Whether you are currently renting, or looking for a new lease - undoubtedly, you have considered how is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic going to impact me?
Does COVID-19 impact my rental agreement?
The Australian economic climate has changed significantly and renters, owners and property managers are being affected. All parties are required to comply with their rental agreement. This means paying rent, staying the lease term and leaving the property in good condition.
On 29 March, the Federal Government announced a 6 months moratorium on evictions. However, the effects of this announcement have not yet been implemented and it is important to stay up to date with this information as it may change at any stage.
What if I can’t pay my rent?
With the government’s recent forced closure of all non-essential businesses, many Australians have been left unemployed and struggling to meet their rental obligations. What can I do?
- Communicate your situation - open a dialogue with your owner or property manager to advise them of your financial situation.
- Seek landlord assistance - Consider requesting a delayed payment, rent reduction or rent deferment. However, this decision will be at the discretion of the owner unless the State Government mandates policies relating to renters. The landlord may be able to defer mortgage payments to ease their burden.
- Hardship provisions - If the worst case eventuates and you can’t pay rent at all. Some rental agreements have financial hardship provisions. However, these are generally only useful when one party wishes to exit the lease. Check the evictions.
It is important to note that if you are seeking rental adjustments, you might be asked for proof of:
- Employment termination
- Centrelink registration
- Eligibility for the JobSeeker or JobKeeper schemes
- Attempt to deduct from your superannuation (ASIC has warned agents not to give financial advice)
- A current bank statement to show saving balance
Will I be evicted?
The Federal Government has announced a 6-month moratorium on rental eviction:
- You cannot be evicted immediately for missing a rental payment.
- You are able to be behind in rent for a fixed period (differing by State), and then you will receive a notice, and a period in which you are able to pay back your rent.
- If you fail to comply with a Tribunal order to vacate, you can only be physically evicted by a Sheriff’s Officer, not the agent or owner.
- However, if you fail to meet your rental obligations and provide proof of inability to pay, you cannot be evicted for 6 months.
What if I have a Tribunal hearing/matter?
There are a number of adjustments that have been made to Tribunal proceedings in order to comply with social distancing laws. Although these differ by State, the majority of matters can be heard by telephone or audio-visual link, and do not require physical attendance. It is important to understand the adjustments relevant to your State.
What if I sublet or share my property with someone else?
It is important to implement best practice strict hygiene standards within your property, such as washing hands regularly, disinfecting door handles, cupboards and surfaces as well as ventilating rooms. Consider creating a timetable for the shared use of common spaces at separate times. Additionally, you can protect yourself by minimising visits of additional guests or occupants in the property.
Can I inspect properties available for rent?
The federal government has recently announced further restrictions with respect to property inspections. As of 25 March 2020, open home property inspections are not permitted where multiple parties attend at the same time. There is no clear timeline for the period of these restrictions.
Many property managers are organising private inspections and may request information to enable pre-qualification, pre-approval for rental suitability.
Must I provide access to an agent for inspections (routine or re-let)?
No current information suggests that the rights and responsibilities of a tenant have changed. However, with the introduction of a ban on all open home inspections, an agent can not request that you as a tenant vacate the property for a routine inspection.
“Landlords are still entitled to hold private inspections, as long as they do not breach reasonable peace, comfort and privacy of the property tenants. This will now require taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure compliance with social distancing laws, including:
- Ensuring no one touches anything
- Limiting the number of people inside the property at any given time
- Providing hand sanitizer/wash to all inspection attendees”
Despite the changing global climate with the onset of COVID-19, there have been no changes in the rights and responsibilities of renters. However, it is important to remain up to date with this information as a change could be implemented at any moment. Given the magnitude of the pandemic - agents, owners and tenants should be expected to reasonably renegotiate rental agreements to factor in the current circumstances. If you are concerned about your financial or rental situation, seek advice from one of the resources below.
Where can I seek advice?
- Tenants’ Union of NSW
- Tenants Victoria
- Tenants’ Advice Service (NT)
- Tenants Queensland
- Tenants’ Information and Advocacy Service (SA)
- Tenants’ Union of Tasmania
- Tenancy WA
- Legal Aid ACT Tenancy Advice Service
- National Debt Helpline: 1800 007 007
- Financial Rights Legal Centre
- ASIC’s MoneySmart website
- Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)
- Eviction Moratorium (Source: ABC News): abc.net.au/news/2020-04-01/coronavirus-eviction-moratorium-in-australia-what-does-it-mean/12105188
- Changes to rental laws: tenants.org.au/tu/news/rental-laws-are-changing-23rd-march (source: tenants.org.au
Update - 14 April 2020
Many state governments (NSW, VIC, QLD, TAS, WA, ACT) have begun to announce rental relief packages to address the financial concerns brought on with COVID-19. Although the Northern Territory and South Australian governments are yet to announce similar support measures, it is important to remain up to date with this information as it may change at any time.
On 13 April 2020, the NSW government announced a $440m relief package to assist renters and landlords affected by COVID-19 ($220m will be allocated to residential renters). The package is aimed at assisting renters over the coming 6 months.
Evictions: The government has enforced a six-month moratorium on evictions for any tenant that is in rental arrears due to COVID related financial hardship. This applies to tenants who have lost 25% or more of their income.
Negotiations: The government has announced that any landlord or managing agent must enter into negotiations with a tenant who is struggling to make rental payments.
Renters: An interim 60-day moratorium will be in place for new applications to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for forced evictions over COVID-19 related rental arrears and tenants will be protected from eviction until the tribunal is satisfied that negotiations have been finalised. However, any rent that is unpaid will accrue as arrears during this period and will require repayment eventually. State Governments have indicated that rent arrears relating to the COVID-19 period will not appear on national tenancy database records.
Landlords: The government will be assisting landlords by waiving land tax or providing rebates up to 25% if they are accommodating tenants under financial stress and a further land tax deferral for any outstanding amounts for a three-month period will also be offered to landlords claiming the land tax concession. For example, if a tenants’ income is reduced by 25% and the landlord reduced his/her rent by 25% from $400 to $300 per week, the $100 over 6 months ($2600) could be offset against the land tax bill upon assessment. However not all landlords will be eligible for this support as land tax is only paid for properties valued above $734,000.
On 15 April 2020, the Victorian government announced a $500m relief package to assist tenants and landlords - $80m of which will be set aside for tenants and $420m for land tax reductions (both residential and commercial). Through this scheme, tenants could qualify for up to $2000 in relief payments and rental assistance is set to be made available to at least 40,000 tenants in Victoria.
Relief Eligibility: However, the government stated that eligibility will require proof of rental distress. Tenants will need to prove that they are paying more than 30% of their wage/entitlements on rent, and must have less than $5000 in bank savings. While landlords must prove they have struck an agreement with tenants to reduce rent.
Landlords: Landlords will be eligible for a 25% discount on land tax, and the ability to defer payment of reaming land tax to March 2021.
Dispute Resolution: Additionally, the state government also suggested that landlords and tenants who struggled to strike a deal over rent reduction would b given access to fast-tracked dispute resolution services.
Evictions and Rent Increases: A moratorium on rental rises and evictions are both set to be legislated for a 6-month period.
The state government will be providing up to 25% in land tax discounts and 3-month land-tax deferrals for 2020 as part of a $400m rental relief package. This relief is on the proviso that savings are passed on to tenants in the form of commensurate rent relief. Tenants with a vacant property currently available for lease are also eligible for this discount.
The state government has announced it will ban evictions and rent increases during the state of emergency, make fixed-term leases that would be due to end during the crisis roll over into month-to-month leases, let tenants end leases without break-lease fees, and make landlords less obliged to conduct non-urgent repairs. However, WA is not set to provide financial relief to tenants. Additionally, the government has outlined that there will be no requirements for tenants to provide proof of savings or lack thereof, and a letter from a former employer should be sufficient proof of financial hardship.
The government announced that evictions will still be allowed in limited circumstances and that the new regulations did not mean tenants will not have to pay rent or any arrears, due to hardship, at the end of the lease. However, the announcement on 14 April suggested that a final decision about rental arrears was yet to be reached and as such, it is important to stay up to date with this information.
Notice to Vacate: The state government has announced an immediate halt to terminations by notice to vacate until 30 June 2020. This applies to a notice to vacate which has been issued to a tenant, where the tenant is yet to vacate, except:
- by agreement with the tenant, or
- 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, or
- where the notice to vacate has been served due to the tenant using the property for an unlawful purpose, or
- in the circumstance where it is terminated for severe hardship by the Commissioner.
Notices to Vacate can still be issued before 30 June 2020 but will have no effect until after this date.
Rent Reduction: During this period, owners and tenants can come to an agreement to reduce rent. This agreement should be in writing, signed by both parties and will be taken to form part of the residential tenancy agreement.
The state government has announced that if a landlord reduced rent by at least 25% for up to six months, they will be entitled to rebated on their rates and land tax. This support will be backdated and is effective from 1 April 2020 for up to six months. The baseline for the 25 per cent rent reduction is the rent payable on the property as at 1 March 2020. For example, if you are paying $400 in rent per week, and your landlord reduces your rent by 25% to $300, they will receive a rebate of $50 per week for up to six months. The government has suggested that in order to claim this rent reduction, tenants will need to provide their landlord with evidence of fallen income as a result of COVID-19. This evidence may include a letter from your employer or a statutory declaration. If a landlord agrees to reduce the rent and to apply for the tax rebate, the difference cannot be claimed from the tenant at a later date. Additionally, the government has announced that real estate agents will not be permitted to ‘blacklist’ any tenant that falls into arrears as a result of COVD-19.
Although there have been no announcements regarding the progression of support packages for a tenancy in the Northern Territory or South Australia, information is constantly evolving and it is important to stay up to date to ensure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities.