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COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancy Protections

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Tenant Rights, Evictions, Rent Caps

COVID-19 Commercial and Residential Tenancy Protections: Cassy O'Connor, 6 May, 2020



Today we debate legislation that will deliver a suite of strong protections for commercial tenants; legislation the Greens will support. We recognise this state has moved to freeze evictions and rent increases for residential tenants, in part due to the advocacy of the Greens, but they will be substantially less protected than business people leasing commercial premises.

Why are business operators being prioritised over everyday Tasmanians in rental homes, many of whom have lost work or had their hours cut? You have received two pieces of a correspondence now from the Tenants' Union, TasCOSS, Community Legal Centres Tasmania, Anglicare and Shelter Tasmania about the disparity between commercial and residential tenancy protections during this pandemic. Will you move to ensure Tasmanians living in rental homes receive the same level of support and protection as commercial tenants during this pandemic?



Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for that question and her interest in this matter. I make this point: this parliament has progressed over the last eight weeks to ensure that we have fair and reasonable outcomes for all people, a concern that has been shared across the Chamber. I note your constant advocacy on this particular issue and the phone calls that we have had as well.

Without repeating some of what was in the question, it is worthwhile making the point that we did move early in protecting residential tenants who were affected, like many people, by the impacts and unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. There was a hold placed on rental evictions, restrictions on inspections as well to ensure that appropriate social distancing could be maintained. That was done earlier. There was also a ban on rental increases during the emergency period. I do not think that the right place for further protections for residential tenants is in the commercial bill, as I indicated to you recently.

The other point is that until I stood up yesterday and said that I had not received much correspondence, I had not received a lot of correspondence. I did receive some overnight on this matter. It was not hundreds. It was a relatively contained number. I would be surprised if I received more than 20, but from both landlords and tenants, both in the commercial and in the residential space.

I am not certain how wide the impact of the effect is on residential tenants. On one hand it would be fair to say that we have those tenants who are on low incomes or receiving JobSeeker who have actually received an increase in income. There are many casual or part-time employees who are now receiving JobKeeper and, in some cases, they have received an increase in income. But there will be those who fall through the gaps and I acknowledge, as I did this morning with you, that we may have overseas students or visa holders who are in difficult circumstances.

I understand the issue that has been raised; I am not certain about placing it within the commercial tenancy bill. However, I am happy to seek further information from Ben Bartl and to also have a discussion with the Residential Tenancy Commissioner. If we need to establish a fund where somebody has been severely impacted as a result of COVID-19 and is in a difficult position so that we can find a fair and reasonable outcome, I am happy to go down that path. I give a commitment to the parliament today to take those steps.

One concept has to be understood by both landlords and tenants: we are in extraordinary and very difficult circumstances. I note from some of the Facebook traffic last night that it appears there may not be a great deal of goodwill, certainly in some quarters We need to try to find ways that we can work together to get to an outcome that acknowledges the very desperate circumstances we are in and find ways that we are not going to unfairly have people punished whether they be a landlord or a tenant as we work our way through this. It will mean that everybody, to some degree, will have to play their part.

I will circle back to the commercial tenancy legislation. We hope that landlords and tenants can arrive at an outcome that whilst may not be all that attractive to them suits their purposes; that is, that once we get through this a landlord will have a good tenant in place and a tenant will not have lost their business as a result of what we are doing by having closed them down and the public health impact that has occurred.

Banks need to play their part. In many cases they are but it is only a deferral of either capital or interest repayments. The state Government will need to play its part and to date we have. We have provided significant support across the board, not just to businesses but to individuals as well. As I have said, I will make a commitment today to engage and look to come up with, if necessary, a fund for residential tenants that could be utilised for those who are in extreme distress and work our way through that.

In the same way the state Government has played its part, local government needs to play its part as well. Whilst many councils have hardship policies in place, I believe it is incumbent upon everybody that has a lever to pull here that they play their part, accept that we are in difficult circumstances, and look for a way through this so that when we do come out the other side that fair, reasonable and just outcomes have been arrived at so, importantly, we can continue to move forward both as a society and as an economy.