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Evictions ramping up with worse to come, tenants groups warn

Renters across Victoria are being ordered from their homes by their landlords in a wave of evictions after COVID-19 tenancy protections ended last week.

No hard data is yet available on the after-effects of lifting the state government’s rental moratorium, but tenants’ advocacy groups, legal services and the real estate peak body are reporting an increase in notices to vacate, as well as demands for unpaid rent, and they’re warning of worse to come.

Lorna Berry is one of a large number of Melbourne tenants who have been given notice to vacate.Credit:Joe Armao

The suite of rental protections, which also included a ban on rent increases, ended on March 28 – the same day that JobKeeper payments were cut off.

The end of protections, introduced at the beginning of pandemic to prevent mass evictions during the resulting economic crisis, also coincided with sweeping tenancy law reform granting greater rights to renters.

The special pandemic protections also included a process that allowed 71,370 tenants and landlords in Victoria to agree on rent reductions in 2020 but figures from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal have shown a sharp rise in landlords applying to get their tenants out for non-payment of rent, with more than 1100 applications in February alone.

The peak body for renters, Tenants Victoria, told The Age it was worried about a “surge” in evictions, while the Renters and Housing Union said it was already well underway.

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria also confirmed that landlords were moving to take possession of their properties or to recover unpaid rent.

Early reports from the groups and from renters who have contacted The Age suggest landlords are making widespread use of provisions in the rental reforms, allowing owners who are renovating or selling a home to order their tenant out with 60 days’ notice and limited appeal rights.

REIV president Leah Calnan, who is also director of Metro Property Management, said she was seeing more notices to vacate, notices of rent increases and efforts to recover unpaid rent since the protections were lifted.

Ms Calnan said she expected to see more 60-day notices issued, with property owners who sell in July or August not having to settle their capital gains tax bills on the sales until mid-to-late 2022.

”I personally have half a dozen clients who will be issuing notices to vacate in May and June and looking to sell in July and August,” Ms Calnan said.

”If the owner has experienced difficulties, not just in the past six months, it would be an incentive, rather than going through a long, drawn-out process to get their property back.“

Eirene Tsolidis Noyce, secretary of the Renters and Houses Union, a group formed early in the pandemic to advocate for renters, said the increase in notices to vacate was incredibly concerning.

“We absolutely have seen an uptick, which is incredibly concerning, in terms of notices to vacate,” she said. “The uptick we’re seeing at the moment [are] landlords forgoing properties or hitting renters with a rent increase.”

Lorna Berry and her family have received notice to vacate.Credit:Joe Armao

Ms Tsolidis said renters hit with a notice should seek advice from her organisation or a free legal service before agreeing to leave their homes or pay increased rent.

Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge told The Age she expected to see many tenants hit in the coming weeks with demands for unpaid rent, on top of the threat of being evicted. “Tenants Victoria is worried about the consequences of any surge in evictions,” she said.

Noel Lim, chief executive of Anika Legal, which offers free advice for tenants, says he too has seen an increase in requests for help since the end of the moratorium.

He warned the withdrawal of supports like JobKeeper, as well as the rental protections, had left many renters vulnerable. “The scaling back [of financial support] will mean that many renters … will be hit all at once,” he said.

Lorna Berry’s landlord ordered the Mount Waverley woman, her husband, two children and the family’s two poodles out of their four-bedroom rental on the day after the moratorium expired, declaring an intention to renovate the property.

The family, who lost all their work in the pandemic, had negotiated a rent reduction and were several thousand dollars in rental arrears. They say they have nowhere else to go and will fight the 60-day notice in VCAT.

Ms Berry said the prospect of eviction had exacerbated the stress and anxiety of the pandemic for her family. “Renting is anxiety-inducing anyway,” she said. “Now, we’ve got the expense of moving out and a new bond and all of those kinds of things, so we’ll just have to see what the future holds.”

A spokeswoman for the state government said its 130 rental reforms strengthened renters’ rights and enabled people to “turn the house they rent into their home”.

“As part of these reforms we’re protecting tenants’ rights when they are asked to vacate their home due to a sale – by checking the owners are legitimately selling and making sure they cannot re-let the premise for six months after a vacate,” she said.

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