Include rental relief fund in Covid-19 Bill

pic by ARIF KARTONO

THE government should consider including a rental relief fund in the Covid-19 Bill 2020 to address a looming eviction crisis, urged the Opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago (picture).

The Klang MP proposed a rental relief measure premised on the notion of fair sharing of economic hardship, and for the common good of society and economic sustainability.

“There are cases of families being evicted from their homes for not being able to pay their rents due to loss of income or jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“This pandemic-induced economic downturn is causing a housing problem, so before it turns into a crisis, we need to have a relief effort,” he told reporters at the Parliament yesterday.

For the proposed rental relief fund, Santiago believed it should include measures such as suspension of evictions, rent freeze, extension of the moratorium, waiving off rents for the poor and special grants.

“No family or business should be forced out of their premises, even if they miss a payment, until March 31, 2021. Landlords should try to reach an agreement with their tenants and if necessary, issue a 90-day notice before any eviction.

“Also, the government should ban residential and commercial rent increases up to March next year,” he added.

As for the extension of the moratorium, Santiago said landlords who are willing to waive rentals should be eligible to apply an extension of the moratorium on house loans up to March 2021.

He also believed that first homeowners should also be allowed to apply for an extension of moratorium until March next year if they can prove that they suffered from income loss or if they were laid off.

“The government should waive the leases for the poor (household income less than poverty line income of RM2,208) by compensating the landlord until March 2021.

“The government should also provide special grants for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that experienced a 30% revenue drop year-on-year, by subsidising 70% of their rental fees and capped at RM8,500,” Santiago said.

While the government did provide rent exemptions and tax deductions, Santiago said SMEs that rented at private premises did not receive such benefits.

He gave an example of Japan, whereby the government shoulders two-thirds of rent for up to six months if small businesses, irrespective of sector, experience revenue drops.

Notably, Singapore has offered a rental relief programme involving a two-month waiver of rentals for all SMEs, including another two months on appeal.

“I am not just hearing stories of evictions from people but SMEs as well, and this is a big concern as it could render workers jobless, making it impossible for them to pay their rent.

“So, the government needs to do more to help the SMEs by easing their financial burden through subsidies,” he added.

According to Santiago, the SMEs incurred estimated RM14.31 billion losses in operating cost during the six weeks of the Movement Control Order.

He said such efforts should be put in place until March next year as the full economic impact of the pandemic would only be felt in September or October this year.

Last week, the Perikatan Nasional government proposed a Covid-19 law to enable emergency and stimulus spending related to the Covid-19 pandemic and to raise the country’s legal debt limit.

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