Landlords are suffering as well

By Rhonda Dredge

Five levels of 19th century brick in Hardware Lane were a dream investment for almost 40 years for the Halat family.

Vivienne’s mum Sylvia lived off the rent of 75 Hardware Lane after her husband John died. 

Sylvia, now 94, is ailing and was about to enter an aged care facility.

Then the pandemic hit, wiping out her income as all of the businesses in the building shut down, including a Mexican restaurant at ground level. 

“She’s fallen through the cracks,” Vivienne said. Her mum is not eligible for the pension because of the value of her assets but she’s not receiving any income.

Vivienne and her sister Jenny are negotiating with a facility and will be able to use Sylvia’s savings but it’s the family’s proud history that has taken a hit, like those of many with strong connections to the CBD.

As businesses face crunch time this month, many expecting eviction notices, the Halat situation shows the other side of the equation. The COVID-19 crisis has ripped into the livelihood and memories of landlords as well. 

Vivienne has fond memories of visiting her dad in the city when he shifted his solicitor business here during the ‘80s. 

“He was a sociable man,” Vivienne said. “I remember. I was working at 500 Bourke St. It’s still there. I walked up for lunch. His office was on the second floor. On the ground floor and basement was a restaurant run by Hermann Schneider.”

The restaurant was very classy. Her dad was “dead proud”. Hardware Lane was just being discovered. “It was still a thoroughfare. There were no bollards or tables.” 

For postwar immigrants John and Sylvia, who met in Prague in the enrolment queue for university, the building was a statement of the couple’s success in a new country. 

“He studied and worked. Mum also worked. He had an office at home, came then into 406 [Lonsdale St] then here.” He did commercial law, mostly for the migrant community, then bought the building with his partner, who still owns half. He worked here until he died in 1992. 

The Halats reduced the rent but now they’re receiving no income. Vivienne doesn’t know what will happen to the building and is afraid that the cost of upkeep will make it “a white elephant”. 

Sylvia’s decline has coincided with the pandemic and her move into aged care has been fraught. 

“She’s been kicked out of the respite place and we were just about to put her into the aged care facility. The night before, a staff member had a COVID test.”

Vivienne is trying to be philosophical. “We’ve just hit a snag, a significant snag.”

She wonders about the future value of commercial property. The spaces are open plan on each level. The original use was a warehouse. “Maybe we could turn it into a gallery and artists’ studios,” she said •

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