Real estate agents criticised for suggesting tenants consider using superannuation to pay rent | Australia news | The Guardian
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has taken aim at real estate agents for offering “unhelpful and unsolicited financial advice” by suggesting residential tenants struggling to pay rent consider withdrawals from their superannuation.
The ACTU president, Michele O’Neil, has written to the Real Estate Institute of Australia asking its members to desist from the practice, but agents insist they are doing no more than alerting tenants to new financial hardship measures introduced by the federal government.
The national cabinet will continue to consider the issue of residential and commercial tenancies on Friday.
The meeting is expected to produce a settlement centred on state governments waiving land tax for commercial landlords, with measures to ensure savings on tax and deferred mortgage payments are shared with tenants, many of which have shut or taken a hit to revenue due to Covid-19 restrictions.
But residential tenants are likely to have less to cheer, with a view developing that a six-month moratorium on evictions and increased federal government assistance through the doubling of unemployment benefits and creation of the new jobkeeper payment are sufficient.
On Wednesday the minister for housing and assistant treasurer, Michael Sukkar, told ABC TV landlords and tenants would be asked to “work this out for themselves” within a “framework of minimum standards and requirements”. Commercial landlords and tenants, in particular, would be expected to “share the pain”, he said.
On residential tenancies, Sukkar said the moratorium “does … not absolve people of their responsibility to pay their rent”.
“Unless you’ve got an arrangement with your landlord that takes into account your financial circumstances, you are required to pay your rent.
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“We’ve strengthened the safety net to ensure people are able to meet the essential costs of day-to-day life.”
Sukkar said the moratorium on evictions was designed to ensure people were not left “without a home at this very, very difficult time”.
“But at the same time we have to be sensitive to the financial realities for landlords who have repayments that they have to make and rely on the income stream from those properties in order to meet those repayments.”
On Wednesday O’Neil wrote to the president of the REIA, Adrian Kelly, complaining that residential tenants had received “threatening correspondence from their real estate agents regarding the payment of rent and notice around evictions”.
In one email seen by Guardian Australia, which unions believe is typical of correspondence to property managers, agents are advised to tell tenants they must “continue to pay your rent in full and on time” and to recommend they seek relief payments from Centrelink or consider early access to superannuation.
As part of the second tranche of Covid-19 economic support, the government granted early access to superannuation for those experiencing financial hardship, allowing one withdrawal of $10,000 this financial year, and the same next year.
“Australian unions have been notified by their members of the intransigence of some landlords and real estate agents to broker a temporary rent freeze or reduction through this crisis, or unhelpful and unsolicited financial advice from real estate agents about withdrawing from their superannuation or their presumed eligibility for Jobseeker payments,” O’Neil wrote.
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O’Neil called on the institute to “desist from providing financial advice to tenants” and suggested that instead it consider temporary rent freezes and alert their tenants and landlords to the “landlords’ ability to access temporary mortgage relief through nearly every bank”.
In response to the letter, Kelly told Guardian Australia: “The priority for our people at the moment is looking after our tenants and property owners, in particular those that have lost employment.”
Kelly suggested the ACTU should help “[its] own members in achieving practical outcomes for everyone instead of writing letters making scurrilous claims”.
On Sunday the national cabinet agreed to a set of principles on commercial tenancies, including that “commercial property owners should ensure that any benefits received in respect of their properties should also benefit their tenants in proportion to the economic impact caused by coronavirus”.
It said national cabinet would aim for “cost-sharing or deferral of losses between landlords and tenants, with commonwealth, state and territory governments, local government and financial institutions to consider mechanisms to provide assistance”.
On Tuesday the Shopping Centre Council of Australia reached a joint position with the two peak retail bodies and the Pharmacy Guild, agreeing that tenants and landlords should agree to “temporary rent assistance” on case-by-case basis.
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