Protecting Older Tenants during the COVID-19 Pandemic - Briefing

Older people are particularly vulnerable to the COVID19 virus. They need safe and affordable housing so they can practice physical distancing, quarantine and self-isolation as required. This briefing presents some of the missing pieces in the puzzle of protecting older Victorians.

Key Messages

  • Older people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and need safe and affordable housing to keep themselves healthy
  • Older people make up the fastest growing segment of the social housing and private rental market and have specific needs that may be eclipsed by concerns mainly affecting other groups  (for example, rent arrears from job losses)
  • There are unique and emerging issues for older people living in retirement housing, for example, caravan parks, residential parks and retirement villages
  • There are large numbers of “hidden homeless”, including many older women, who no longer have housing options as a result of this pandemic
  • Older people experiencing elder abuse may find themselves trapped with their abusers by the pandemic if they cannot access safe and secure alternative housing.
  • Older renters must be protected from eviction and temporary housing options must be made available to older people without suitable safe housing

Safe and affordable housing protects older people from COVID-19

Older people are particularly vulnerable to the COVID19 virus. They need safe and affordable housing so they can practice physical distancing, quarantine and self-isolation as required.  

What are the issues for older people and housing?

There are over 28000 households of people aged 65 and older renting in Victoria who are in severe housing stress. This means that falling into rent arrears is more common for older renters even without the impact of the pandemic. People on the Aged and Disability Pensions, including a large proportion of Victorians aged 50-64, are not eligible for the Coronavirus Supplement. In 2016, there was over 3100 people aged 55-64 who were homeless or in marginal housing.
People living in caravan parks, residential parks and retirement villages are concerned about communal facilities and services that have either been suspended, or are continuing, potentially placing residents at risk. It is unclear who should and shouldn’t be excluded from their parks and villages.

Older women are the fastest growing cohort of homeless, with a 70% increase in the number of older women aged between 65-74 who reported being homeless in the last census. Older women who use house sitting as their solution to homelessness are reporting that this option has dried up due to the Coronavirus pandemic, leaving them with no options for safe housing. Many older women are couch surfing in overcrowded housing with family or friends, making it impossible to implement social distancing measures.

The solutions

1.    The Victorian Government should legislate to implement and extend the eviction moratorium

Older renters living in social housing or private rental accommodation need to be protected from eviction, no matter what their circumstances. The eviction moratorium needs to be extended to include not only rent arrears but all other reasons for eviction under the Act, including end of lease. No one should be getting evicted during this crisis, or because of it. Every day that Victoria fails to enforce an eviction moratorium, more renters become homeless while they, landlords and agents experience uncertainty and confusion.

2. Consumer Affairs Victoria and the Retirement village industry should ensure stronger protections for retirement housing residents

Ensure that protections against evictions include retirement village residents, and support retirement villages – especially those that are small and under-resourced – to provide safe and sanitary facilities and services to residents.

3. The Victorian Government should head lease tourism accommodation and other vacant accommodation to provide immediate temporary housing solutions to older people without suitable housing.

Older people who lack appropriate housing should be able immediately access temporary accommodation, such as vacant tourist accommodation, that enables them to shelter safely from COVID-19. This includes older women who are couch surfing and house sitting, older people living in overcrowded accommodation, as well as “rough sleepers” living on the street or in their cars.

4. The Victorian Government should provide affordable housing for people experiencing elder abuse.

The Rapid Housing Assistance Fund for victims of Family Violence excludes older people on government benefits, who are unable to sustain private rental due to the high cost. Elder abuse is most often perpetrated by adult children, many of whom will be experiencing their own housing crisis due to COVID-19 and returning to the family home, increasing the likelihood of elder abuse. We need housing options for older people that could include prioritisation for social housing, or subsidised rent in private rental.

Case study: Older resident in retirement village evicted

Sarah, not her real name, is in her early 60s and resides in a small retirement village. Sarah fell into arrears and received a notice terminating (or purporting to terminate) her residency right as of last week. When she had not vacated the property by the date set out on the notice, the village had the locks changed and warned her the police would be called if she returned to the premises, save for a specific date and time at which they would allow her to remove her belongings under supervision. Sarah and then her advocate sought to negotiate with the village manager to allow her more time to remove the belongings. She was particularly concerned because, without such extra time, she would be forced to remain inside the unit with the removalists, packing while they worked, in possible violation of the then newly announced two-person rule and at risk to her and their health. The manager refused to make any concessions, or to allow her access to the unit save while the removalists and a village staff member was present. No court or tribunal had assessed whether the notice of termination was valid or whether her residency right could be lawfully terminated. With the civil claims list at VCAT indefinitely suspended, and without access to legal counsel, there was no opportunity to obtain orders challenging the legality of the termination.

For further information, please contact Fiona York, Executive Officer or 0449554142