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

25 Sep 2020 15 mins read

This article was orginally publisehd on 21/04/2020 and was reviewed and updated accordingly on the above date. 

This is what EBM RentCover clients need to know about the rights and responsibilities of landlords during COVID-19…

Amid concerns the jobless wouldn’t be able to afford rent, on 29 March 2020, the Australian Government announced landlords would be banned from evicting tenants under financial stress caused by the COVID-19 economic downturn for the next six months.

However, the Government clarified that this did not mean tenants did not have to pay their rent. The Housing Minister stated: “A moratorium on evictions doesn’t mean rent is not payable, it is. If circumstances mean that payment in full is not possible, it is a holding off from payments, not a cancellation. It is for people who cannot pay at this time, not for those that can. If you can pay your rent now, you pay it. If you can’t pay your rent now, you have been given grace for six months, but will have to catch up when you are able to pay it again.”

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. In some cases, the legislation has also been amended to 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.

Below you’ll find jurisdiction-specific information to help you navigate the impact on rental properties.

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) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, blacklisting

On 22 April 2020, 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 until 29 September 2020.   

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.

Tenants must continue to pay their rent as normal, unless their income has been impacted by COVID-19. If they meet the criteria for hardship, they can seek a rent reduction from the landlord. Financial hardship means the tenant’s income has been reduced by at least 25 per cent or their rent is more than 30 per cent of their income.  The tenant can be asked to prove financial hardship and provide the same proof of finances as they would when starting a tenancy.

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.

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 (7-day cap) if they can prove a 75 per cent loss of income and have less than $5,000 in savings.

Tenants who are experiencing hardship cannot be placed on a tenancy database (blacklisted).

Fixed-term tenancy agreements due to expire during the six-month period will be automatically extended to 30 September 2020, unless landlord and tenant agree otherwise or there is an appropriate ground to end the tenancy.

Landlord obligations for routine repairs and inspections have also been relaxed, but landlords must still ensure tenant safety at the rental property.

In addition, tenants can refuse physical entry for non-essential reasons, including routine repairs and inspections, particularly if a member of the household is a vulnerable person. However, the tenant must agree to virtual inspections if physical inspections can’t take place.

Relief packages

A rental grant for eligible tenants experiencing hardship was introduced, providing up to four weeks’ rent (to a maximum of $2,000). Applications for the grants closed on 27 April 2020.  

The Queensland Government introduced COVID-19 land tax relief measures in April 2020.

Landlords may be able to apply for a land tax rebate reducing land tax liabilities by 25 per cent for eligible properties for the 2019-20 assessment year. They may also be eligible for a three-month deferral of land tax liabilities for the 2020-21 assessment year. Foreign entities may be eligible for a waiver of the two per cent land tax foreign surcharge for the 2019-20 assessment year

Eligible landlords must 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. Landlords with a rental in Queensland but who live in other states/territories will only be able to visit their investment property if they meet the requirements for border entry. 

Important resources

  • The Hub – the Queensland Government’s central point for information and support on the COVID-19 changes affecting renting in Queensland.  
  • Residential Tenancies Practice Guide – formalises the temporary requirements and protections for tenancies impacted by COVID-19.
  • 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) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, rent arrears, blacklisting 

The NSW State Government introduced a six-month moratorium on new forced evictions of tenants in rental arrears 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 due resulting from other reasons.

Tenants can still be evicted for any other approved reason to end a tenancy, except for rent arrears caused by financial distress due to the impact of COVID-19.

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, and can prove financial hardship, the landlord/property manager and tenant must try to negotiate rental reductions in good faith

At the emergency parliamentary sitting on 12 May 2020, a change to break-lease fees was introduced. Tenants who meet the eligibility criteria for being impacted by COVID-19 can apply to NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) to end the tenancy if the landlord refuses or fails to participate in a process provided by Fair Trading to negotiate rent reductions or the landlord and tenant are unable to agree on a rent reduction and repayment arrangement that would avoid financial hardship for the tenant. If NCAT agrees to end the tenancy, the tenant’s compensation to the landlord will be no more than two weeks’ rent.

In addition to the moratorium on forced evictions due to rental arrears, the NSW Government’s package also put an interim 60-day halt on new termination notices and termination applications to the NCAT for terminations due 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 expired on 13 June 2020. As of 14 June 2020, landlords could issue a termination notice or apply to NCAT for an eviction only if they have participated in good faith in a rent reduction process run by Fair Trading and it is fair and reasonable in the circumstances for the tenancy to be terminated.

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

Landlords can still apply to NCAT at any time to take possession of the property if they are suffering undue hardship.

As part of the package, notice periods to end a fixed-term agreement, periodic agreement or a tenancy because of breach of agreement other than for non-payment of rent or charges have also been extended to 90 days.

Relief packages

The NSW Government introduced land tax relief measures for landlords in April 2020.

Landlords who have reduced their tenant’s rent for any period between 1 April 2020 and 30 September 2020, and whose tenants can prove financial distress due to COVID-19, can apply to reduce up to 25 per cent of their 2020 land tax liability (or the value of the rent reduction provided, whichever is the lesser) and defer the land tax payment for up to three months. Applications close on 31 December 2020.

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) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, rent increases 

Legislation to reform residential and commercial tenancy laws was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 23 April 2020.

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). In August, the restrictions were extended to 31 December 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 31 December 2020.

Tenants cannot be blacklisted for non-payment of rent due to COVID-19 financial hardship.  

The Victorian Government also set up a fast-tracked dispute resolution process for tenants and landlords mediated by Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Relief packages

In April 2020, the Victorian Government introduced measures to assist 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. Landlords who provide a 50 per cent or more outright rent waiver of at least three months’ rent to eligible tenants can claim a 50 per cent waiver of the property’s 2020 land tax and defer payment of the remaining tax to 31 March 2021.

Rent relief grants of up to $3,000 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 paying at least 30 per cent of their income in rent.

Important resources

Western Australia (WA) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, break lease, rent increases 

On 16 April 2020, the Western Australian State Government passed legislation to address residential tenancies impacted by rental distress due to COVID-19.

The new legislation introduced a moratorium on eviction for six months (30 March-29 September 2020) 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 legislation also sees rent increases prohibited until 29 September 2020 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 six-month period 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 and provide 21 days’ notice (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

In April 2020, the WA Government introduced grants of up to $2,000 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 lost their job on or after 20 March 2020 due to COVID-19/had their weekly income reduce by at least 75 per cent (applies to the self-employed, sole traders, casual workers and contractors), have less than $10,000 in savings, and are still paying at least 25 per cent of their after-tax income in rent.

The residential rent relief grants are administered through the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, with applications closing 29 September 2020. The grants are available on a first come, first served basis. 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 WA and into remote areas within the State. WA’s borders are closed and travellers are not able to enter WA 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) - updated 25 August 2020 

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, until 8 October 2020, a residential tenancy cannot be terminated if failure to pay rent is a result of financial hardship stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tenants can still be evicted for any other approved reason to end a tenancy except for rent arrears caused by financial stress due to the impact of COVID-19.

Where tenants can’t pay rent as a result of COVID-19, they are encouraged to work with landlords with the aim of setting up a written, signed payment plan. Tenants must be able to prove financial hardship.

If landlord and tenant can’t reach agreement and the tenant does not pay their full rent, the landlord may apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for an order about the tenancy.

If landlord or tenant are suffering undue hardship, either party can apply to SACAT to terminate the tenancy agreement.

The measures also prohibit tenants from being blacklisted on residential tenancy databases for rent arrears due to COVID-19 financial hardship.

Rent increases are also prohibited until 8 October 2020, even if an increase is specifically permitted in the tenancy agreement.

In addition, except in exceptional circumstances, property inspections must be conducted by audio-visual or other electronic means.

Relief packages

The SA Government announced that landlords who provide tenants impacted by COVID-19 with rent relief may be eligible for a 25 per cent reduction on the land tax payable on a parcel of land in the 2019-20 land tax year. Landlords paying land tax quarterly in 2019-20 will also be able to defer payment of their third and fourth quarter instalments for up to six months.

In addition, 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. Landlords with investment properties in SA, but who reside elsewhere, may be able to visit their rental – depending on where they are coming from. Travellers from the NT, Queensland, Tasmania and WA may enter SA directly without restriction. Travellers from the ACT and NSW, other than essential travellers, can enter but will need to self-quarantine for 14 days and submit to COVID-19 testing. Travellers from Victoria, except essential travellers, are not permitted to enter SA.

Important resources

Tasmania (TAS) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, repairs

On 3 April 2020, the Tasmanian State Government introduced a 120-day emergency period into its Residential Tenancy Act. That period ended on 25 July and was extended to 30 September 2020.

During the 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 September 2020. 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 because the property is to be sold, have major renovations or to allow the owner or a close family member to move in; where the notice to vacate has been served due to the tenant using the property for an unlawful purpose; a court terminated the lease; or if the tenant or landlord make a successful hardship application. Landlord or tenant can also apply to the Magistrate’s 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).

Tenants or landlords can also apply to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner to break a fixed-term lease if its continuation is likely to cause severe hardship.  

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.

Relief packages

In May 2020, the Rent Relief Fund was introduced. 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.  

Relief packages

In May 2020, the Rent Relief Fund was introduced. 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 introduced travel restrictions. Whether a landlord with an investment property in Tasmania, but who resides outside of the State, can visit their rental depends on where they are coming from. All non-essential travellers, including Tasmanian and non-Tasmanian residents, who have spent time in an affected region or premises in the last 14 days, must have prior approval to enter the State. Travellers, except essential travellers, from non-affected areas must quarantine for 14 days.

  Important resources

The Northern Territory (NT) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters 

On 24 April 2020, 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. The Modification Notice is in place until 23 September 2020.

Important resources

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 from a declared COVID-19 hotspot must complete 14 days of forced quarantine – and this will apply to any landlord who owns a rental in the NT but is travelling from a hotspot and wishes to visit their investment property.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) - updated 25 August 2020 

Tenancy matters – evictions, rent increases, blacklisting

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 until 22 October 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 their landlord to discuss alternative rent payment arrangements. Mutual agreement can be given effect by including a COVID-19 temporary rent reduction clause in the residential tenancy agreement and providing a written confirmation of the agreed reduced rent and the period the reduced rent applies.

If landlords and tenants cannot negotiate, the Conflict Resolution Service can be used for mediation.

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

Rents for impacted households cannot be increased until October 2020.

During the six months, landlords/agents cannot physically access the premises unless they have tenant consent, or it is necessary to do urgent repairs to the premises, or it is in accordance with an order from ACAT.

Landlords are also encouraged to conduct virtual inspections of the rental using audio-visual or other electronic means. Tenants must provide reasonable assistance to facilitate a virtual inspection.

Urgent repairs must still be made within statutory timeframes, but where non-urgent repairs are needed, landlord and tenant can agree a reasonable timeframe.

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, they may be eligible for a land tax credit to cover 50 per cent of the rent reduction to a maximum of $1,300 per quarter.

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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