Helping vulnerable tenants during COVID-19

Property Management,  Property Managers

It’s a very confusing and overwhelming time for tenants – particularly for our most vulnerable in society.

With Australia’s unemployment rate set to soar to 12% by mid-year, many are wondering how they can afford to put food on the table – let alone cover their rent. However, for those tenants with a disability, low levels of literacy and numeracy skills or who may not speak English as their primary language, an extra layer of confusion and stress is added.

Paul Tommasini, CEO of the Tenancy Skills Institute says the information available via both the news and social media can be overwhelming for vulnerable tenants. “In times like we are in at the moment, there’s going to be confusion because if vulnerable tenants are watching the news or following Facebook feeds that may or may not be accurate, there’s a lot of information going around about what funding is available to them, like whether or not they are going to need to pay rent or if there is rental relief,” he explains. “People who already struggle to interpret information may be overwhelmed or accepting of information that isn’t accurate.”

Tommasini further highlights that misinformation can easily lead to good tenants into believing they don’t need to pay rent anymore – even if they have the means to – because they’re misinterpreting what the Government-funded rental relief entails. To abate this, property managers need to rethink their lines of communication when relaying important information to tenants who fall into such categories. For example, where a property manager may usually communicate via email or letter, it may be worth exploring easier-to-understand modes of communication, such as a phone call, face-to-face conversation or using a translator.

“The way in which we communicate day-to-day in business isn’t necessarily understood by vulnerable tenants,” says Tommasini. “Yes doesn’t always mean yes. Many of these tenants may say ‘yes, I understand’ or nod, but that might be covering up the fact they cannot read or understand what you’re saying. They might be scared to ask questions. Obviously, false assumptions can lead to bad outcomes.”

It’s also important for property managers to check in with more vulnerable tenants to see if they’re receiving adequate support from other services such as the NDIS or translation services, in order to achieve the most successful tenancy possible.

The Tenancy Skills Institute exists to educate renters on areas such as communication, rights, responsibilities, property maintenance and finances. While their courses typically run in a face-to-face learning environment, Tommasini says the Institute is quickly adapting to an online format so that tenants can continue to live in successful tenancies.

Acknowledging that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is already creating a busier workload for property managers, the Tenancy Skills Institute offers an email service where property managers can ask what services they can either access for themselves or pass onto their tenant during this time.

“By being able to connect with these tenants in a meaningful way and equipping them with general information that is easy to understand, you’re going to alleviate some stress and confusion,” adds Tommasini. “If we can sustain a tenancy, everyone wins – the tenant, the owner and the property manager.”

Property managers in search of services and support mechanisms that exist to assist tenants with a disability, low levels of literacy/numeracy or from non-English speaking backgrounds are invited  to email the Tenancy Skills Institute on during the COVID-19 crisis. REIQ members can also access the Property Management Support Service by emailing or calling 1300MYREIQ.