REIA president Adrian Kelly calls on stakeholders to step up over rent relief

As the real estate sector awaits a government announcement on rent relief, REIA president Adrian Kelly has issued an open letter to all stakeholders, urging them to step up and consider all sides of the equation.

Addressing tenants, property owners, landlords, lobby groups, the industry and State Governments, Mr Kelly minced few words as he outlined the current state of play.

Speaking first to tenants, he acknowledged the wealth of information currently circulating made it difficult for tenants to truly know where to turn, while the wait for government assistance through Centrelink was also frustrating.

“We get it,” Mr Kelly told the nation’s renters. “Our industry wants to help you. That’s our role. Looking after tenants who have lost employment is nothing new to us. What is new is the scale of the problem, but we will help you get through this.”

But he moved to clarify exactly how tenants should deal with financial hardship and rent, noting they needed to continue to pay if they could afford to, especially as many landlords were also in financial distress.

“If you don’t it creates a problem for you down the track and also creates problems for the owner of the property in which you live, many of whom have also lost their jobs and have families and children to feed,” Mr Kelly stressed.

“If you can’t afford to pay your rent, we understand. Don’t bury your head in the sand and think that the problem will go away because it won’t. Talk to us. We will sort something out for you. We encounter this scenario all the time.”

Mr Kelly went on to cite examples of how the real estate industry actively works with tenants in distress.

“For example…Mary rents a home and pays $250 per week in rent. Mary’s work hours have been reduced by half. Mary comes to us, tells us her story (and shows us a letter from her employer) and says that she can now only afford to pay $150 per week for the next three months,” Mr Kelly explained.

“No problem! We speak with the owner who is understanding and agrees to reduced rent payments of $150 per week for the next three months. It’s that simple.

“Another example…John and his three mates rent a share house for $400 per week. Two of John’s mates lose their jobs. John talks to the agent to seek a short-term rent reduction to $250 per week until his mates get back on their feet and the owner agrees. A simple outcome.

“In both of the above commonplace examples everybody wins. Everyone keeps a roof over their heads (which everybody needs and will get right at the moment) plus the property owner can brace themselves for lower rental income. It’s not difficult but communication is key.”

In a final message to tenants, Mr Kelly urged them to utilise the lifeline made available by the Federal Government from yesterday in the form of the JobKeeper payment.

“Talk to your employer and go and get it,” Mr Kelly said.

“There is your rental assistance and cash for other expenses right there. Go find it.”

A message to the State Governments

Mr Kelly also had a blunt message for the nation’s governments, noting that although the industry stands ready to assist, a unified position from the states was required.

“The real estate industry stands ready to assist as we always have. This is our forte and we are ready to do whatever we need to do to make sure that our tenants and property owners suffer as little damage as possible,” Mr Kelly said.

“Your governments need to step up and reach a unified position on this and that position must be to keep the cash flowing through the economy.

“We have all been offered a lifeline yesterday by the Federal Government in the form of wages assistance so that everyday Australians can continue to pay their bills including rent.

“The rent cash flow ensures that everyone wins and I unashamedly include the real estate agent in that.

“We need income in order to continue to employ our property managers who are at the coal face of looking after both tenants and landlords. Leaving tenants and landlords to sort out their own mess will end in utter anarchy.

“For example, what about the case of a tenant who lives in a rental property in Melbourne but the owner of that property lives in Brisbane. They have never met. How will that negotiation end up?”

To property owners
Mr Kelly also stressed the industry stood ready to assist property owners, particularly those who had recently lost employment.

“We are here for you as we always have been and we will help you and your tenant get through this. We are all in this together,” he noted.

But he noted there had been recent examples of some trying to take advantage of the current circumstances.

Labelling the move “greedy and pathetic”, he called on them to cease such activity and “show some compassion”.

To tenant lobby groups
Meanwhile, Mr Kelly had a further blunt message to tenant lobby groups, urging them to be reasonable and financially responsible.

“You need to understand that our industry wants the same outcome as you; to keep everybody housed and feeling secure at this time, but we all need to play our part,” Mr Kelly told lobbyists.

“Simply calling for free rent for everybody just doesn’t cut it. You need to be more socially and financially responsible than that and perhaps once and for all finally understand that money doesn’t grow on trees.

“Tenants who are still in employment need to continue to pay the rent and you need to be supportive of this because it is the right thing to do.

“For those tenants who have lost employment or have had their hours reduced, let our industry work through those issues.

“You simply calling for everyone else to ‘suck it up’ is utter nonsense given the mess that we are all in. You need to show some true leadership for all Australians because that is the only way that we will all get through this.”

To our industry
Mr Kelly’s final message was to the industry he represents, thanking them for the leadership they have displayed during recent trying times.

“We will get through this but there will also be casualties,” he reflected.

“Above all else, please continue to look after your tenants, even including those who are trying to abuse the system. Now is not the time to be petty. We all need to step up and get on with it.”

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Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer for Elite Agent Magazine with over 15 years’ journalism experience in metropolitan and regional newsrooms. She has a specialist interest in real estate, tech disruption and a good old-fashioned “yarn”.