NSW renters fear inspections virus risk

Hannah RyanAAP
Many renters feel they can't object to inspections despite COVID-19 risks.
Camera IconMany renters feel they can't object to inspections despite COVID-19 risks. Credit: AAP

David lives in locked-down Sydney, which means he and his family are not allowed to leave the house without a reasonable excuse.

But on Saturday a series of strangers will come through his inner west home to see if they want to buy it. His rental property, where he's halfway through a 14-month lease, is for sale.

"If people are told to stay at home, why are they walking through my house? Why can't this just wait," David told AAP.

He is one of a number of renters in Sydney who are being exposed to a possible health risk because of inspections that are not urgent but not forbidden under the COVID-19 public health orders, the Tenants' Union of NSW says.

The group has heard from renters who've been told their homes will be open for inspection for sale or lease or whose real estate agents are carrying out regular inspections.

Tenants are even opening their doors to stylists and photographers who are preparing the place to sell.

"There's this real disconnect between the public health messaging and the experience of many renters," Tenants' Union chief executive Leo Patterson Ross said.

While open houses and auctions are banned, real estate agents can show potential buyers a property in a private appointment if they have a COVID-safety plan.

But Mr Patterson Ross says, agents are scheduling a number of appointments back-to-back.

Many renters feel they can't object or cause a fuss because they might be evicted or subject to other retaliation.

That's what James and his four housemates living in Sydney's west, believe happened to them.

Shortly after lockdown began, their real estate agent told them their house would be listed for sale and they'd have to leave the house during inspections on Saturdays.

"We've been told so many times that we shouldn't (leave the house) and yet we all have to go and find something to do on a Saturday while a bunch of people come and look all around our house," James said.

The housemates put questions to the agent around the COVID-safety plan. A few days later, they received an eviction notice.

The owner would now be renovating instead of selling, the agent said.

"Based on the timing that didn't seem very believable," James said. '"It felt like a retaliation.

"We were worried that by bringing up these concerns we'd brought it on ourselves. But these were valid concerns."

The Tenants' Union argues that property inspections that have residents in them shouldn't be allowed to proceed unless there is some emergency.

"Really, given the level of lockdown we're at, it can wait," Mr Patterson Ross said.

Real Estate Institute NSW chief executive Tim McKibbin said shelter was essential, so residential real estate could not be shut down.

Tenants had the opportunity to work with agents and owners to ensure the minimal amount of inconvenience, he said.

A NSW Health spokesperson said in Greater Sydney people were not allowed into homes to clean or carry out repairs, maintenance, alterations, additions or other trades.

Real estate agents are subject to the stay-at-home rules.

* David and James were granted pseudonyms because they feared criticising their real estate agents publicly would damage their chances of securing new leases.

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