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A Sunshine Coast landlord will be forced to discount the rent for his long-term tenants after the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled he could not prove reducing the rent would put him at a financial disadvantage.
The ruling by Maroochydore QCAT is believed to be the first of its kind in Queensland using the temporary tenancy laws introduced to help renters struggling financially because of the coronavirus crisis.
The tenants, a couple from Warana who had been renting their home for 10 years, will now pay 30 per cent of their weekly income on rent.
This equates to around $345 a week in rent, a $55 deduction from the $400 per week they had previously been paying before they lost their income at the onset of the COVID-19 restrictions.
The discount will apply until their financial situation improves or until September 29, whichever comes first.
The couple had attempted to have the matter dealt with conciliation through the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA), however the landlord would only offer to defer the rent for between six and 12 months.
A deferral of rent would have meant the couple would accrue a debt they would be forced to pay back after six or 12 months, even if their financial situation had not improved.
One of the tenants, who did not wish to be identified because of her work, told Domain that while the rental variation wasn’t much, it would go some way to helping the couple through a difficult time.
“We have had to tighten the purse strings,” the tenant said.
The couple had been thrown into tough financial circumstances, she said, after her husband had been stood down without pay in March, before being made redundant.
She had been on half-pay after the birth of their first child five months ago.
“It has been validating,” the tenant said of the ruling. “But it was scary going to QCAT and making a case against a property manager who goes there all the time.”
Tenants Queensland chief executive Penny Carr said the ruling was the first the organisation had heard of across the state.
She hoped the ruling would give tenants currently going through a similar process hope they could successfully negotiate a rental discount.
“It should give heart to all the tenants out there,” she said.
A number of QCAT cases dealing with rental issues due to the coronavirus pandemic were still awaiting a hearing in Brisbane, Ms Carr said.
But not every case went as far as QCAT.
Ms Carr said many cases had been conciliated through the RTA, which reported assisting with 483 disputes related to COVID-19 (up until May 8). Of these, 87 per cent related to rental arrears.
She said the figures did not detail how these disputes were settled and she feared many tenants were being pressured into agreements where they were deferring payment of rent and building up debt.
“We have no idea what the results are,” she said.
It would be particularly concerning later in the year when JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments ended and the moratorium on evictions was no longer in law, she said.
“If people’s incomes are reduced again and some people’s are likely to, we could see a lot of people made homeless and in debt,” Ms Carr said.