapped up by owner-occupiers at high and stable prices. From a landlords’ perspective, their tolerance is gone and any trust in the government and the standing of a lease or legislation now completely eroded. Many have been deeply burned much closer to home as they grapple with still being owed thousands in rent and trying to recover from major property damage.
In all of this, landlords are only asking for what is fair. This is not landlords versus tenants. One does not exist without the other. This is landlords extremely unhappy with the government’s grossly unbalanced management of the situation. It should be said, however, that the government has been consistent. They have consistently failed to address the fact that their legislation from back in April has been abused by a disturbing number of tenants. The finger for this still sternly points to the government as their legislation allows this. Despite having eight months to put mechanisms in place to ensure that the no eviction protection is only available to those in genuine need, the government has done absolutely nothing, and the abuse is still occurring today. The government is fully aware that some tenants have taken advantage of the rules, so too is the Tenants Union of Tasmania. It is also fair to say that landlords too feel taken advantage of or deceived and used more accurately.
As the government and others are waking up to the consequences of interventions they have loudly applauded, they are looking for ways to tinker at the edges of the mess they have made. Fewer rental properties, higher rent prices, a greater emphasis on employment and income security and properties sitting vacant until the vaccination rollout is complete are just some of the outcomes. Looking for anything to hold on tightly too we are seeing the ghastly-Airbnb mantra gain momentum. And here we go again – more government intervention trying to distract from the fact that the government has not built enough social housing, that the Hobart City Council’s residential development approval track recording is appalling, and that housing supply has simply not kept up with demand.
The fallout from COVID-19 is and will be dramatic. In addition to the obvious it has now been established that the government can and will remove the requirement for a seller to be paid. We have seen that legislation can be made worthless in hours, despite its months to author. Most disturbingly of all, we have seen the clear trajectory that ownership may be an illusion.