The state government's $440 million residential and commercial rent package may still not be enough to save hundreds of Hunter tenants from eviction, the Hunter Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service believes.
The initiative, which will force landlords and tenants to negotiate in a bid to stop rent strikes or evictions, is designed to help renters who have lost at least 25 per cent of their income or businesses with revenue down at least 30 per cent.
If a household is struggling to pay rent because of loss of income due to coronavirus there is a new obligation for both parties to negotiate before the landlord can seek a forced end to the tenancy.
But HTAAS coordinator Nicole Grgas said she was concerned the new protections did not go far enough.
"The process that is being outlined still requires a negotiation between the landlord and tenant to reach an agreed rent," she said.
"This relies on parties having the skills and resources to enter into meaningful negotiation and does not address the power imbalance of the landlord and tenant relationship."
The advocacy service has reported a 50 per cent increase in the number of inquiries related to terminations in the past three weeks compared to the same period a month prior.
Under the new rules, tenants will be protected from eviction until the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal is satisfied that negotiations have concluded. Any unpaid rent will accrue as arrears during this period.
Ms Grgas said she was pleased to see a 90 day notice period required for some other termination notices as this would allow tenants some breathing space to search for alternate housing.
But she said the detail provided so far did not indicate how to deal with notices that were already in play.
"We have certainly had a number of enquiries from tenants who have a notice of termination for 'no grounds' that are due to expire soon," she said.
"For a tenant who has lost income and already had a notice of termination for no grounds the process of finding affordable alternative housing during this pandemic will be extremely difficult."
The NSW Opposition will seek to amend the package.
"Tenants and landlords will have to take disputes to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is very complex and difficult for renters and landlords to navigate, if they are unable to reach mutually agreeable arrangements," Shadow minister for consumer protection Julia Finn said.
"However, NSW Labor has welcomed the moratorium on evictions. But it has expressed strong concern that any unpaid rent will accrue, meaning someone who loses their job and struggles through the COVID-19 crisis will be hit with a massive bill at the other side."
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