A letter to landlords in the Yarra City Council area sent on 31 March on behalf of 24 renters, said they would “not be paying rent, starting in April”.
“We believe that housing is a right. During this crisis, all landlords and agents should work hard to support people’s basic needs,” the letter said.
Among the demands made by the group are an indefinite amnesty on rent and mortgage payments, a continued ban on all evictions until everyone had recovered from the crisis, no debts, fines or retaliatory rent hikes for tenants, and no adverse rental histories for those who do not pay rent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a rental waiver and deferral for commercial tenants following a meeting of the national cabinet on Tuesday but said residential tenancies would be dealt with directly by each state and territory.
Under the compulsory commercial code of conduct landlords will be required to cut leases in proportion to the loss of income experienced by a business. A similar proposal has yet to be discussed for the residential sector.
NSW and Victoria are expected to give landlords a discount on land tax in exchange for rental relief. State figures show those measures would give the owner of a $1 million property up to $4356 a year off in land tax in NSW, covering eight weeks of Sydney’s median weekly rent of $525, or $2795 in Victoria, covering six weeks of Melbourne’s median rent of $420.
Stafford Property Advisory director Kirk Stafford said the lack of “momentum and clear direction from all governments is creating a divide between tenants, landlords and property managers”.
The national cabinet put a moratorium on evictions in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but some property managers claim tenants are using this as an excuse not to pay rent even when they are not facing financial hardship.
Mr Stafford warned being told to “work it out among yourselves” was not effective when people were trying to protect their jobs and homes and property managers had been left in the firing line.
“We’re being abused by people who are in desperate situations because we don’t have solutions to their problems and we’re frustrated that government seems paralysed by what is fast becoming a rental crisis as well,” he said.
The rent and mortgage strike campaign is targeting particular areas in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland. The suburb-based Facebook group is being run by the Industrial Workers of the World, known as ‘the Wobblies,’ an international socialist group not affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions or particular workplaces.
Tenants Union of NSW senior policy officer Leo Patterson Ross said the movement was “indicative of how worried people are” though the organisation was not involved in the strike.
“When people feel unsupported by government they look to some solution and really rent strikes are risky,” he said.
“We’d much rather see the government step in and give better guidance. We’ve seen that negotiating is not working. Landlords and agents don’t know how to do it and aren’t coming to the table,” he said.
Housing Minister Michael Sukkar was contacted for comment.
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Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra