Hundreds of homes being ‘left vacant’ by landlords in Adelaide’s CBD, welfare group warns

Welfare group Shelter SA has said offering landlords incentives to unlock a vast body of vacant dwellings in Adelaide’s CBD could help significantly reduce homelessness, as well as rental stress.

Shelter SA has released a report into vacancy rates in Adelaide, and estimates hundreds of dwellings in the CBD are currently unoccupied at a time when there are “increasing levels of housing stress”.

The group said about half the 1,076 unoccupied homes in Adelaide’s CBD identified in the 2016 Census could have been used to “provide short-, medium- and in some cases long-term accommodation” — but it estimated that number had since increased.

“We need better data to understand exactly how many vacancies there are in the city, and we’ve been wanting to look at empty rental properties, Airbnbs that are not fully utilised, overseas student accommodation and tourist accommodation,” CEO Alice Clark said.

“There’s about 200 rough sleepers in the CBD right now.”

Adelaide property prices have hit record highs in recent weeks, with high levels of demand also reflected within the rental market.

Shelter SA’s report states that there is currently a “high volume of speculative vacancies — homes withheld from the sales market but not used”.

“When property is withheld from the private rental and sales markets, whether through being left vacant or used as an Airbnb, upward pressure is placed on prices by reducing supply,” it said.

“Despite suffering a major downturn in tourism since the outbreak of the pandemic, Airbnb is a significant contributor to the number of empty homes or highly underutilised homes in the Adelaide CBD.

“Currently, only 13 per cent of Airbnb properties in the CBD are rented for more than six months of the year.”

Shelter SA said making empty Airbnb homes available could help meet “emergency need”.

Housing affordability ‘extremely complex’

The report raises the option of “punitive measures”, including a vacancy tax, as a way of inducing landlords to make properties available.

“Such measures should not be ruled out and preliminary steps should be undertaken for local and state governments to explore what legislative tools are within their powers,” it states.

But Dr Clark said dangling the carrot rather than wielding the stick was the preferred option.

“Incentivising landlords and owners is the way to go,” she said.

“I don’t think a property tax works very well in other countries where they’ve implemented it, so we’d like to see incentives and even perhaps a voucher system for landlords.”

Shelter SA says there are currently 200 rough sleepers in Adelaide’s CBD.(ABC News: Simon Royal)

Shelter SA has urged the SA Government to directly intervene to “discourage residential property vacancies”.

Its recommendations include that the government “consider purchasing empty or underutilised residential properties to increase the supply of social housing”.

But Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said Shelter SA’s report “fails to take into account” work already being undertaken “to improve housing and homelessness outcomes in South Australia”.

“The State Government is also providing land tax exemptions to private property owners who rent through a participating community housing provider for affordable housing purposes.”

Ms Lensink said the Government would be “imminently” announcing new homelessness prevention measures.

In a statement, Airbnb said housing affordability was an “an extremely complex issue” and that many Airbnb hosts were already playing a part in the solution.

“Short-term rentals generally comprise only a small percentage of the overall housing market,” spokesman Derek Nolan said.

“Many hosts on Airbnb share their own home to help combat rising costs of living and meet mortgage repayments.

“In turn, these hosts help drive economic growth and job creation, with many local businesses relying on the valuable tourism dollars spent by Airbnb guests.”

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Coronavirus latest: Online retailers sustain strong demand but landlords struggle

Peter Wells in New York

California’s coronavirus death toll is closing in on 30,000 following a deadly start to the year for the country’s most populous state.

Authorities on Monday attributed a further 264 fatalities to coronavirus, down from 468 on Sunday.

On Saturday, the state reported a one-day record of 695 fatalities, more than what several states have had for the entire pandemic.

California’s death toll stands at 29,965, putting it slightly ahead of the 29,877 reported on Sunday by authorities in Texas that is due to be updated later this afternoon. The two states are closing in on top-ranked New York.

One glimmer of hope is hospitalisations. Although these rose by a net 120 over the past day to 22,633, this is down from Thursday’s record of 22,853. That may also be helping the national figure, which as of Sunday had remained below Thursday’s record of 132,464 for the fourth day running.

The number of intensive care unit beds available in California was 1,242, authorities revealed on Monday, up from a record low of 1,147 on Friday.

ICU bed availability in the Bay Area surrounding San Francisco was at 0.7 per cent, California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed at his regular press conference on Monday afternoon.

Regular availability of such beds in the broad Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions has been at zero for weeks.

Mr Newsom struck a hopeful note, though, and said both the rate of increase in hospitalisations and ICU bed usage in the past week was “more modest” than what the state had experienced for “many, many months”.

A further 39,839 people tested positive over the past 24 hours, down from 49,685 on Sunday and back-to-back days of more than 50,000 apiece on Saturday and Friday.

Mr Newsom also said two gorillas at San Diego zoo have tested positive for coronavirus.

California on Monday became the first US state to confirm more than 2.7m cases since the start of the pandemic.

The state has administered “close to 800,000” vaccines, Mr Newsom said, and aims to reach the 1m-mark by this weekend.

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Tasmanian landlords call for debts to be repaid as COVID rental protections expire

Single mother Jazlin Lovell was evicted from her Hobart home just one week before Christmas.

She has since applied for six private rentals without success, and her family of three faces homelessness from Saturday, when a friend she’s been housesitting for returns from Melbourne.

Ms Lovell knew she was going to have to move from the property to allow the owners to move in, but the date was unexpectedly brought forward.

“I’m anxious, stressed and depressed,” Ms Lovell said.

“Knowing that my kids have to go through homelessness at such young ages is really getting to me.

Jazlin Lovell says seeing her children experience homelessness is “really getting to me”.(Supplied: Jazlin Lovell)

“I’ve been homeless with my eldest daughter three years ago, and now with my youngest daughter as well.

Tasmania’s government placed a moratorium on evictions — with some exceptions — until the end of the month.

While renters can be ordered to vacate a property to allow for renovations, the sale of the home or because the home has been used for criminal activity, landlords are not allowed to boot tenants for falling behind on rent until after January 31.

The Tenants’ Union of Tasmania is arguing that should be extended until March, but a group representing landlords has urged the government to hold firm.

Louise Elliott from the Tasmanian Residential Rental Property Owners Association said her group believed landlords were owed up to $500,000 from tenants who had failed to pay rent throughout the pandemic.

“That legislation has been taken advantage of and everyday people have paid the price for that,” Ms Elliott said.

Louise Elliot looks at the camera.
Louise Elliot says landlords appreciate a lot of tenants are “under stress”.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

In a statement in mid-December, Building and Construction Minister Elise Archer said the government had paid off the equivalent of 75 per cent of rental arrears through various support funds.

Ms Elliott said it should fork out for the remainder too, suggesting the government could introduce a scheme similar to HECS-HELP to allow tenants to repay their debts over the long-term.

“We do appreciate that a lot of tenants are already under immense financial and emotional stress, so having a plan in place that can cover paying back thousands of dollars over years rather than months makes much more sense to us,” she said.

‘We don’t believe the economics stack up’

Tenants’ Union of Tasmania principal solicitor Ben Bartl said while there were a few “bad eggs”, the majority of tenants had not taken advantage of the pandemic protections.

He called for an extension to the moratorium on evictions until March, in line with New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.

The ACT has extended its eviction ban until April.

Mr Bartl pointed out that rent in Tasmania had risen 37 per cent over the past five years.

“There are more people unemployed at the moment than at the same time last year,” he said.

“We don’t believe the economics stack up and the vaccine won’t be rolled out probably until March or April.”

Ben Bartl looks away from the camera.
Ben Bartl says Tasmania should extend the moratorium on evictions until March, in line with some other states.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

A second Hobart renter who spoke to the ABC on the condition of anonymity was unexpectedly told she had to leave her rental property to allow for renovations by December 23.

“We got really stressed out because we had three weeks and it was just before Christmas as well,” she said.

The woman and her partner applied for more than 20 properties over two weeks but “kept getting rejected and rejected” — until she contacted a real estate agent to ask them to view her application again.

“I can see both points of view, but you don’t know people’s back stories. There needs to be more properties available if we’re going to start kicking people out.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms Archer said: “While we understand that circumstances associated with the pandemic can change very quickly as seen in other states, it is not our intention to extend the protections beyond 31 January 2021 unless circumstances change.”

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Premier Inn owner asks landlords for 50% rent cut

Hotel and restaurant group Whitbread has asked landlords for a 50% rent cut for the next three months as pandemic restrictions continue to hit trading.

The owner of the Premier Inn, Beefeater and Brewers Fayre brands said in a letter to landlords they must “share some of the pain” of lockdown.

Britain’s biggest hospitality group, with 800 hotels in the UK and Ireland, had already warned of big job cuts.

Landlords and commercial property investors will likely resist rent cuts.

They have seen their own finances depleted by rent cuts and restructurings across the hospitality sector. Unlike many rivals, Whitbread had continued to pay rent in full.

Andrew Jones, chief executive of LondonMetric, a FTSE 250 property company with a Premier Inn tenant, said Whitbread has “behaved impeccably” towards to landlords “and so we will look to help them with their cash flow whilst the business recovers”.

But he added: “A permanent transfer of value from our shareholders to theirs is not appropriate for a company still valued at over £6bn.

“There are no contractual provisions for landlords to share gains in the good years and so sharing pain in the tough years seems inequitable. After all, you can’t un-sign a contract.”

Deferring rent payments for a period would be more “equitable”, he said.

Laura Lambie, senior investment director for Investec, told the BBC’s Today Programme that the letter, first reported by property news publication CoStar, was “worrying from the landlord’s point of view, not just Whitbread”.

A Whitbread spokesperson said that since the start of the pandemic the business “has taken decisive action to ensure that our cost base reflects the low levels of demand”.

The company added: “Throughout the pandemic to date, we have paid our rent commitments in full, even when our hotels and restaurants were forced to close.

“With ongoing government restrictions expected to result in subdued market demand into the first half of 2021, we are now asking our landlords to support us, as other stakeholders have during the pandemic, through a reduction in rent for the December quarter in recognition of the current environment.”

In September, Whitbread warned that 6,000 of its workers could be laid off. The company also scrapped its dividends to shareholders, while directors and senior management took pay cuts. More than 27,000 staff were furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme.

The company recently invested $40m (£30m) in new German hotels which it planned to open by December, despite reporting a £725m loss for the six months to the end of August.

The UK government has extended eviction protection for retailers and restaurants until the end of 2020, and has also renewed a business rate holiday for the current financial year.

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Landlords with undeclared rental income urged to ‘come clean’ with taxman or face big penalties

Landlords and buy-to-let property investors who have undeclared rental income have been warned to seek advice and come clean with the taxman – or face stiff penalties.

Shenward, a Yorkshire-based firm of chartered accountants and business advisors, says HMRC officials are currently pursuing individuals they believe may be underpaying income tax.

The Bradford-based company has seen a recent increase in enquiries from landlords who have received warning letters from HMRC.

Since 2013, HMRC has run its Let Property Campaign aimed at tracking down landlords, both amateur and professional, who fail to declare rental income on their tax returns.

The campaign covers individual property investors who owe income tax or capital gains tax on buy to let, houses in multiple occupation or holiday lets in the UK or overseas.

HMRC has the power to collect information from estate agents, mortgage lenders and local authorities and can use this to pursue those they suspect of avoiding tax.

Tax officials can launch a financial investigation going back 20 years and impose substantial penalties and back-dated interest on the tax owed.

In the most serious cases criminal charges could be brought resulting in prison sentences.

A feature of the Let Property Campaign is that if landlords make contact first over unpaid tax the penalties could be less severe.

Sherad Dewedi, managing partner at Shenward, said the firm had recently been approached by several individuals who had received letters from HMRC and urged anyone with concerns over potential tax liabilities not to wait.

“We believe that HMRC have statutory powers to recover data from lettings agents and their landlord clients – and are working through who is registered and who is not,” said Mr Dewedi.

“Those impacted are being required to extract the relevant financial information and declare letting incomes, going back as far as 20 years in the worst cases. Interest and penalties will accrue on late payments.

“Our advice is not to wait for HMRC to come calling. The taxman is likely to show a degree of leniency to those who come forward and declare unpaid taxes. The alternative is potentially big fines and possible criminal prosecution.”

HMRC has previously estimated there are 1.63 million private landlords in the UK but only around 500,000 regularly file tax returns.

In 2019 HMRC found 11,129 landlords either under-paid or failed to pay income tax on rental income compared to 8,704 in 2018.

The Revenue reclaimed £44.7 million in tax from landlords last year, up from £32.8 million the year before.

Mr Dewedi added: “It pays for landlords to come clean with HMRC and make a full disclosure.

“We understand that in recent years some families may have become buy-to-let landlords almost by default due to bereavements or children going off to university but even though they may not consider their rental property a business as such doesn’t mean this shouldn’t be declared and any taxes paid.

“Our advice is: ‘Act now.’”

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‘Landlords don’t just wake up and think, “I want to evict my tenants today.”’ – National Residential Landlords Association’s Ben Beadle

The ban on evicting tenants which was put in place because of the pandemic runs out in England and Wales today.

The ban was introduced in March to help people who were struggling financially during the lockdown.

It has been extended twice and there have been calls from housing charities and the Labour Party to extend it further.

The Scottish government has said it intends to keep the ban in place until next March. English and Welsh courts will be able restart eviction hearings from tomorrow.

Nichola McClean has lived in her rented flat for over a decade – but has been asked to leave by mid-October.

We spoke to Ben Beadle from the National Residential Landlords Association, and Dan Wilson Craw from the tenants campaign group Generation Rent.

We began by asking Dan what his concerns were with the eviction ban being lifted.

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Rental vacancies ease across Sydney as landlords cut rents to attract tenants

Apartment landlords within inner Sydney may have begun to gradually attract tenants again after slashing rents.

Figures from SQM Research showed the proportion of rental homes sitting vacant in the CBD dropped from a high of 16.2 per cent in May to 12.9 per cent in August.

The change in vacancies coincided with a plunge in rents – the average asking rent for units in the CBD over August was about 23 per cent lower than a year prior.

There were also about 700 fewer vacant properties across the Greater Sydney area in August compared to July, with the vacancy rate dropping from 3.6 per cent to 3.5 per cent. The vacancy rate was the highest among the capital cities, despite the drop.

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Separate research from the Real Estate Institute of NSW showed vacancies across the Greater Sydney area decreased for the first time in five months.

Newcastle and Wollongong also had a slight easing of vacancies in August, as did many other regional NSW areas.

The Sydney CBD has the highest level of vacancies.

REINSW chief executive Tim McKibbin said landlords may have staved off vacancies by offering more enticing deals.

“Easing of vacancy rates across much of NSW may be attributable to landlords responding to the changed market conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr McKibbin said.

“With so many people experiencing job losses or reduced pay, many tenants have had to relinquish properties and go in search of more affordable options. Landlords faced with vacant properties are now, in turn, reducing weekly rents to entice tenants.”

SQM Research director Louis Christopher said drops in rent meant there were “leasing opportunities for tenants who have chosen to stay in town”.

Tenants may be starting to pick up on the chance to get a better deal, according to

It is still a good time for tenants to negotiate rent.

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A recent Finder survey revealed 31 per cent of renters have moved or are considering moving during the pandemic.

Finder insights manager Graham Cooke said it was prime time for renters to negotiate a better deal.

“The reality is many Aussies are currently paying too much for their rent. If you’re in a position to move, now is the time to find a bargain,” he said.

Mr Cooke said those who didn’t want to move should consider asking for a rent reduction. He gave the following tips:

Assess your payment history: If you never miss a payment you’ll have better luck asking for a discount.

Compare rentals in your area: Check online for properties similar to yours in your suburb. If they’re being offered at a lower rent than you are paying, raise it with your real estate agent and use these listings as evidence for your claim.

Know your credit score: If you’ve got a good credit score that can help. Your landlord should be more enthusiastic about keeping you, and if not you have a higher chance of being accepted at a different property

Be polite: Most landlords in Australia are also paying off mortgages. If you want to maintain a strong relationship with your landlord it’s important to be gentle but firm with your case.

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Ann Summers threatens landlords with CVA process over shop rents

Retailer Ann Summers has warned its stores’ landlords they must take “a more pragmatic approach” to negotiations over rents.

The lingerie and sex toy chain said if this did not happen, it would ask to formally restructure its debts through a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA).

Chief executive Jacqueline Gold said landlords needed to recognise the retail landscape had changed.

Writing in Retail Week, Ms Gold said the ultimatum was “no idle threat”.

She said many landlords had been open to renegotiating rental costs but that others continued “to bury their heads in the sand”.

“I’m grateful to those landlords who have engaged in constructive discussions with us, and should we carry out a CVA, they will definitely not be compromised. To those who haven’t yet, there is still time to come to the table.

“It’s a shame we have to threaten a CVA in order to do this, but this is no idle threat.”

Ann Summers benefited from a boom in online orders during lockdown. As a result, the firm says it expects this year’s results to show significant improvement from last year. But its physical stores were forced to close temporarily.

Many retailers are concerned that store sales will be slow to recover given the continuing impact of the pandemic, making it hard to pay rents and business rates. Ms Gold said a CVA was the only way to resolve the problem.

A CVA is an insolvency procedure that allows a company to reach agreement with creditors regarding payment of all, or part of its debts.

“All of us retailers acknowledge that the way customers shop isn’t going to just go back to how it was before the pandemic,” Ms Gold wrote.

“That’s why we, like many retailers, think turnover-based rents are the way forward.”

Jacqueline Gold said some landlords were clinging on to outdated terms

Ms Gold said she was optimistic about the future after reforms within the company and changes to product quality and price positioning.

She described 2019 as “the toughest year” in the company’s history, leading to a £16m loss last year.

“My family has ploughed large sums of money into the business to help us address the issues which held us back last year and get Ann Summers back on an even footing, with plans to invest further,” Ms Gold wrote.

“But there is no point doing that just to subsidise those landlords who continue to cling on to outdated terms.”

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Corporate office is not dead, say landlords

“There is a clear differentiation between buildings which are fit for purpose and those which are going to be rapidly obsolete,” the company’s chief executive and managing director Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz said.


“The pandemic has stepped on the accelerator of all those trends and we will see increasing bifurcation between buildings that our customers want to occupy and ones which don’t suit anymore,” she said.

Challenges abound in the short term.

The $8.2 billion ASX-listed company’s head of office and industrial, Campbell Hanan, said over the three months to June, the group experienced a “freezing of leasing activity in office markets.”

“I certainly don’t think we’re alone in that,” he said.


Incentives – the rent concessions offered to attract tenants – are starting to tick up significantly, hitting 25 per cent in Sydney and even higher in Melbourne, around 30 per cent.

The company also expects to see some deterioration in effective rent growth. “A lot of tenants are unwilling to move in this environment and turnover is particularly low.”

Morgan Stanley analysts Lauren Berry and Simon Chan point out that while retail leasing spreads are now negative, Mirvac has “just 25 per cent of leases expiring over 2021 to 2023, far less than peers.”

Its status as the country’s largest office owner and manager makes the $9.4 billion heavyweight Dexus a litmus test of market sentiment.


Demand across major CBD office markets is likely to be “patchy” in the short term, the group’s executive general manager of office, Kevin George, admits. Office leasing enquiry levels are falling and inspection rates are slowing.

Office portfolio like-for-like income growth fell to 2.4 per cent, down from 3.4 per cent the year before, a result driven by rent relief for pandemic-stricken tenants and provisions for expected credit losses.

“The office is not dead, [but] we are seeing a flight to quality assets,” Mr George said. “We are engaged in exploring a number of flexible work practices, such as the hub and spoke model.”

Defensive assets are proving resilient in the face of the turmoil created by the pandemic, a trend city-fringe office specialist Growthpoint Properties Australia is expecting to exploit.


It controls a string of east coast office towers ideally suited to the hub and spoke model, seen as a compromise between working from home and moving back to the CBD head office.

Aware of the need for workers to be nearer to their offices, many businesses are considering downsizing headquarters and providing more space in smaller suburban buildings, Growthpoint’s chief Timothy Collyer said.

Rents are much lower and the buildings are usually closer to where people live. But he was cautions against making quick assumptions about the market.

“It does take a long time for those broader trends to play out.”

Growthpoint is concentrating on re-leasing space to existing tenants. “We re-leased 19 per cent of our income, the majority to existing tenants,” he said.


Lendlease chief executive Steve McCann understands there are upsides to working from home, but says there are downsides too – the lack of human interaction and impacts on mental health and wellbeing.

“That bump factor that enables better innovation within a workplace is being increasingly recognised.”

“We see an ongoing demand for office,” Mr McCann said. But there will also be some “adjustments”.

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Zac and Jordan Stenmark to become landlords for units in Manly and Bondi

Stenmark Twins Fitness App

Jordan and Zac Stenmark are now both going to be landlords. Picture: Tim Hunter.

The beach loving inter­national modelling duo, the Stenmark twins, are now both landlords.

After strutting their stuff at 2020 New York Fashion Week, the boys came home in late March, to go in to ­isolation at the family’s 1915 rustic timber cottage at Palm Beach. And they’ve been spending time at their parents Mosman home, too.

Zac has sought tenants for his vacated Manly unit.

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He bought it in 2015 for $965,000 as his first home ­acquisition.

The two bedroom, two bathroom 1980s apartment was initially listed at $800 a week, and then this month at a $750 a week asking rent.

Supplied Editorial 5/23-31 Whistler Street Manly 2 Bed2 Bath1 Car $750 per week

Supplied Editorial 5/23-31 Whistler Street Manly 2 Bed2 Bath1 Car $750 per week

The asking price is $750 a week.

Manly’s asking rents have fallen, and sharply, according to the valuation firm Herron Todd White (HTW), evident across suburbs on the northern beaches that have a strong reliance on the tourism. Two other rentals in Zac’s block have been at rents not seen since 2016.

Zac’s tenant hunt follows twin brother Jordan, who sought tenants for his Bondi apartment earlier this year.

He’d initially been seeking $1090 a week in February, and two months later reduced the asking rent to $850 a week.

Jordan paid $1.13 million for the two-bedroom apartment — nearer Bondi Junction than the sand — three years ago.

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The Stenmarks returned to Australia to go into isolation. Picture: Tim Hunter.

The split-level unit, with a study and north-facing balcony, sits on the top level in the 2005-built Oasis block.

It had been an $800-a-week rental before Stenmark bought it in 2017. The twins recently launched Stenmark Fit, with their surfer mate and trainer Mitch Barraclough, who runs The Natural Connection. It offers body weight exercises and a recipe guide.

The Stenmarks hit the big time in 2011 when they were working in cafe.

They were signed on by the Vivien agency at just 19 and flown to Miami to shoot 60 pages for L’official Homme the following week.

The whirlwind has never stopped.

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