Queensland renters facing evictions again, social groups 'concerned'

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on September 17, 2020
Queensland renters facing evictions again, social groups 'concerned'

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

The Queensland Government's decision not to extend moratoriums on rental evictions has been criticised by various tenant and social groups across the state.

The six-month moratorium on rental evictions halts on 29 September, despite other states extending theirs to March 2021.

Commercial tenancies in Queensland on the other hand were given a moratorium extension until the end of the year.

This is why Tenants Queensland is "concerned".

"It seems contradictory that the government is acknowledging the challenging times in their press release about commercial tenancies but not for battling residential tenants," Tenants Queensland CEO Penny Carr told Savings.com.au.

"September 29 was an arbitrary date used in April when the regulations were drafted and the challenges for many renters have not yet been resolved."

However, Real Estate Institute of Queensland CEO Antonia Mercorella told Savings.com.au returning to "rent normalcy" is a "positive sign".

“The State Government’s decision not to extend the COVID-19 Emergency Response Regulations is a positive sign of just how far we’ve come in the fight against COVID-19," she said.

"A return to rent normality is a positive sign for Queensland’s property market and in particular property investors, many who have faced extremely tough financial difficulties."

Many major banks have extended mortgage deferrals until the end of the year.

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Tenants Queensland, Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS), and Q Shelter all recommend the moratorium in the state be extended to 31 December.

“This will only serve to make the housing arrangements of Queensland families much more insecure," the groups' CEOs said in a joint statement.

“The Queensland government have decided to go it alone in not extending the moratorium – Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria have all committed to extending their moratoriums to March 2021, and Tasmania has extended theirs to December 2020.”

Ms Carr also said it could be an "anxious and grim lead up to Christmas" if renters are facing evictions.

“Many renters have been on tender hooks [sic], fearful they would not be able to keep a roof over their heads through Christmas. For some that will now be the reality," she said.

Tenants Queensland, QCOSS and Q Shelter make up three of the five groups part of the 'Minister's Housing Security Subcommittee'.

The other two are the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA), and the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ).

At the start of the moratoriums, the REIQ was critical of the policy, saying it was skewed towards tenants, with 'mum and dad investors' being "thrown to the wolves".

Today, Ms Mercorella also said tenants can lean on increased JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to cover rental expenses.

"Queensland still remains one of the most affordable places to rent with the current median rent only $360 for a three-bedroom home," she said.

At $360 a week, this is more than half the revised JobKeeper wage subsidy, due to start on 28 September, above the threshold for 'rent stress'.

A question over numbers

Housing Minister Mick de Brenni said the decision not to extend was because the Queensland economy is faring better than other states.

"Because of our strong health response, we've been able to keep the economy more open and we've already started delivering Queensland's plan for economic recovery," he said.

Mr de Brenni pointed towards RTA statistics that showed tenants and landlords had resolved 1,677 disputes since April, with about 70% successfully resolved in just over a week.

However, recent unemployment statistics show Queensland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 7.5%, with the national rate sitting at 6.8% in seasonally adjusted terms for August.

Queensland also has a 15% youth (15 to 24 year olds) unemployment rate in original terms, the second highest in the country behind Victoria (16.2%), which is undergoing extended stage four lockdowns.

Mr de Brenni's office has been contacted for comment.

Commercial tenancy moratoriums and ‘zombie companies’

The extension of the moratorium on commercial tenancies in Queensland combines with the Federal Government’s decision to extend the insolvency moratorium on businesses until the end of the year.

The ‘safe harbour defence’ protects company directors from liability for insolvent trading, extended for debts incurred after 25 September, until 31 December.

The threshold of minimum debt applicable has been raised to $20,000, up from $2,000 for a statutory demand, and $5,000 for a bankruptcy notice.

Companies in debt can now also take up to six months instead of 21 days to respond to a bankruptcy notice.

This has given rise to the term ‘zombie company’, in which companies that would otherwise be insolvent are still trading and infecting other companies with their bite.

CreditorWatch statistics indicate that every year about 8,000 to 9,000 firms are put into administration, but figures in March, April and May showed a drop in insolvency actions.

There were 1,200 fewer court actions in April and May 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, though some of these can be attributed to a restricted court system and legal firms also experiencing their own financial difficulties.

In May, insolvency experts expressed concern that these measures ‘kick the can down the road’.

Principal of Hegarty Legal Peter Hegarty told Savings.com.au in May that the measures are well-intentioned, but could hurt creditors, who in many cases are also small businesses.

“To put this in context, a director of a struggling entity may be more inclined to see his company incur a debt with a supplier which perhaps shouldn’t be incurred because of the relaxed insolvent trading provisions,” he said.

“What follows is that the supplier entity doesn’t get paid when their invoices are due and potentially themselves are then not in a position to meet their own obligations to their suppliers and employees.

“An unfortunate outcome of this position is that it inevitably leads to a tightening of credit from those supplier entities who quite understandably need to protect their own corner. This is something which the government should be seeking to avoid.”


Disclaimers

The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered. Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site. Savings.com.au, yourmortgage.com.au, yourinvestmentpropertymag.com.au, and Performance Drive are part of the Savings Media group. In the interests of full disclosure, the Savings Media Group are associated with the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings Media Group manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please visit the web site links at the bottom of this page.

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Harrison is Savings.com.au's Assistant Editor. Prior to joining Savings in January 2020, he worked for some of Australia's largest comparison sites and media organisations. With a keen interest in the economy, housing policy, and personal finance, Harrison is passionate about breaking down complex financial topics for the everyday consumer.

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