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Government initiatives for landlords impacted by COVID-19
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Government initiatives for landlords impacted by COVID-19

21 Apr 2020 15 mins read

The rights and responsibilities of landlords are becoming clearer each day, as state and territory governments announce amendments to tenancy acts. This is what EBM RentCover clients need to know…

On 29 March, the Australian Government announced landlords will be banned from evicting tenants under financial stress caused by the COVID-19 economic downturn for the next six months. This came amid concerns the jobless wouldn’t be able to afford rent.

The state and territory governments were asked to settle on the finer details of the eviction freeze and move to put official moratoriums in place – which they are doing with legislation being passed in all jurisdictions. In some cases, the legislation has been amended to also address matters other than evictions, such as rent increases.

In addition to these changes in legislation, state and territory governments have also developed programs, such as relief packages, to support landlords and tenants through this unprecedented time.

While EBM RentCover is still analysing the amendments that relate to the way rental properties are managed (and working out exactly how insurance plays a part in all of this), we have compiled important info to help our clients navigate this time.

TIP: We have compiled this by state/territory, so jump to your jurisdiction to find out how your property is impacted.

IMPORTANT: While we have done all we can to make sure the info below is true and accurate at the time of publication, this is a constantly evolving situation and things may change. We will do our best to update this page regularly but recommend you visit the Australian Government COVID-19 information pages and similar state/territory government sites (listed under each jurisdiction below) for the most up-to-date information.

Queensland (QLD)

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, blacklisting (updated 28/4)

On 22 April, the Queensland State Government passed legislation to implement measures to freeze evictions due to rent arrears for Queensland tenants impacted by COVID-19.

The new protections mean landlords are unable to evict a tenant for rent arrears caused by financial distress due to the impact of COVID-19.  The freeze on evictions was made retrospective and applies from Sunday 29 March 2020. Tenants will also be able to seek a rent reduction, so long as they meet the criteria for hardship.

If a tenant cannot pay rent due to the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak (e.g. they are ill or lose their job and income) and want to end their lease early, they will be allowed to do so. However, they will only be able to break the lease with limited fees if they can prove a 75 per cent loss of income.

A framework for landlords and tenants to reach an amicable solution in instances where tenants cannot pay is being established. Any agreement about changes to the tenancy arrangement should be recorded in writing, including rent adjustments (use the RTA forms provided on their website). If agreement cannot be reached, conciliation through the RTA will be a mandatory process.

It should be noted that landlords/property managers can issue a notice to leave for an approved reason to end a tenancy except for rent arrears caused by financial distress due to the impact of COVID-19.

The Queensland Government has also indicated that tenants who are experiencing hardship will not be placed on a tenancy database (blacklisted),

A Residential Tenancies Practice Guide COVID-19 for property owners and tenants formalises the temporary requirements and protections for tenancies impacted by COVID-19.

The Guide provides detail on:

  • Threshold criteria to qualify for the application of the COVID-19 rental response, that includes a 25 per cent reduction in income, or where rent exceeds 30 per cent of the tenant’s income.
  • The evidence that tenants can be asked to provide the same proof of finances to property managers just as they would when starting a tenancy.
  • Access for the sale of the property, virtual rental inspections and access for essential repairs and maintenance.
  • The 75 per cent income loss and less than $5,000 in savings threshold before a tenant is eligible for a 7-day cap on break-lease fees if they end a fixed-term lease early.
  • The extension on the term of a fixed-term tenancy agreement during the COVID-19 period to 30 September 2020 unless agreed otherwise by the owner and tenant, or there is an appropriate ground to end the tenancy.
  • Conciliation with the Residential Tenancies Authority, including the renegotiation of lease agreements where parties are COVID-19 affected, which could cover new rent payments and deferrals if this is agreed to.

In addition to the guidelines, a Housing Security Sub-Committee will be established to oversee their implementation, made up of representatives of the Residential Tenancies Authority, Real Estate Institute of Queensland, QShelter, Tenants Queensland and the Queensland Council of Social Service.

Relief packages (updated 26/05)

A rental grant for tenants experiencing hardship and unable to access (or waiting for) other financial support has been introduced. Rental grants of up to four weeks’ rent (to a maximum of $2,000) are available for eligible tenants.

On 14 April, the Queensland Government pledged over $400 million to support commercial and residential landlords and tenants affected by COVID-19. The initiative includes up to $400 million in land tax relief for eligible landlords, which must be passed on to tenants.

Eligible landowners can apply for up to three months waiver and three months deferral of land tax if they fulfil the eligibility criteria. Eligible landlords must also commit to comply with a set of principles, which include not evicting their tenants and not charging break-lease fees.

Additional information

The Queensland Government has introduced border restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. Only Queensland residents, residents of border communities undertaking essential activities and those considered an ‘exempt person’ can cross the border. This means that landlords with a rental in Queensland but who live in other states/territories will not be able to visit their investment property until the restrictions are lifted. 

Important resource

  • The Hub – the Queensland Government’s central point for information and support on the COVID-19 changes affecting renting in Queensland.  
  • The Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) – can provide information and support tenants and property owners to reach mutual agreements during this time. It can also offer a free dispute resolution service if further support is needed.
New South Wales (NSW)

Tenancy matters – evictions, rent arrears, blacklisting (updated 26/05)

The NSW State Government has has ordered a six-month moratorium on new forced evictions if the tenant is in rental arrears because they are suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 (effective from 29 March 2020).

It should be noted that the moratorium only applies to tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 and does not apply if the eviction is due to rent arrears resulting from other reasons.

If a tenant is finding it difficult to make rental payments as a result of COVID-19 and has suffered a loss of income greater than 25 per cent, the landlord/property manager and tenant must try to negotiate rental reductions in good faith.

At the emergency parliamentary sitting on 12 May, a change to break-lease fees was introduced. Tenants who are unable to negotiate a rent reduction with their landlord can seek to terminate their lease through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), which will limit compensation to the landlord at no more than two weeks’ rent.

In addition to the moratorium on forced evictions due to rental arrears, the NSW Government's package also puts an interim 60-day halt on new termination notices and termination applications to the NCAT for terminations dues to rental arrears as a result of a household being unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 crisis. This 60-day stop on evictions expires on 13 June 2020.

After the 60 days, a tenant(s) who is still unable to meet their rental obligations due to COVID-19 can only have their tenancy terminated on the basis of rental arrears if the landlord has attempted to negotiate reduced rent in “good faith” and if it is “fair and reasonable” to do so. At the end of the 60 days, tenants and landlords will have access to assistance from Fair Trading and access to the NCAT to resolve matters.

Unpaid rent will still accrue as arrears during this period, but tenants will not be able to be blacklisted or evicted for arrears.

As part of the package, notice periods for certain other lease termination reasons have also been extended to 90 days.

Relief packages

On 13 April, the NSW Government announced a $220 million relief package for residential renters and landlords affected by Government-enforced COVID-19 restrictions (a further $220 million is being allocated for commercial properties).

The money has been allocated to residential tenants who have lost 25 per cent or more of their income, and at the same time residential landlords will be eligible for a land tax waiver or rebate of up to 25 per cent if that saving is passed onto financially distressed tenants.

Important resources

  • The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal – has resources to help landlords through this time and can suggest action when parties are unwilling or unable to reach an agreement and action is taken to seek an eviction.
  • The NSW Government Office of Fair Trading – has information about getting through this time and has a dispute resolution service to assist landlords and tenants that are unable to re-negotiate and agree on new rental arrangements.
Victoria (VIC)

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, rent increases (updated 28/4)

Legislation to reform residential and commercial tenancy laws was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 23 April.

The reforms include introducing a temporary six-month ban on evictions (except in some circumstances, such as if tenants damage the property, use it for criminal activity, or serious violence occurs) and pausing rental increases for six months (effective from 29 March 2020).

Under the new laws, tenants will not be able to stop paying the rent, but they will be entitled to apply to leave the tenancy if they want to due to financial hardship and not have to pay fees for breaking the lease; or stay and negotiate a rent reduction with the landlord/property manager.

Landlords will not be able to increase rent until 26 September 2020.  

The Victorian Government is also setting up a fast-tracked dispute resolution process for tenants and landlords, to be mediated by Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Victorian Small Business Commission.

In addition, the legislation enables the relief package to come into effect to provide landlords with land tax relief and tenants experiencing financial hardship with rent relief. Access to the relief will be subject the landlords and tenants working together.

Relief packages (updated 26/05)

On 15 April, the Victorian Government announced a $500 million package to assist commercial and residential landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 crisis.

Landlords will be able to access land tax relief (25 per cent discount) if they give their tenants rent discounts, and defer any remaining land tax until March 2021. It is expected that 10,000 landlords will access the $420 million land tax relief package.

An $80 million rent relief program will be introduced for eligible tenants suffering financial hardship/rental stress. Rent relief grants of up to $2,000 may be available to tenants who have registered their revised agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria or gone through mediation, have less than $5,000 in savings and still be paying at least 30 per cent of their income in rent.

A new Coronavirus Relief Deputy Commissioner will be established at the State Revenue Office to manage claims.

Important resources

Western Australia (WA)

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, rent increases (updated 26/05)

On 16 April, the Western Australian State Government passed legislation to address residential tenancies impacted by rental distress due to COVID-19.

The new legislation has introduced a moratorium on eviction for six months except in limited circumstances: if a tenant is causing serious damage to the property or injury to the landlord or a person in adjacent premises; the landlord or tenant is experiencing undue hardship; a tenant is experiencing family violence and the perpetrator needs to be evicted; the tenant abandons the premises; or the agreement is frustrated.

The WA Government noted that it was a moratorium on evictions, not a moratorium on rent. Tenants are required to continue paying rent and arrears will accrue. Any unpaid rent will still need to be paid at the end of the moratorium period and the landlord will then be able to pursue payment as they would normally. However, interest will not be able to be charged on rent arrears. Tenants can be evicted if they do not pay their rent for any reason other than severe financial hardship or refuse to make a rent payment agreement.

The moratorium period is effective for six months as of 30 March 2020, but can be reduced or extended by regulations to deal with changing circumstances.

The legislation also sees rent increases prohibited for six months and suspends landlords’ non-urgent repair obligations if they are experiencing financial hardship or are not able to access the premises due to restrictions on movement.

In addition, all fixed-term leases that are due to expire during the next six months will continue as periodic agreements, and tenants will be able to end fixed-term tenancies prior to the listed end date without incurring break-lease fees if they are experiencing COVID-19 related financial hardship (tenants will still be liable for damage and rent arrears).

Applications to have the tenancy agreement terminated can be made to the Magistrate’s Court if the landlord or tenant is experiencing undue hardship.

Landlords and tenants are urged to negotiate and come to mutually beneficial arrangements about when rent will be paid in a bid to preserve tenancy during the six-month period. However, if agreement can’t be reached, landlord and tenant will be required to participate in mandatory conciliation facilitated by the Commissioner for Consumer Protection.

Relief packages (updated 23/4)

On 23 April, the WA Government announced a $30 million package to support residential tenants and landlords.

Grants of up to $2,000 will be available for eligible tenants who have lost their job and are facing financial hardship. Under the scheme, grants equivalent to four weeks’ rent, up to a maximum of $2,000, will be paid directly to the tenant’s landlord to contribute to the tenant’s rental payments.

The grant will be available to tenants or sub-tenants who have lost their job, applied to Centrelink for income support, have less than $10,000 in savings, and are still paying at least 25 per cent of their income in rent.

The residential rent relief grants will be administered through the Department of Mines, Industry regulation and Safety, with applications opening from 1 May 2020. The grants will be available on a first come, first served basis to encourage landlords to negotiate early with tent who are in financial hardship due to COVID-19. To qualify for the residential grant, landlords must agree not to seek to recover this rent relief from tenants at the end of the period.

Additional information

The WA Government has declared a state of emergency which prohibits non-essential travel into and around the State. WA’s borders are closed and travellers are not able to enter Western Australia unless exempt. This means that a landlord with a rental in WA but who lives in another state/territory will not be able to visit their investment property until the restrictions are lifted. 

Important resources

South Australia (SA)

Tenancy matters – evictions, rent increases, blacklisting

On 8 April, the South Australian State Government passed legislation that protects landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the new laws, a residential tenancy cannot be terminated if failure to pay rent is a result of financial hardship stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rent increases are also prohibited for the next six months.

The measures also prohibit tenants from being blacklisted on residential tenancy databases and provide “a general protection for tenants who breach their agreement as a result of complying with a direction under law relating to COVID-19”.

Where tenants can’t pay rent as a result of COVID-19, they are encouraged to work with landlords on an agreement and – where an agreement cannot be reached – the matter may then go before the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Measures passed into law also allow tenants to use video services like FaceTime or video or time-stamped photos to replace routine inspections.

Relief packages

In November 2019, the SA Government announced it was cutting land tax paid by investors and landlords by $189 million from July. Revenue SA advises that businesses and individuals paying land tax quarterly in 2019-20 will be able to defer payment of their third and fourth quarter instalments for up to six months.  In March, the government also announced an additional $13 million relief package. For 2020-21, Land Tax Transition Fund relief will be increased from 50 per cent to 100 per cent, based on existing relief criteria guidelines.

Additional information

The SA Government has introduced travel restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential travellers arriving at a SA border must complete 14 days of forced quarantine – and this will apply to any landlord who owns a rental in SA but lives in another state/territory and wishes to visit their investment property.

Important resources

Tasmania (TAS)

Tenancy matters – evictions, repairs

On 3 April, the Tasmanian State Government introduced a 120-day emergency period into its Residential Tenancy Act ending on 25 July and extendable by further 90-day increments if necessary.

During the 120-day emergency period, tenants cannot be evicted for falling into rental arrears. This means during the emergency period the landlord/property manager  will not be able to issue a notice to vacate for rent in arrears, and any notice to vacate given before the emergency period begins will have no effect if the tenant has not yet vacated. All evictions due to rent arrears, including those currently before the courts, are suspended during this period.

The changes include an immediate halt to termination by notice to vacate and any notice to vacate issued by an owner to a tenant has no effect until 30 June 2020 (this date may be extended).  Leases can still be terminated during the emergency period:

  • if tenants agree;
  • 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
  • if the tenant or landlord make a successful hardship application.

The landlord or tenant can also apply to the Magistrates Court of Tasmania to terminate the agreement as a result of violence or damage caused by wilful behaviour.

During this period, it is suggested owners and tenants come to an agreement to reduce the rent and should put any changes in writing and both parties must sign (this change will then form part of the residential tenancy agreement).

As a last resort, tenants or landlords can apply to break a fixed-term lease if its continuation is likely to cause severe hardship. This should go through the Residential Tenancy Commissioner.

Other changes include general repairs and maintenance not being required to be done during the emergency period, however, there is no change to emergency or urgent repairs as these are necessary to ensure the health and safety of tenants. Property inspections during the emergency period are also only permitted in certain circumstances.

Relief packages

On 19 May 2020, the Tasmania Government announced the introduction of the Rent Relief Fund. Tenants who are experiencing housing stress (i.e. paying more than 30 per cent of their income in rent and with less than $5,000 in savings) because of the impacts of COVID-19 can apply for Rent Relief. The scheme provides up to $2,000 or four weeks’ rent to assist with rent payments. The one-off payment is paid to landlords or their agents who have entered into an approved temporary rent reduction agreement with their tenant. 

Additional information

The Tasmanian Government has declared a state of emergency which requires all non-essential travellers to self-isolate for 14 days in government provided accommodation. This means that a landlord with a rental in Tasmania but who lives in another state/territory will be required to self-isolate on arrival in Tasmania if they wish to visit their investment property.  

Important resources

The Northern Territory (NT)

Tenancy matters (updated 26/05)

On 24 April, the Northern Territory Government passed COVID-19 emergency legislation including the Tenancies Legislation Amendment Bill 2020.

Unlike in other jurisdictions, the Northern Territory will not implement a ban on evictions for tenants in financial distress due to COVID-19. The Attorney-General noted that the NT’s Self Government Act barred the introduction of a moratorium or rent freezes or waivers.

Instead, the rental laws, which will be in place only while the COVID-19 emergency declaration is in place, will push for “good faith negotiations” between tenants and landlords.

The negotiation and mediation process will mean residential tenants will have 60 days (previously 14 days) until notices can be issued about rental arrears and another 60 days (previously 14 days) before they can be evicted – giving tenants and landlords 120 days to negotiate the next steps. Only after the 120 days, if negotiations break down, can landlords move to evict tenants under the normal process of going through NTCAT.

Renters will have to provide proof of financial hardship, defined as a reduction in income so that rental payments exceed 30 per cent of household income, to be eligible for the protection.

On 28 April 2020 and 11 May 2020, the Northern Territory Parliament passed COVID-19 Modification Notices that impact the processes involved in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999

Important resources: (updated 26/5)

Relief packages

At the time of writing, no relief packages had been announced by the Northern Territory Government.

Additional information

The NT Government has introduced border controls to slow the spread of COVID-19. Non-essential travellers arriving at a NT border must complete 14 days of forced quarantine – and this will apply to any landlord who owns a rental in the NT but lives in another state/territory and wishes to visit their investment property.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Tenancy matters – evictions, rent increases, blacklisting (updated 7/5)

The Australian Capital Territory Government has made temporary changes to residential tenancy legislation to support tenants financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and to assist landlords. Measures include a moratorium on evictions due to rental arrears, temporary freeze on rental increases and preventing ‘blacklisting’ as a result of tenants not being able to pay rent.

The measures only apply to “impacted households”, which are those where income has decreased by at least 25 per cent or the tenant is an eligible JobSeeker or JobKeeper.

Landlords/agents will not be able to evict an impacted household for the non-payment of rent for three months (from 22 April to 22 July 2020). Evictions on other grounds still apply and tenants whose household income has not been impacted by COVID-19 must continue to pay their rent or face eviction.

If a tenant has had their income significantly impacted by COVID-19, they are encouraged to engage with landlords to discuss alternative payment arrangements such as a rent reduction or rental payment freeze.

Impacted households can request a rent reduction for up to six months. If agreed, the tenant does not have to repay the difference between the original rent amount and the reduced rent at the end of the six months. However, if a rent freeze is negotiated, the full amount of any rent not collected becomes a debt owed to the landlord. Landlords cannot charge interest on the arrears.

Tenants cannot be blacklisted for non-payment of rent which results from COVID-related financial losses.

Rents for impacted households cannot be increased until 22 July 2020.

Relief packages

The ACT Government has advised that landlords who choose to reduce their tenant’s rent will receive rebates on their land tax bills.

If a landlord decides to reduce their tenant’s rent by at least 25 per cent for up to six months the ACT Government will match 50 per cent of the rent reduction to a maximum of $2,600 over six months (or $100 per week). The government’s share of the rent reduction will be provided to landlords via a rebate on their 2019-20 quarter 4 and 2020-21 quarter 1 land tax bills.

Important resources:

*While we have taken care to ensure the information above is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances and legislation after the displayed date may impact the accuracy of this article. If you need us we are there, contact 1800 661 662 if you have any questions. 

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