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WA rent freeze extended despite opposition

Western Australia will extend COVID-19 emergency laws preventing residential and commercial tenants from eviction, despite opposition from industry groups.

The moratoriums had been due to end on September 29 but will be extended by six months until March 28, 2021.

Perth’s rental market has tightened significantly during the pandemic.

According to the Real Estate Institute of WA, just 3132 properties were listed for rent in the week ending September 6 – down 53 per cent from a year ago.

But REIWA president Damian Collins says the emergency laws are contributing to the problem and extending them will result in fewer properties being available.

“We already have a shortage of rental stock and reducing supply further by dissuading landlords will ultimately mean tenants will find it even harder to get a property,” he said on Thursday.

“In addition, sitting tenants whose rents are under market will not move, putting those who don’t have a home in an even more vulnerable position.”

Mr Collins said REIWA members, who are responsible for about 160,000 WA rental properties, had reported just one per cent of private tenancies being unable to meet their obligations.

Welfare groups had called for the moratorium to be extended, fearing an enormous increase in housing stress once evictions resumed.

Tenancy WA executive director Carmen Acosta last month said her organisation had been swamped by anxious tenants.

More than 14,000 people remain on the public housing waitlist.

Commerce Minister John Quigley said extending the moratoriums would protect WA renters and landlords and help stabilise the market.

“Low vacancy rates for rental properties have, and will continue to force rents to rise, and this together with the current unemployment rate, as well as changes to JobKeeper, means families may find themselves in financial hardship,” he said.

“Those who have been able to return to work are only just starting to recover. To add difficulties in finding rental accommodation or not being able to afford rent to their worries would be an awful proposition.”

The government will introduce a new hotline for landlords that will offer specialist assistance for coronavirus-related tenancy issues.

Evictions will still be allowed under limited circumstances, including where a tenant is seriously damaging the property or causing injury to neighbours.

Small Business Minister Paul Papalia said the extension of the commercial tenancy laws acknowledged that many businesses were still doing it tough.

“Extending the emergency period will assist these tenants to negotiate further rent relief with their landlords to provide additional breathing space as the WA economy continues to rebound,” he said.

WA’s Property Council said the extension was unnecessary and threatened the viability of small and medium-sized businesses.

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