Woman with head in hands

Published on Wednesday 16, September 2020

Linh's Story - Landlord Problems During COVID-19

Linh had lived in her city apartment for several years when COVID-19 took hold in early March She lost her job and her housemate flew back home suddenly, leaving Linh to pay for the entire property with no income. She quickly found herself falling behind in rent. Still wanting to pay what she could, she continued to pay fifty percent.

Having always paid rent on time before the pandemic, Linh was upset when she received an eviction notice from her landlord without any warning or discussion.

'I was really stressed and didn't sleep that night. I had to sell my furniture even before the eviction notice just to survive. I don't know how to make ends meet now,' she explains.

She was frustrated that her landlord couldn't understand the financial and emotional hardship she was experiencing and that it was out of her control. Despite new laws, trying to negotiate a reduced rent was getting nowhere: 'The landlord was beyond negotiation', she recounts.

Making matters even worse, as well as refusing a rent reduction and pressuring Linh to leave her apartment, her landlord claimed thousands of dollars in unpaid rent, leaving Linh with a massive debt.

'I'm already on the ground, and now you want to kick me?' she says.

With the introduction of the new temporary laws, Linh couldn't legally be evicted and we explained this to her. But vulnerable tenants are still being pressured into leaving properties by landlords and agents who refuse to negotiate and use other coercive tactics. In addition to receiving a notice to vacate because of rental arrears, Linh's landlord sent her other notices citing different eviction reasons and multiple emails to wear her down.

'I received so many notices to vacate,' explains Linh. 'First it was because I had fallen behind in rent. Then it was because my landlord wanted to move back in. Then it was because I was told the property was no longer fit for human habitation. She was trying whatever she could.' she explains.

Drained and exhausted from failed negotiations and the constant stress and uncertainty of her living situation, Linh couldn't take it anymore and decided to move out, despite her right to remain and negotiate a rent reduction.

This wasn't an easy process either. It was hard for Linh to find somewhere she can afford on JobKeeper. For now, she has had to move into short term Airbnb accommodation and put her belongings in storage. With little money leftover after her accommodation fees, she is struggling to eat.

It's hard when you're depressed and have mental health issues to go house hunting, pack and sell your things. It's a lot to deal with everyday without support... It took me days to recover emotionally and mentally,' she recounts.

Leaving her rental property without having secured a rent reduction meant that she owes the entire unpaid rental amount and there is no way for her to reduce it. Her landlord made a claim through VCAT, and IMCL will appear on her behalf to help ease the burden of the experience and continue to challenge the COVID-19 deep cleaning costs the landlord has unfairly charged.

'Even though Linh won't be able to challenge the debt, it is important that we are present in VCAT to support her through the process. People like her need access to early legal help so landlords like these can be held accountable from the moment tenants try to negotiate,' explains IMCL Senior Lawyer Louisa Bassini.

'Whilst the debt is unlikely to be enforceable against Linh because of her financial circumstances, it will hang over her head, affecting her credit rating and impacting her ability to find a rental property in the future. This shouldn't happen to someone as a consequence of a global crisis completely beyond her control.

You can read more about our work to secure fair outcomes for tenants during COVID-19 here.