A decision in the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) earlier this month has tenant advocates in our region concerned that a large number of renters will face homelessness now that the moratorium on evictions has ended.
At the height of the COVID-19 crisis last year, the Andrews Government introduced a raft of emergency measures to provide renters with additional protections. This included protection against eviction where renters were unable to pay their rent due to the ongoing pandemic.
Such measures proved crucial not only to ensuring renters were able to keep a roof above their heads but also in the overall strategy to reduce the spread of the virus by limiting peoples’ movement. However, these protections were repealed in late March this year, leaving many renters still unable to return to work due to rolling lockdowns at risk of homelessness.
“The protections may have gone away, but the virus has not,” said Jackie Galloway, CEO of Peninsula Community Legal Centre. “This leaves families in our area quite 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.”
Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) operates its Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP) 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,” said Ms Galloway. “Now we are increasingly seeing renters with arrears of over ten thousand dollars. 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.”
PCLC has continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 crisis and has assisted many renters negotiate rent reductions with their landlords in the hope they would have avoided disaster. However, with the crisis still unfolding renters require ongoing protection.
“With every lockdown comes the very real fear of how to pay your rent. 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.”
Renters are reminded that they cannot be evicted from their homes 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 PCLC for advice.
PCLC remains committed to assisting our community. We are here to help and continue to offer services by telephone. Its dedicated staff are still available to advise, assist and attend VCAT hearings with renters. PCLC can be contacted on 9783 3600.
DATE: 19 AUGUST 2021
CONTACT: Kirsten Young, Community Engagement Officer
9783 3600 firstname.lastname@example.org