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Coronavirus COVID19: Why some landlords are giving tenants relief during the coronavirus crisis | By Patrick Wright

Dion
by Dion Besser
March 24, 2020

Like many renters, Lydia McPartlin is feeling stressed and insecure.

The 36-year-old, who lives in Melbourne’s inner north, works as a chef at a childcare centre.

She’d been working extra shifts at a pizza company, but was let go earlier this week as business was struggling.

When she got a call from her real estate agent, she was bracing for more bad news.

“I thought I was about to be kicked out,” she says.

But her agent explained that her landlord wanted to lower her rent.

“I just cried, I just started sobbing,” Lydia says.

“It was such a huge sense of relief amongst all this fear at the moment with what’s going on.”

Why Lydia’s landlord wants to help

David Northmore says his foregone rent will be made up by recent interest rate cuts.  (Supplied: David Northmore)

Lydia’s landlord is David Northmore, a 47-year-old small business owner from Sydney.

David knew Lydia was working in hospitality, and he felt it was unfair to hold on to savings from recent interest-rate cuts at a time when she could be struggling.

So he spoke to his property manager, and asked to reduce her rent by about 10 per cent.

“I’m not a wealthy person at all,” he says.

“I’ve been a renter, and I understand that while landlords and investors get a break via the banks changing interest rates, the rent doesn’t have the same flexibility.”

Lydia’s grateful, but many renters can’t rely on the generosity of their landlords and are facing drastically reduced incomes as workplaces shut down around Australia.

Both the UK and the US have announced emergency temporary measures to prevent landlords from evicting renters, and Australian housing groups are calling for action to prevent an “eviction crisis”.

For David, a rent reduction is a no-brainer.

“If you’ve got a good tenant, and you take a little bit of the burden off them, I think it’s a bit of a win-win,” he says.

“It helps that I knew what industry [Lydia] was in, because I could instantly understand the situation. I realised I had the ability to make a difference here, and it wasn’t going to affect me much at all.

“Almost all the loss of the foregone rent increase will be made up by the interest rate reduction.”

What can landlords do?

Not all landlords will be in the same position as David, who has another income stream from his business.

“It’s great to see individuals taking action,” says Joel Dignam, executive director of Better Renting, a national renters advocacy group.

“Anyone in our community who has the resources that they can share — if they can do that in some way, that’s going to make a big difference.

“But renters don’t know necessarily whether they’ve got a good landlord or not, and we do need a more systematic approach.”

One renter who is facing an imminent rent increase was told by her real estate she’d need to keep payments up to date.

Some landlords, meanwhile, have gone even further than David and offered rent deferrals.

Just got off the phone with my taiwanese parents who own a small cafe attached to the side of Monash University. Apparently the uni (their landlord) has just emailed them to say all rent is deferred to the new financial year. The kind of lifeline that small businesses need.

Why Lydia won’t be moving anytime soon

For Lydia, the rent reduction has been a consolation in a time of great uncertainty.

She’s a New Zealand citizen, which means she’s ineligible for Centrelink payments.

When she looks at Facebook groups for chefs and cooks, there’s an endless stream of requests of people looking for work.

“People are on there, and they’re desperate. They’re saying, ‘Hey, look, I’m a fine dining chef but I’m happy to do gravy packets if that’s what you do’,” she says.

“My dishy is from Nepal, and he works two jobs, and one just let him go.

“He’s living paycheque to paycheque and he just had to pay $2,500 in visa fees. It’s looking like his hours might get cut back to three days, and he can’t fly back to Nepal.”

Lydia says, given the circumstances, she’s “blown away” by David’s generosity.

“It was something he didn’t have to do, but it’s given me a lot of comfort.”

And there’s some good news for David, too.

“It just means now that I won’t be moving anytime soon, because it gives me a sense of security that he cares,” Lydia says.

ABC Life | By Patrick Wright