Tenants Advocacy Group Calls on Government To Cancel Rental Debt

With eviction moratoriums expected to lift at the end of March., 2021, there are concerns that we could see hundreds of thousands of renters lose their homes in what has been called a “wave of Covid Evictions”

Better Renting has recently released their report “‘Til debt do us part: a fair solution to prevent Covid evictions”. The reports authors acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic catastrophe has impacted people and families differently. They describe the impacts as an “uneven recession.” Those most highly impacted are generally low income households with insecure work. 

These low income earners are more likely to be renting their homes. There is a very real fear that these same families and individuals are most likely those who will struggle to repay their rent freezes when the moratorium lifts. 

Better Renting concedes that some renter protections have been offered but argue that these protections do not go far enough. Better Renting argues that the protections were non-interventionist and did not ensure that tenants avoided rental debt. Landlords still expect full payment of rent and through their report Better Renting fears we may see nearly 1000000 Australians facing rental debt when the pandemic ends. 

The report further finds that not all rental debt will be the same. It may not be debt owed to landlords that causes the problems. The report identifies three different kinds of debt incurred. The first they describe as “debt at the door.” This is debt identified as rental arrears. These families and individuals are identified as most at risk of losing their home.

The second type of debt identified they refer to as “debt in the mailbox.” Better Renting describes this as a situation where renters have continued to pay their rent but this has caused them to incur debt elsewhere.

The third, potential debt, is described as “debt in the wings.” Here renters have not yet incurred debt as they have depleted savings and emergency reserves, rendering them at high risk of incurring debt in the future. 

Better Renting argues that the Government needs to do more to support renters in financial distress. They argue that the Government has a responsibility to keep them in their homes. They have identified a proposed solution that they describe as a win win situation. 

Better Renting argues that the Government must facilitate the cancellation of all rental debt. Their solution involves the Government acquiring debt from landlords, at a reduction, and then declining to collect this debt from renters in trouble. 

They suggest that their proposal would prevent mass evictions and a future housing and economic crisis. They argue that the Government should recognise the sacrifices low income earners have made in the interests of public health. 

Better Renting suggests that this will help Australia emerge from the crisis without long term suffering. The cancellation of rental debt avoids long term suffering and marginalisation, protecting those who have made extra sacrifices in the name of public health.

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