Coronavirus: Property company discourages landlords from offering tenants rent holidays

By Robin Martin for RNZ

A nationwide property management company is actively discouraging landlords from offering rent holidays to struggling tenants during the COVID-19 shutdown.

On its website and in emails to landlords, Property Brokers says tenants should instead be encouraged to seek government help or offered grocery vouchers or assistance with utilities bills.

That's appalled a renters' advocacy group, who says it's far from the 'kind' approach the government is encouraging people to take right now.

In its COVID-19 Alert Plan on its website Property Brokers acknowledges that many landlords have approached it wanting to reduce rental payments or offer rental holidays.

But in the plan, the company says it wants to maintain rental payment continuity and that government assistance is there for a reason and most people who have lost jobs or are on reduced salaries would qualify for it.

Advocacy group Renters United says it has been approached by landlords horrified at Property Brokers stance.

Organiser Anna Mooney said the company's approach flew in the face of the government's call to be kind.

"It's really nice to actually see landlords helping out tenants with their payments and we really want to applaud all the landlords that are doing that, but frankly it's pretty appalling to see that some property managers are making it impossible for landlords to show that compassion to their tenants."

Mooney said one landlord was called by a tenant whose household had lost its main income and was now reliant on Work and Income payments.

"So, they really wished to give their tenant four weeks free rent, but when they went and approached the property managers, they discouraged them from doing that.

"They encouraged them to let them know about the government subsidies and then asked them to instead provide them with food vouchers and helping out with their power bill."

The landlord was willing to continue paying the 10 percent management fee.

Mooney said many businesses were taking a hit during the lockdown and Property Brokers should be facilitating rent holidays not discouraging them.

Capital Property Investors Association president Adam Cockburn found Property Brokers' approach a strange one.

"If that landlord and any other investors indeed want to make offers to make it financially easier for tenants in a bit of trouble or finding it difficult in these times then that's a kind thing to do and I think it's unusual to discourage it."

Cockburn said he knew of other landlords who had been able to offer rent holidays.

"I'm hearing some instances where property owners have reached out and offered rent reductions. Certainly, I use Lowe and Co property management and I have heard that some owners have offered rent reductions and those have been offered to the tenants."

He said landlords needed to remember the property manager worked for them.

"…If the property owner wants to proceed with such an offer then I'm sure they could just then simply give their instructions to the property management firm and tell them what to do."

Cockburn - who was also an agent at Lowe and Co Realty - said he had contacted all his own tenants, but as yet not offered any rental holidays.

In a statement, Property Brokers general manager property management Will Alexander acknowledged these were trying and difficult times for everyone.

Alexander said the company was contacting all its tenants and owners, and asking them if they required support, or would like to provide support.

"Each case is unique, and our property managers are working with our tenants and landlords on a case by case basis," he said.

Alexander did not respond to questions about why Property Brokers was discouraging rent holidays in preference to grocery vouchers and help paying utilities bills.