From 29 March 2021, the landscape for Victorian renters is changing. As temporary rental protections and income support from the Covid-19 pandemic come to an end, many low-income renters are at a higher risk of housing stress and eviction. At the same time, years-in-the-making rental regulations come into effect, which could help to protect renters from homelessness and offer greater rights and freedoms when it comes to their rental properties. Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming changes.
1. The last of the Coronavirus Supplement is being cut
From April last year, the Coronavirus Supplement was added to a range of income support rates to protect people from the economic impact of Covid-19. The supplement provided an additional $550 per fortnight ($275 per week) on top of usual payments.
A survey of Coronavirus Supplement recipients showed the dramatic impact of the additional support, with significant declines in hardship reported. The number of people skipping meals because of a lack of funds dropped by over half, levels of anxiety and stress plummeted, and 69% of people reported that they were finding it easier to pay their rent, or were considering moving into safer or more appropriate accommodation.
Despite these positive outcomes, the Federal Government pushed forward with its plan of cutting the Coronavirus Supplement in phases from September 2020, despite Victoria remaining in the throes of Covid-19 lockdowns.
Each reduction made it harder for low-income renters to secure or maintain affordable accommodation on the private market, with only one per cent of rental listings in the whole of Australia affordable for a single person receiving JobSeeker after the first rate cut in September, and zero per cent of properties after the second cut in December.
From 28 March 2021, the last of the Coronavirus Supplement will be cut for the final time, with people losing $150 a fortnight and throwing thousands of Victorians into crippling rental stress.
From 1 April, the Government will increase JobSeeker, and other payments like Youth Allowance, by $50 a fortnight – or $3.57 per day. This small response to the huge #RaiseTheRate campaign and calls from numerous community organisations has been described as “a devastating step backwards”. The new rate remains $80 per week below the poverty line and does little to support people who are struggling to afford Victoria’s rising rents.
2. Victoria’s eviction moratorium is ending
Just as income support is being cut, many state-based eviction moratoriums introduced to protect renters during the pandemic are also coming to an end.
Each state and territory have different regulations. In Victoria, the moratorium saw all evictions subject to much stricter terms, and evictions were banned if tenants were in rent arrears because of Covid-19 and where rent payments would cause severe hardship.
In new rental regulations, landlords were temporarily banned from increasing rents, and new legal processes were introduced to negotiate rent reductions and payments plans for tenants who were impacted by Covid-19.
However, many reductions were insufficient to keep people out of housing stress, or payments were deferred, meaning that many renters have accrued debts due to the pandemic.
Now, as the eviction moratorium is lifted in Victoria from 28 March 2021, these Covid-related debts are expected to led to a surge of evictions across the state. This is already notable in the statistics, as applications to terminate a lease based on a tenant’s inability to pay the rent almost doubled from 685 in October 2020, to 1100 in February 2021.
As Victoria experienced a much longer lockdown during 2020, the state’s post-pandemic recovery is still underway. Many Victorians – especially those on casual contracts or in lower paid jobs – have not yet been able to stabilise their finances, let alone been able to save enough to pay back significant rental debts. Without continued protection from eviction, these renters are at real risk of homelessness when the moratorium ends.
3. New rental regulations are finally here
The upcoming changes present some significant challenges for Victorian renters. Still, there is some cause of optimism for people renting in our state.
After a lengthy campaign to #MakeRentingFair, the Victorian Government passed the Residential Tenancies Act Amendment Bill in 2018. Since then, renters have been anticipating the new regulations, which will come into effect from 29 March 2021.
There are so many reasons to love the new rental regulations, which include the prohibition of unreasonable evictions and evictions without a reason, a suite of protections for victim-survivors of family violence, stronger protections against evictions for late payment, and enhanced protections during VCAT processes.
Tenants will also be protected by new minimum standards for rental properties, which means that by law all rental accommodation must have locks on doors and windows, heating, energy efficiency, and the absence of mould, damp and pests. Tenants will also be able to make minor modifications without needing to seek prior approval, and have improved rights to own pets in their rental home.
The new regulations represent a rebalancing of power between Victorian renters and landlords and, with the eviction moratorium ending and the JobSeeker payments being cut, will offer much-needed protections from homelessness for renters across Victoria.
Find more information about the Residential Tenancies Regulations including a full list of changes on the Victorian Government’s website.
As the JobSeeker cuts loom and eviction moratoriums end across the country, housing stress is predicted to increase by 24 per cent and homelessness by nine per cent nationally by June.
Victoria will benefit from the historic social housing investment announced by the State Government in late 2020, but with the Federal Government cutting funding for homelessness services from July 2021, more people are likely to be turned away from vital support services when they need it most.
You can support people without a home and help make your voice heard:
• Sign the petition from the Australian Services Union asking the Federal Government to stop the cuts to Australian homelessness services.
• Join the campaign to #RaiseTheRate calling for an adequate and permanent increase to JobSeeker and other income support payments.