Victoria moved closer to its long lockdown, with $73m in cash payments out of an initial estimate of $80m, but only offered $111m in property tax relief to commercial landlords and homes on an initial offer of $420 million.
NSW estimated an outlay of $220m for residential property tax relief and spent just $10m.
Of the landlords surveyed, 22% were asked to change the rent, but refused. 14% only reduced rent, 10% only deferred rent, and 24% both reduced and deferred payments.
After the emergency period, nearly a third of landlords had a tenant in arrears, a quarter of landlords increased the rent and nearly one in five terminated the lease.
The research also surveyed tenant unions and estate agents, which highlighted gaps in the response.
One tenant organization told researchers: “We kept hearing about landlords who just didn’t come to the table, not wanting to negotiate. And sometimes it was explicit: they froze the tenant.
Another called for stronger leadership from the government, saying that “having a structure and framework around what this impact of COVID looks like and how does that translate into the negotiation process would have been very helpful.”
Respondents also said that banks and insurers were absent from renters’ response because landlords who negotiated could not claim their landlord’s insurance, but those who did not negotiate could potentially claim.
They also pointed to the health impacts on tenants expected to open their homes to potential buyers if the landlord wanted to sell, rent compression in the area of Australia where tree changers drove down vacancy rates and the lack of resilience of landlords who felt they were unable to offer a rent reduction.
Professor Leishman said the prevalence of mom and dad investors in Australian housing has affected the response.
“Some of them are very indebted, they have their own mortgages,” he said.
“If they lost their job and their tenant lost their job, they would be in a very precarious position.”
Student accommodation towers owned by institutional investors had huge vacancies but were better able to withstand this, he said.
He concluded that rental responses in times of crisis should have been mandatory rather than discretionary, and that different levels of government needed to work better together.
“It was relatively easy for landlords to escape these interventions and we know many tenants had to leave,” he said.
“The relief investors were getting was quite modest, probably a lot of investors came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth it.
“All they have to do is nothing. The tenant’s bill increases, he will leave quite quickly of his own free will and the landlord can then take his deposit.
He said if there was another pandemic or this worsened, interventions in the rental market would need to be more direct and mandatory to be effective.
“The government can’t really expect to say to landlords and tenants, ‘Please fix your housing problems.’ This is not an effective housing response, it is an abdication of responsibility.