COVID-19 drives 700 per cent jump in online access of Tenants’ Information and Advisory Service
08 Apr 2020
While the Federal Government is proposing new measures to protect ‘commercial’ tenants impacted by COVID-19, some of South Australia’s most vulnerable ‘residential’ tenants are becoming increasingly stressed.
In March, South Australia’s Tenants’ Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) saw a 700 per cent surge in people accessing its website, compared to the same time last year.
The SA Government funded service, which is run by major not-for-profit organisation, SYC Limited (SYC) is a free, independent service, helping people on low incomes maintain their tenancies in private rental, community housing and public housing.
According to SYC CEO, Paul Edginton the service has seen a massive increase in tenants looking for both online and phone support, during March this year.
“While the viability of commercial tenancies clearly has an impact on the economy, we’re asking all Governments to keep thinking about the plight of residential tenants, particularly those who are already facing financial difficulties.”
“The huge spike in enquiries to our service clearly shows that some of our most vulnerable residential tenants are very concerned about their housing outlook, particularly those who have been so severely impacted by recent business closures and job losses,” he said.
“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty out there and we’re very concerned that two thirds of enquiries have been from women, with some worried about keeping a roof over their heads and at risk of homelessness.”
The Federal Government has flagged the National Cabinet is set to discuss a number of allowances for commercial tenants, to enable them to access rent reductions and protect them from the prospect of leases being terminated.
While the State Government has announced it is proposing a number of initiatives to help residential landlords and tenants, whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19.
The initiatives – which are yet to be approved by State Parliament – will institute a short-term moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19 and prevents landlords from increasing rent.
“SYC is pleased that the SA Government is moving towards these sensible and timely changes,” said Mr Edginton.
“The proposed changes will allow landlords to use technology such as face-time, live video or time-stamped photos for routine inspections where possible, and also extend a tenant’s ability to arrange to have repairs carried out by agreement with the landlord.”
Mr Edginton urged any South Australian residential tenants who are unsure about their rights and responsibilities with the impact of COVID-19, to head to the TIAS website http://www.syc.net.au/tias
TOP FIVE TIPS FOR RENTERS:
1. Keep in contact with your agent, landlord or housing provider to let them know if you are experiencing any difficulty with your rent or you have other concerns.
2. Communicate by email if you can, so you have written records of the discussions.
3. When money comes in, try to pay your rent first. You can often organise a payment plan for other bills like electricity, gas and your phone.
4. Try to keep paying some amount towards your rent, even if you can’t afford the full amount. This will show your landlord you are still reliable and help you avoid a large debt later.
5. Talk to your agent or landlord about making alternate arrangements for your routine inspection. You can ask to postpone or complete an inspection by submitting photos or videos.
“It can be pretty confusing at the moment, but we have all the available information about potential supports for tenants on the website and that is updated constantly, to reflect the latest Government advice.”
“And we also have our Tenancy Advisors available on 1800 060 462 to talk through people’s individual circumstances, if they can’t find answers to their concerns in the website information,” he said.
Mr Edginton said one of the most common concerns the Tenancy Advisors have had to deal with, since the nervousness generated by COVID-19, was helping people who have just lost their job or had their hours cut, and were concerned they would not be able to pay rent.
As well as its education and information role, TIAS can also help tenants with representation at, and assistance with South Australian Civil and Administration Tribunal (SACAT) hearings.
“An important part of our role is being able to be a conduit between tenants and housing providers and mediation services, as well as being able to refer tenants to financial counselling and other services they may require, particularly during trying times like these,” said Mr Edginton.
“SYC is in the unique position of having worked for more than 60 years across a number of key and interlinked areas, like employment, housing and homelessness and disability and mental health support.”
“So, what that means is that we can offer people a range of integrated assistances from effectively one base, which helps to make things as seamless as they can be, during these stressful times because we genuinely understand the ‘knock on’ and multiplying effect of these challenges.”
“We’ve been supporting the community for more than half a century and we want to let them know we’re still here now, when we know so many people need help.”