Geoffrey owns a pub in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. His wife works on a party boat charter that sails Sydney Harbour. When the Government closed all restaurants, bars, pubs and charter tour operators last month, they both lost their jobs overnight.
As they struggled to come to terms with the new reality caused by COVID-19, they, like many Australians who recently lost their jobs, have been consumed with one big worry – how to pay their rent.
The good news is that the Government has introduced a six-month moratorium on rental arrears evictions for those who have been financially disadvantaged by the COVID-19 crisis.
The bad news for landlords is that rents have plummeted, with more rental properties chasing fewer renters as tourists and overseas students leave the country.
Sounds like the power has shifted towards the tenant, right? Only so long as you are able and willing to move.
Landlords are required to negotiate a rent reduction with the tenant in good faith. But many of us haven’t had to conduct such high stakes negotiating. So how is it done?
Before you approach your landlord directly or through your real estate agent for a rent reduction or deferral, its best to be clear in your mind what you want to achieve.
Ideally, tenants need to have some idea how much rent they can pay before starting the negotiations. For instance, you can ask for a rent reduction of $100 a week for a period of six to eight weeks or reduce the rent by $200 a week until employment resumes.
Here’s how to win at negotiating your rent:
RESEARCH THE PROPERTY’S VALUE
Research rent rates by talking to real estate agents and neighbours in the area. A large property company is often less likely to negotiate terms while an independent landlord has more leeway to lower prices. Knowing the average rental rates, rent hikes and property prices will give you leverage when negotiating with your landlord.
OPEN A DIALOGUE
Start with writing an email. Begin your email by explaining how COVID-19 has impacted on your job or business. Outline how the pandemic has affected your ability to operate with limited funds in your bank balance.
Mention that the extraordinary situation is unprecedented and that you are exploring different solutions and your goal is to find another job or to return to running the business as soon as possible.
ADOPT A SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION
Approach all communications with your landlord or agent in the spirit of collaboration where you explain your situation and take time to understand your landlord’s financial position. The idea is that both parties can work out a solution to the short-term cash flow problems caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
ASK ABOUT EXTENDING YOUR LEASE
If your lease is annual, ask about extending your lease by another six to 12 months in exchange for lowering your rent. This might appeal to the landlord as vacancy rates have risen sharply with the exodus of foreign students and expatriates.
HIGHLIGHT YOUR STRENGTHS AS A TENANT
Remind your landlord that you have been a reliable and responsible tenant and that you have always paid your rent on time and kept the property in good shape. But with the loss of a job because of COVID-19, you would like to continue renting the apartment but at a reduced rent.
COME TO A COMPROMISE
After opening a dialogue, the next step is to work out a potential compromise that works for both parties. You can ask for a rent reduction in which you pay a reduced rent for a portion of your lease term. You can also ask for a rent deferral in which you postpone payment of rents for a certain period until an agreed date.
Experts caution against threatening to breach your lease by stating that you will not be paying rent.
The key is to conclude negotiations with a compromised deal which is acceptable to both the tenant and landlord. As the saying goes, “we are all in this together.”
In Geoffrey’s case, he managed to get a rent reduction of 25 per cent which according to his real estate agent, Richardson & Wrench, is “very generous indeed.”