ACT Greens: Rent debt will push tenants into poverty

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ACT Greens spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur

FOLLOWING the release of an interim report about the ACT government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACT Greens is worried that Canberra renters will find themselves in extraordinary debt when the coronavirus rental moratorium is over. 

The ACT Greens housing spokesperson, Caroline Le Couteur, who sat on the committee, is now raising these concerns after the report was released in the Legislative Assembly today (May 18).

The committee, which drew from evidence provided across seven public hearings, made 24 recommendations. Of these 24, the committee suggested that the government create and make available a standard terms and rights document for tenants and landlords to assist them in understanding changes due to COVID-19.

It also recommended that the ACT government establish a tenant transfer system to allow for easier and more convenient change of tenants and retrieval of bonds for members of group houses, that they develop a framework for the repayment of any rental arrears accrued during the COVID-19 eviction moratorium, and that they develop a plan to prohibit a lessor or grantor from seeking termination solely on the basis of rent arrears accrued during the period covered by the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Declaration 2020.

Recommendation eight also recommended that the government explore a method for renters in fixed-term leases to terminate their tenancies during the COVID-19 emergency.

In response to these recommendation, Ms Le Couteur says the ACT government must act now for those who’ve lost their jobs or had their hours cut during the pandemic, to ensure they keep struggling renters out of the poverty cycle.

“It’s great that a short term rent moratorium is now in place for those struggling to get by during this challenging time, however, the Greens are concerned that some renters will find themselves in extraordinary levels of debt when the moratorium is over – debt that will be exceptionally hard to pay back,” she says.

“We think the government should establish clear guidelines around reasonable payment plans, so that more struggling renters can pay back their outstanding debts without sinking further into poverty.

“We can also make leases more flexible, supporting rather than penalising renters who decide to move back in with their families while the pandemic is underway.”

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