RENT

What do the changes mean?

  • Some States and Territories have already put in place measures to protect from eviction tenants who have
    been affected financially by COVID-19

  • Overall, there has been an attempt to protect tenants
    but no doubt there will be loopholes.

     

Page last updated on 21/08/2020

State and Territory residential tenancy relief

Australian Capital Territory


Changes to the law

The ACT Residential Tenancies Act has been amended to give power to the Minister to make declarations about the following:

  • Prohibiting the termination of a residential tenancy agreement in stated circumstances

  • Prohibiting the recovery of possession of premises under a residential tenancy agreement

  • Changing or limiting enforcement or rights by the landlord against the tenant

  • Prohibiting or limiting negative listing on a residential tenancy database

  • Making exemptions from any provision of the Act.

  • Giving the ability for tenants and landlords to agree rent reductions

The declaration will continue until ended by the Minister.

Rent relief

The government will provide rebates on land tax and rates to landlords of residential properties who reduce rents by at least 25 per cent for tenants affected by COVID-19.

The rebate for landlords will be equal to 50 per cent of the rent reduction, capped at $1300 per quarter for up to six months.

The potential rental relief for tenants will be up to $200 per week.

There is also a one-off $250 payment available for social and community housing households.

Resources:

ACT Government: Residential Tenancy Relief

Tenancy Advice Service ACT

Tenants Union ACT




New South Wales


A support package has been announced for tenants who can prove they have been affected by COVID-19. If they haven’t been affected, tenants are expected to continue paying rent under their existing tenancy agreement in full.

The changes have now been legislated and commenced on 15 April 2020.

The tenant is considered to be affected by COVID-19 when one or more members of the household:

  • Have lost their employment, income or work hours due to COVID-19 business closures or stand-downs; or
  • Have had to stop working or substantially reduce work hours due to illness with COVID-19 or to care for a household or family member with COVID-19; and
  • This resulted in a reduction in the weekly household income (including government assistance) of at least 25 per cent.

There are two significant changes:

  1. A 60-day stop on landlords issuing termination notices or applying for eviction orders at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal due to rental arrears. This moratorium started on 15 April 2020.
  2. After the 60-day interim stop, there is a six-month moratorium on landlords making applications for evictions due to rental arrears. The landlord can only apply for eviction where they can show the following:
  • They tried to negotate rent reductions in good faith; and
  • The landlord and tenant tried to mediate any dispute through the NSW Fair Trading dispute resolution process; and
  • Where landlords try to negotiate rent reductions in good faith; and
  • It would be fair and reasonable in the circumstances to terminate the tenancy.
3. There are limits on the amount of break costs that can be charged for the early termination of a fixed term lease.

Check the flow chart: Termination of tenancy during COVID-19: Rent arrears or charges.

Rent Choice Assist Covid-19 provides time limited rent support to low income households who have suffered a significant loss of income due to Covid-19. For further details see fact sheet

updated 10th June 2020

Resources:

NSW Fair Trading: Six month moratorium on residential tenancy evictions during COVID-19.

Tenants’ Union NSW, NSW Government Communities and Justice Rent Choice Assist fact sheet




Northern Territory


The government has not announced specific changes or legislation to protect tenants at this stage.

Resources:

NT Government: Business Recovery

Darwin Community Legal Service Tenants Advice Service

Darwin CLS Coronavirus and tenancy: Fact Sheet




Queensland


Rent relief

The Queensland Government has introduced a new regulation to cover residential tenancy changes to respond to the impact of COVID-19. There are a range of measures to support tenants including:

  • Tenants in financial distress due to the pandemic who cannot meet their rent commitments cannot be evicted or listed on a tenancy database for rent arrears

  • Fixed term agreements due to expire during the pandemic will be extended to 30 September 2020 unless the tenant requests a shorter term

  • Capping break lease fees for eligible tenants (where household income has fallen by at least 75 per cent and who have savings of less than $5000)

  • Owner obligations for routine repairs and inspections have been relaxed

  • Tenants may refuse entry for routine repairs for non-essential reasons

COVID-19 Rental Grant

This is a one-off payment of up to four weeks’ rent (maximum of $2000) available to people affected by the pandemic who do not have access to other financial assistance.

If approved the grant is paid to the landlord.

To be eligible, the tenant must:

  • Have tried to make a payment arrangement with the landlord and all attempts have been declined. The tenant must have evidence of this, such as a letter or email from them outlining the reasons why a payment plan cannot be agreed on)

  • Live in Queensland

  • Have, or will shortly have, a bond registered with the Residential Tenancies Authority

  • Be an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or have a temporary or permanent protection visa or possess a bridging visa

  • Not have more than $10,000 in cash and savings

  • Have lost their job and have applied to Centrelink for income support

  • Waiting for their application with Centrelink to be approved.

The next step is to complete the application form.

Resources:

Queensland Government: The Residential Rental Hub

Queensland Government: Coronavirus land tax relief

COVID-19 Rental Grant

Qstars




South Australia


The State Parliament has introduced a number of initiatives to help tenants who have been affected by COVID-19. These measures have been extended until the 6th of February 2021, or 28 days after all relevant declarations relating to COVID-19 have ceased (whichever comes first).

Tenants who have been impacted by the pandemic but still have the capacity should continue to pay their rent.

The new measures:

  • Introduce a short-term moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent due to financial hardship as a result of COVID-19

  • Prevent increases in rent

  • Allow landlords to use technology (for example, Facetime, time-stamped photos) to do routine inspections where possible, unless there are exceptional circumstances and sufficient safety measures in place for an inspection in person.

  • Extend the tenant’s ability to arrange to have repairs carried out by agreement with the landlord

  • Provide a general protection for tenants who breach their agreement as a result of complying with a direction under law relating to COVID-19.

Tenants are encouraged to work with their landlord to reach agreement. When an agreement cannot be reached, the matter may need to go before the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Resources:

SA Government Consumer and Business Services: Rental advice due to COVID-19

South Australian Tenants’ Information and Advisory Service




Tasmania


Tasmania has made changes to residential tenancies with the introduction of the COVID-19 Disease (Emergency Provisions) Act 2020.

  • Any notice to vacate issued to a tenant is of no effect until 30 June 2020. The measure will then be reviewed and may be extended. This applies to any notice to vacate issued where the tenant is yet to vacate except:
    • By agreement with the tenant
    • If it is a non-fixed term tenancy and the notice to vacate has been served prior to 3 April 2020 because the property is to be sold
    • Where the notice to vacate has been served due to the tenant using the property for an unlawful purpose or
    • Where the lease is terminated for severe hardship by the commissioner.
  • Tenants and landlords can reduce the rent by mutual agreement. This should be in writing and signed by both parties.
  • Tenants can apply to break a fixed term lease if in severe financial hardship. The tenant can apply to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner to get an order to terminate the agreement due to severe financial hardship caused by COVID-19.
  • There is a suspension of evictions relating to rent in arrears for the emergency period (120 days).
  • The government strongly advises tenants to keep paying rent if able to do so.
  • Inspections can only proceed in very specific circumstances, for example by agreement, likely damage, the tenant is ill or unable to give permission, or the premises may be abandoned.
Covid-19 Rent Relief payment is a one-off payment up to $2000 paid to landlords or their agents who have entered into a temporary rent reduction agreement to keep tenants securely housed. For further information see fact sheet updated 10th June 2020

Resources:

Tasmanian Government Consumer Building and Occupational Services: Changes to residential tenancies in Tasmania during emergency period (COVID-19).

Tenants’ Union of Tasmania. www.communities.tas.gov.au Rent Relief payment fact sheet.




Victoria


Laws have been introduced in Victoria for tenants affected by the pandemic. The laws will apply to tenants and sub tenants and also include residents living in rooming houses, social housing, a caravan park or specialist disability accommodation.

The laws apply until the end of 2020. The details are:

  • The landlord cannot evict tenants except if the tenant damages the property, uses it for criminal activity, serious violence occurs or the tenant is able to pay rent but refuses to do so.

  • If the tenant is unable to pay the rent, the tenant may be able to negotiate a temporary rent reduction with the landlord.

  • Notices to vacate cannot be served after 29 March 2020.

  • There is now a new process for negotiating a reduced rental agreement.

  • Tenants may be able to access a Rent Relief Grant . The grant will be paid directly to the landlord. When first introduced this grant was up to $2,000. As of 20th August, the maximum grant increased to $3,000. New recipients able to apply for the full amount, with up to $1,000 extra available for previous recipients.

  • Rental increases are also banned until the end of 2020.

  • As of 20th August, commercial landlords are required to provide rent relief in proportion with the fall in turnover being experienced by eligible tenants.

  • As of 20th August, the Victorian Small Business Commission has greater capacity to make an order on rent relief if a landlord refuses to respond to rent relief requests.

  • As of 20th August, residential and commercial landlords may also be eligible for an increased land tax discount – now up to 50 per cent – doubled from the earlier 25 per cent.

Resources:

Consumer Affairs Victoria: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and your rights

Tenants Victoria

Victorian Government: Negotiate a rent reduction

Victorian Small Business Commission




Western Australia


The Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020 is proposed when enacted to introduce the following changes:

  • a moratorium on evictions for six months beginning 30 March 2020. The moratorium can be reduced or extended. Leases can still be terminated if the tenant causes damage, posing a threat to the landlord or neighbours, refusing to make a rent payment agreement or of they abandon the property.
  • encouraging tenants and landlords to negotiate a revised rental agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached, they are required to participate in a mandatory conciliation facilitated by the Commission for Consumer Protection.
  • a prohibition on rent increases during the emergency period
  • that any fixed term tenancy agreement due to expire during the emergency period will continue as a periodic agreement
  • relieving lessors of the obligation to conduct ordinary repairs if the reason they cannot do so is COVID-19 related financial hardship or a lawful restriction on movement
  • enabling a tenant to end a fixed term tenancy prior to its end date without incurring break lease fees (tenants will still be liable for damage and rent arrears).

Tenants may be eligible for rent relief payments of up to $2000 in the Residential Rent Relief Grant Scheme. Eligibility is for tenants in financial hardship, which means they:

  • have lost their job after 20 March 2020
  • have applied for Centrelink income support
  • have less than $10,000 in household savings
  • are currently paying rent of at least 25 per cent of the total after tax household income

Resources:

WA Government: Residential tenancies – COVID-19 response

WA Government: Residential Rent Relief Grant Scheme

WA Government: Laws to provide support for commercial and residential tenants and landlords.

WA Government: COVID-19 coronavirus Consumer Protection FAQ

Tenancy WA





What do you do differently?

Page last updated on 01/06/2020

  • Tenants should be encouraged to negotiate with their landlord
    for a rent reduction, if needed.

  • There will be a tension between what the client can afford in rent and what reduction the landlord may be able to afford (or thinks is reasonable). 

  • Deferrals should still be avoided because this just creates a debt. We do not know when the pandemic will end so the debt could get very large.

  • If a tenant is still being threatened with eviction, this is an urgent situation and the tenant needs tenancy advice. People will still be evicted because they may not meet the criteria for protection. 

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for financial counsellors only. It is general information only. Financial counsellors must still tailor advice to their client’s individual circumstances. 

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FCA sincerely thanks Kat Lane. Liz Minter and Melinda Rene for their outstanding work in putting this site together.