Politics

Landlords Have Managed To Be Even Bigger Monsters During COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, landlords have campaigned against renters rights, tried to make people homeless, forced renters into debt, added to their already fabulous array of tax concessions, and grabbed a nice pot of cash to boot.

landlords pandemic

Fair to say that 2020 has not been a good year. Things are grim and lots of people are suffering. Enter Victoria’s leading landlord-and-property-agent lobby group.

You probably didn’t know they exist — why would you? If you’re reading this, chances are you have dim hopes of ever buying a home.

They kicked up a stink last week about people being mean to landlords (please note: if you’re a landlord you might want to stop reading here).

“Landlords aren’t evil, unyielding monsters,” they said. Really, they’re the “forgotten people” of the pandemic.

Sure, we might be living through the worst economic and social crises of our lifetimes, but won’t somebody think of the property investors?

The Morrison government is ready to push 740,000 people into poverty by cutting Austudy, JobSeeker and Youth Allowance next month. The landlord lobby is throwing a temper tantrum because they can’t kick people out onto the street until Christmas time. Joy to the world.

What if, and just hear me out on this, people are lukewarm on landlords because they act like soulless ghouls?

All The Fun Ways Landlords Have Responded To The Pandemic

Landlords have really stepped up to the plate during COVID-19. For example, they opposed new laws that would force them to meet minimum habitability standards like *drumroll* functional heating. The changes would also stop them from evicting people for literally no reason, because that’s a thing they can do. They also aggressively lobbied against pandemic assistance for renters and won.

Queensland stepped away from pro-renter reforms and NSW paused evictions for only two months instead of six. The NT walked away from a ban entirely despite having x12 the national homelessness rate.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, Tenants Victoria saw a spike in newly unemployed renters contacting them in as their landlords tried to kick them to the kerb. Later, when the eviction ban ended in NSW, there was an instant rise in cases being filed in the NCAT.

At the same time, real estate agents demanded invasive levels of personal information. They coerced renters into raiding their retirement funds and pushed deferrals instead of reductions since they take a cut of the rent. Now an unknown number of renters have debts they can’t pay and face eviction the moment the ban lifts.

Across the whole country, barely 1 in 10 renters affected by the pandemic secured a satisfactory rent reduction.

In Victoria, landlords straight-up ignored or refused more than half of renters who asked for one without so much as bothering to give a reason.

Landlords Are Why Rent Is So Expensive

Let’s put things in perspective. Around 1 in 3 Australians rent and most of them are under 30.

A damning national survey found that next to no rentals are affordable for people on welfare, which might be why a third of young recipients routinely skip meals. In a literal sense, landlords steal food out of young peoples’ mouths.

On top of that, landlords are the reason that rent is so expensive. Investors buy astronomically overpriced properties and then raise the rents to make their money back. They also keep properties empty to sell them for a higher price, which is one reason why we have thousands more empty homes than homeless people.

The fact is that, if you rent, you’re either paying off an investor’s loan for them or lining their pockets with profit. As if that wasn’t enough, you’re financing their investment portfolio with your taxes.

We spend twice as much on tax breaks for landlords as it would cost to keep liveable welfare rates.

If you’re starting to question our priorities as a society, you’ll be pleased to know that landlords bagged even more tax concessions recently. NSW and Victoria handed them $440m and $420m in land tax breaks, respectively. Victoria offered tenants a lean $80m in rental assistance which, you guessed it, goes straight to their landlords.

Meanwhile, half the renters who lost income across the country have struggled to make ends meet. When the government cuts the COVID supplement, unemployed singles in Sydney can look forward to being able to afford just six (6!) rentals in the entire city. Truly it is property owners who have been forgotten.

The whole point of a private housing market is that it is supposed to provide everyone with affordable places to live, but we all know that’s not how it works. Wages flatline and rents rise ever higher.

Landlords feel that nothing should affect the value of their speculative investment, global pandemic be damned.

Maybe Landlords ARE Evil, Unyielding Monsters

So let’s recap: landlords and their lackeys campaigned against renters rights, tried to make people homeless during a pandemic, ignored and refused desperate renters, forced people into a debt trap, added to their already fabulous array of tax concessions, and grabbed a nice pot of cash to boot.

Doesn’t sound evil or unyielding at all.

If we want to fix our fundamentally flawed system, we can start by asking some big questions. For example, why should investors be allowed to make money off a second or third house while others have none? And why should a basic right like housing be an investment opportunity at all?

State and federal governments could be doing a helluva lot more than they are. For a start, they should invest in public housing and establish rent controls. We could also pressure them to forgive COVID rental debts and seize empty properties to tackle the housing crisis. Every person should be guaranteed a home.

In the meantime, if real estate agents and investors want people to see them as something other than relentless sadists, they could try showing a crumb of human decency. Turns out that caring more about investment returns than actual people doesn’t win you many friends.


Joshua Badge is a queer writer and philosopher living on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne, they tweet at @joshuabadge.