A Sydney man who could not afford his rent amid the coronavirus lockdown was allegedly held hostage by his landlord and physically threatened until he paid up.
NSW Police said the 24-year-old male tenant and his friend arrived at the home he leased near Clifton Reserve in Surry Hills on Wednesday afternoon, and were met by the property owner, Mario Venneri, and another man.
The tenant told officers his rent was in arrears after he was financially affected during the COVID-19 lockdown, but claimed he had negotiated a payment plan with the property owner.
It is understood the terrace is rented for almost $1,000 a week.
Police said Mr Venneri and the other man entered into an altercation with the tenant and prevented him from leaving until he paid the outstanding amount in full.
Police said it was not clear yet whether the tenant suffered physical injuries as a result.
After the tenant transferred the funds, the pair were allowed to leave and then immediately reported the incident at Surry Hills Police Station.
Officers arrested property Mr Venneri, 56, later that night and charged him over the alleged incident.
Superintendent Tim Beattie said: "The rent arrears was a product of the COVID crisis and we know that the tenant had been negotiating to repay that money.
Superintendent Beattie warned landlords would suffer the "consequences" if they took rental arrears matters into their own hands.
"There are processes and mechanisms to retrieve that outstanding money," he said.
"If they cross the line there'll be certain consequences that will come with that."
Neighbours said the tenant had between six and 10 people staying with him at anyone time, all of whom appeared to be expats.
Mr Venneri spent the night in custody but appeared in court yesterday and was given conditional bail.
He is due to appear in court again in mid-August.
His 57-year-old friend, Anthony Mowad was arrested after presenting himself to Surry Hills Police Station yesterday afternoon and was also charged.
Mr Mowad, 57, appeared in Central Local Court today where was granted bail on the condition that he not communicate with his co-accused and the two alleged victims.
Another condition of his bail was that he stay away from the suburb of Surry Hills.
His lawyer Matthew Lorkin told the court Mr Mowad played a minor role in the incident and only knew the alleged victims through his co-accused.
Mr Lorkin told the court his client was "somewhat aghast" at Mr Venneri's behaviour and pulled him off the two men.
The court heard Mr Mowad was a respected restaurateur who did not have a history of violence.
Handcuffed and dressed in a black shirt and brown blazer, Mr Mowad appeared on video link from the Surry Hill Police Station.
At one point he asked if he could say something but the magistrate advised against it.
"I usually find people who speak get a shovel and dig a deep hole for themselves," he said.