The rent freeze isn't enough. Nowhere near. The Government needs to take further action to help renters who've lost their income because of the lockdown.
The wage subsidy, which is the only income many are receiving, won't stretch to cover the high rents in place before Covid-19 broke.
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Therefore, rents should be cut in half to assist residential tenants. With landlords forced to accept the reduced rental income.
This is about fairness. Because while the majority of working people are taking an income hit to beat Coronavirus and save lives, residential landlords are not.
Landlords should be making a similar sacrifice to the rest of us. It goes against all that we're trying to achieve to allow one group of New Zealanders an easier ride in this crisis. The Government must fix this immediately.
The Green Party, unions, rent advocacy groups, iwi organisations, and grassroots Labour Party members could all be urgently raising the issue online and with the media.
The call should be for working people on lockdown (not partaking in essential services) to be allowed to immediately reduce the rent they pay by half. Any issues of interpretation can be dealt with by the Tenancy Tribunal at a later date. But right now, renters need the legal right to reduce the rent they're paying.
This must apply to the current period of the four-week lockdown (or longer if extended) and should be continued for two weeks after the lockdown ends. This would give people a chance to get back on their feet once they're allowed back to work.
Halving rents would relieve immediate hardship, but would also mean tenants wouldn't have to seek further welfare assistance, which will only add to the Government's already ballooning expenditure. Meaning a bigger taxation bill for all of us when this is over.
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Taking action on residential rents would be consistent with those commercial tenants who are refusing to pay their rent and have legal cover in their lease agreements. It's common for commercial contracts to have terms that say if they cannot access the building, they don't have to pay the rent.
If businesses are legally entitled to not pay rent because of the lockdown, then affected working people should have the same right to residential rent relief.
Although there are landlords out there who are voluntarily accepting reduced rents. This will not be the case with all.
Some are heartless. A work colleague of mine was told by her landlord that the rent increase planned before Covid-19, but not applied, was still going ahead.
There will be renters who are fortunate to have good landlords, others will have bad ones. The Government needs to take individuals out of the equation and act unilaterally to enforce fairness across the board.
As the honeymoon period of the lockdown comes to an end, the reality of people's financial situation will become all too apparent.
The Government can't fix everything by spending more money, a forced rent reduction would spread the financial burden of the lockdown more evenly.
Conflict between landlords and renters is already a flashpoint in other parts of the world.
A rent strike, co-ordinated through social media, is spreading in Canada and the United States. The hashtags #CancelRent and #RentStrike are trending on Twitter.
Everyone participating in the rent strikes is signaling their involvement by hanging a white sheet in a window or placing rent strike signs outside their homes.
• Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson writes about life and politics.