On Tuesday morning, a neighbour alerted property stylist Kyara Coakes her landlord was out the front of her Chatswood business.
Her rent was three days late. She had asked for a pause in her $7000-a-month repayments as her revenue dropped 90 per cent when house inspection after house inspection was cancelled.
“There are only two ways of resolving the issues – full payment [or] terminate the contract,” her landlord had responded in an email.
“I was just really shocked,” Ms Coakes said. “She came to the property, threatening me and saying she would change the locks that afternoon.”
The national cabinet announced a moratorium on evictions a week earlier but the states have yet to legislate on the issue, which means landlords are still within their rights to take action of the kind in Ms Coakes’ situation. Government leaders have urged landlords and tenants to “work it out between themselves”.
On Tuesday, a mandatory code of conduct was formalised meaning landlords would be forced to waive and defer lease repayments in proportion to the loss of income experienced by a business, but this has also yet to be legislated.
Ms Coakes’ landlord, hospital software supplier Amy Luo, said her threats to evict Ms Coakes were part of her negotiating tactics. Ms Luo, who also owns property upstairs, said she had not actually changed the locks on Ms Coakes’ business.
She said the coronavirus had placed owners, tenants and businesses in an invidious position.
“Our government effectively asks all the small or large landlords to become the untitled banks for financing all the failed businesses,” Ms Luo said.
“It’s going to be such a mess. I have a bank loan. I have employees I need to pay. My business is also suffering. I don’t share her profit. Why should I share her loss?”
Ms Luo said she had given Ms Coakes four days to come up with an alternative plan.
“I cannot offer any reduction in rent right now until I am clear with the government arrangements,” she said.
Landlords can apply to their banks for mortgage relief if they are experiencing financial distress but this will need to be paid back over the life of the loan.
The Grattan Insitute’s budget policy director, Danielle Wood, on Thursday said the government’s rental response was “half-baked” and would mean many businesses did not make it through the coronavirus hibernation period without further government rental support.
“The code ultimately falls short on scale, scope, and speed,” she said.
In the residential sector, both NSW and Victoria have committed to the principle of land tax discounts in exchange for rental reductions but have not released any firm policies on how this would be delivered, leaving landlords and tenants frustrated as negotiations break down.
Real estate agent Kirk Stafford said the industry was “being besieged by tenant activists who are advising their cohort to simply strike and refuse to pay rent”.
Tenants Victoria said it was hearing daily stories of “no tolerance for people who fall behind in the rent” even if they had lost their jobs because of coronavirus.
Tracking research released on Thursday by Isentia showed since the first week of March, online conversations about paying the bills or rent had increased by 1033 per cent.
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Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra