Rent waivers for council-managed properties ‘unfair’

Liam Durkin

A LOCAL business owner believes Wellington Shire Council is granting unfair advantages to tenants operating in council-managed properties.

After receiving a notice from council in April, Triple F Takeaway, Sale, Carol Miller was bemused to discover council had voted to waive tenancy costs of council-managed commercial properties and caravan parks leased through council, effective from March 23 and set to expire August 22.

In an email sent to council, Ms Miller called into question the distribution of ratepayers’ money to pay for rent in council-managed properties, and argued council did not take into consideration whether it was a fair and equal way to support all ratepayers.

Specifically, the Triple F proprietor is seeking answers as to why another hospitality business is receiving free rent despite only resuming trade after JobKeeper was implemented, as opposed to other venues that had operated during the lockdown.

“I’ve been in touch with the council a couple of times to ask how they thought it was fair to use ratepayers’ money to put another cafĂ©, who had closed down, back open with no rent,” Ms Miller explained.

“I’m really taking exception to them giving somebody free rent for five months on ratepayers’ money.

“Why couldn’t they have set up a fund for landlords to help landlords, instead of just doing it for the council-managed buildings?

“It’s about the council using ratepayers’ money to enable another business that was closed to reopen and pay no rent.

“It’s just questionable distribution of funds.”

As the hospitality industry continues to face an evolving need to adapt, Ms Miller believes council is affording special treatment to tenants in its own backyard.

“I don’t see why my landlord should have to subsidise my rent if I’m still open and working,” she said.

“They’ve got JobKeeper, as whoever applied for it has, but not only have they got JobKeeper so they’re not paying wages, but they’re not paying rent.

“They [council] should have done a blanket support, not just their managed buildings.

“This is not cheap rent that they are giving away for nothing, this is a substantial amount of money over five months.

“It is very self-serving and it’s detrimental to other businesses that are working very hard to stay afloat.”

In response to her email, Wellington Shire councillor Darren McCubbin wrote it made good business sense to take a short term loss on a rental for a few months in order to keep someone in business, and that council did not have the power to dictate what other landlords did.

“The alternative is a long stretch with an unoccupied building, achieving no rent as we search for a new tenant,” he said.

“It might be years before we put someone in that building again,” part of the response read.

“It is beyond our power to force other landlords to waive the rent, however we can publicly demonstrate our commitment to local business enterprise and advocate that they do the same.”

Mayor Alan Hall wrote it was common practice for councils to provide relief for businesses directly under its wing.

“Wellington Shire Council is not alone in offering rent relief for its commercial tenants,” part of his email to Ms Miller said.

“Other councils across Australia have provided a similar package, including rental relief for commercial tenants operating hospitality businesses impacted by the pandemic restrictions.

“The rental assistance was intended to avoid our tenants’ businesses permanently closing – a real possibility – and one which would provide a worse outcome for council both financially, and in lost jobs.

“It is also worth noting that the lease under which the current operators are bound to, was open to public tender not that long ago.”

The council’s rental assistance package to businesses that operate in council-owned properties expires in just under two months.