A survey of almost 2000 tenants by Renters United shows that two thirds had lost at least a third of their income under lockdown and 92 per cent of those with reduced incomes were still paying full rent.
Only 5.9 per cent had received a rent reduction or deferral, Renters United said.
One in 10 tenants expected to end up in debt to their landlords and a quarter expected to have to go into debt to pay the rent, according to the survey.
One renter, who wished to remain anonymous, told Morning Report when the country went into lockdown his household's dual income dropped to less than the rent, but he had to "jump through hoops" to get any help from his landlord.
"I approached our landlord about getting some sort of rent relief and it took us about 10 days for us to organise something. We wanted rent relief because we've been here so long, we thought we deserved something, not deserve something, but needed something."
His wife qualified for a subsidy of 80 per cent of her pre-lockdown income, but his income reduced to nothing as he was working in a short-term job and his employer did not qualify. That left them with a weekly income of $585 and weekly rent of $620.
"So we were in a bit of a pickle," he said.
He says his landlord was not "sympathetic at all" to their plight.
"He made us jump through hoops. He wanted us to approach everyone else prior to him giving any sort of rent relief. So in the end I did have to go through Winz and get an accommodation supplement and an emergency supplement to get us through this."
His family have been renting the home for 12 years and he was hoping for some loyalty in return, he said.
"It just didn't feel good that I had to do that. We were very, very long term tenants, we had never, ever missed a payment in the time we've been here, we'd never questioned any sort of rent increase and I thought a bit of payback would be nice. A bit of loyalty perhaps.
"We've been here such a long time that our son was brought up here, we call this place our home, it's not a house, and I felt we were treated quite poorly."
The landlord has agreed to halve the rent but the shortfall of $2250 must be paid back by October, he said.
He wife's shop is in lockdown until level 2, after which he hopes to start making repayments. She has also had to come to an arrangement with her commercial landlord and will be repaying that back as well, he said.
"I can understand the commercial one, but in this situation I think after the length of period we've been here and the fact the landlord used to visit here and we'd treat him as a friend - we'd have natters and chats and things like that - I thought perhaps he could have let us go with it.
"But that's the way it is; he's playing hardball."