With Victoria set to struggle with COVID-19 lockdowns for the next six months, the Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) is planning a moratorium strike until “balance and common sense is restored”.

The announcement, which particularly focuses on reduced rental agreements, came after the Andrews’ government’s plan to extend emergency powers for six months passed through the upper house, in a 20-19 vote, early on Wednesday morning, September 2.

Under stage 4 restrictions, all sales inspections as well as auctions are banned with only pre-settlement, final inspections allowed to be conducted one-on-one. As well, vendors have been forced to cancel styling, photography, and renovations – even in vacated properties. One vendor recently told REIV that after buying a new home, they couldn’t list their current house as buyers won’t buy a house they’ve only viewed online. “We are absolutely stuck and the financial uncertainty is killing us,” the vendor said.

CEO Gil King said agents’ private inspections before stage 4 restrictions began were actually far safer than going to the supermarket with agents taking extensive precautions long before these were recommended by the state government. This included safety measure surface cleaning, wearing gloves and face masks and collecting contact details.
“No one watches me (at the supermarket) and wipes down the Corn Flakes packet that I pick up and then return to the shelf,” Mr King said. “We have seen and continue to see illegal rent strikes with no consequences. Until balance and common sense is restored, we will embark on a moratorium strike. Let’s see how the system copes without our co-operation.”

REIV has also criticised the state government’s lack of consultation with businesses, with REIV receiving an incorrect invitation to a discussion with more than 35 industries. In another, correct invitation to a separate meeting, the real estate sector’s suggestions and solutions were ignored.

“What we experienced was the classic example of ‘tick box consultation’,” Mr King said. “This is where you put your case forward but are not really listened to, with the government effectively ticking the box that required consultation.”

In a double whammy for the real estate industry, landlords already struggling with reduced rental agreements are now facing a six-month extension of this situation.

“This demagogue decision to extend the moratorium means that for a whole year, landlords will be dictated to as how much rent they can charge, removing their right to make fundamental decisions about their own property,” Mr King said.

His suggested moratorium strike hopes to put pressure on the Andrews’ government, with REIV advising members to refuse to negotiate on rental reductions. Instead, members will push the negotiations directly to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), which is already besieged with a backlog of 4,000 cases which according to REIV, the government hasn’t addressed.

REIV president Leah Calnan explained that property managers and investors had been negotiating rental reductions in good faith for the last six months.
“We’ve got tenants who haven’t paid rent since April – we’ve got multiple examples of this,” she said. “The moratorium we’re suggesting members undertake will effectively stop this (from happening.”

Mr Calnan said early on in the stage 4 restriction lockdowns, real estate agents were enjoying some sales thanks to some savvy innovations. But the extension of stage 4 – due to end on September 13 – had been a cruel blow to the real estate sector, which was looking forward to private inspections once more. Now, Mr Calnan believes that the government’s unrealistic target of a reduction in COVID-19 case numbers could mean the industry will not be able to function properly until the end of November, or later.

“The delay in allowing private inspections means that many people will be unable to make the move they so desperately have to make, or commit to a property without seeing it first,” she said. “That is unacceptable. We are talking about shelter and making the biggest financial commitment for your lifetime. The government is turning a blind eye to the significance of a property decision in people’s lives.”