A Canberra public housing tenant was issued a notice to vacate in mid-April, despite the ACT government earlier in the month claiming no tenant would be evicted during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Canberra Times understands a tenant was issued with the eviction notice on or around April 14 due to existing rental arrears.
This came a week after the ACT government said no public housing tenant would be evicted during the coronavirus pandemic.
But an official three-month moratorium for ACT tenants who had been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic was only signed off on April 22. This was via a declaration to the residential tenancies act.
During this declaration, an ACT government spokeswoman for Housing Minister Yvette Berry said there would be no public housing evictions due to debt during the coronavirus pandemic. Existing matters would also not be pursued.
Canberra Community Law tenancy lawyer Sophie Trevitt said Housing ACT had made assurances the tenant would not be evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic but she had broader concerns.
From a legal perspective, Ms Trevitt said the declaration only protected those affected by COVID-19.
"We're disappointed the declaration by the ACT government only protects a narrow cohort of individuals," she said.
"The declaration sets out protections from eviction for households that have been financially impacted by COVID-19 in particular ways. The difficultly of this is people were experiencing financial hardship before COVID-19, they are still in financial hardship now."
But the government spokeswoman said no further notices to vacate would be issued to any public housing tenant during the three months whether they were financially impacted by COVID-19 or not.
"As a social landlord, Housing ACT is taking a broad approach to the COVID-19 impact," she said.
"We understand that a notice to vacate could create unnecessary stress during this already challenging time."
There are currently six matters before the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for public housing tenants that are debt-related, all predate the declaration and are not related to COVID-19.
The government spokeswoman said any matters before the tribunal for rental arrears would be adjourned or withdrawn for the period of the declaration.
But matters adjourned or withdrawn would be progressed when the declaration had ended.
Ms Trevitt said it would be a concern if matters were pursued when the declaration had lifted.
"The ACT community and the rest of the country are going to be experiencing a financial and health crisis for quite some time. Evicting people now in the middle of the pandemic is irresponsible is concerning," she said
"Evicting people in three months time when the declaration expires is just as concerning."
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