‘Slash rentals’

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By PHILIP CHANDLER

A health and safety adviser wants Queenstown’s landlords to slash rents during this Covid-19-induced lockdown – and he’s got support from the local mayor.

John Frampton, who advises companies on their health and safety obligations, believes residential and commercial landlords have a big role in relieving stress in the community.

He notes that a few weeks ago there were three suicides – “and that was before the virus attacked”.

He’s asking if current rental agreements are suitable in the current environment – “a 50 per cent [reduction] would be a very, very sound negotiating point”.

“I’m saying to employers, ‘tell your staff exactly where they’re situated and give them a letter they can take to their landlord’.

“If your residential rental’s renegotiated, some of your bond money could also be refunded,” Frampton says.

A renegotiated rental agreement for, say, three months, plus government wage assistance, “would mean that the workforce are viable for a long time”.

“I had a residential tenant telling me her rent was $750 for a three-bedroom apartment, and her two flatmates had just scarpered [last Tuesday].

“She was completely distraught.”

Frampton also accepts there’ll be landlords hurting – “there’s a lot that are overcommitted”.

He’s aware, too, of commercial landlords who’ve been very proactive.

“I was with one tenant whose landlord pre-empted the conversation and said, ‘how can we
help?’

“I was with another commercial operator the day before whose landlord said, ‘f… off, I’m
playing golf’ — and so there’s two extremes.

“There’s a chance that commercial landlords could renegotiate a completely different rent by looking at a percentage of turnover — the tenants are more likely to stick around, and
that’s sharing responsibility.”

In response to Frampton’s comments, mayor Jim Boult says: “I would encourage all
landlords, both residential and commercial, to give consideration to rent holidays or rent
reductions during this period.

“The simple fact is maybe you’re best to have a tenant still there when this passes, rather than no tenant at all.

“I spoke with one major commercial tenant [on Monday] who expressed that they’d rather
give a break to their tenants and allow them to continue without paying rent on the basis they can start their business again and go forward.”

In a media statement, Boult adds he’s aware of residential landlords who have, for example, negotiated that their out-of-work tenants work on their property or their grounds in lieu of rent.

“It is a tough time for landlords with mortgages to meet, but banks are offering mortgage holidays that can be passed on to tenants.”

Staff at local property management company Housemart have been working like “absolute
trojans” this week, contacting all their tenants and landlords, owner Hayley Stevenson says, to assess their situations case by case.

“There’s very few of our tenancies that this hasn’t had a massive impact on.”

Some rental levels had been dropped already.

“We’re doing all this for very little [recompense], but if we can save our clients from
stress in their home, and if we can save our landlords — we want to be able to save them all.”

Stevenson says in some cases landlords stand to lose far more than their tenants.

“If tenants lose their tenancy, they will probably be able to secure somewhere in the near
future.

“One good thing is we’ve managed to solve the housing crisis.”

scoop@scene.co.nz