As the pandemic continues and the economy continues to struggle, State governments are finally coming to the table with assistance for landlords and renters. After the Federal government previously announced a six month moratorium on residential tenancy evictions during COVID-19, it has taken State governments a number of weeks to define what that will look like, with not all States as yet to formalise.
So what does it mean for you? The following is what we have been advised so far, broken down by State:
State Government Assistance in NSW
The NSW government is introducing an interim 60-day stop on landlords seeking to evict tenants who have fallen into rental arrears as a result of COVD-19. The government is also introducing longer restrictions of up to 6 months on rental arrears for those financially disadvantaged by CVOVID-19.
The interim 60-day stop is to allow time for government funding measures to reach those that need it, being both the landlord and tenant.
The government is putting measures in place to ensure that landlords and tenants enter into negotiations over rental payments. Tenants need to prove that they are struggling as a result of COVID-19 and have suffered a loss of income equal to or greater than 25%. Tenants who are not impacted by COVID-19, or cannot prove that their income has been effected are expected to continue to honour their existing agreements and the latest government measures will not apply.
To aid landlords in the negotiations, the government is allocating $440 million towards rent relief in the form of land tax waivers or rebates. Residential landlords would be eligible for a land tax waiver or rebate of up to 25% if they passed on this savings to tenants struggling to pay their rent.
It’s important to note that negotiating reduce rent with a tenant doesn’t automatically mean that the rent does not need to be paid back to the landlord at a later date. This is up to negotiation between the tenant and landlord as part of the process.
As this whole process is daunting and stressful for both tenants and landlords the government has also boosted funding to support services, including Fair Trading and NCAT to resolve matters as follows:
- NSW Fair Trading’s dispute resolution service will be available to assist if the parties are unable to re-negotiate and agree on new rental arrangements, backed by Fair Trading’s existing legal powers;
- NCAT will be available to make appropriate orders in light of the current circumstances where the parties are unwilling or unable to reach an agreement and action is taken to seek an eviction;
- Action is also being taken to ensure that evictions for reasons not related to rent arrears are also stayed to minimise avoidable housing disruption and movement. The usual periods of required notice under the Residential Tenancies Act will be increased from the minimum of 30 days up to 90 days for terminations due to fixed or periodic leases ending, or other agreement breaches.
- Landlords will however continue to be able to seek to recover premises due to their own genuine hardship. Tenants will also continue to be able to apply to the Tribunal to terminate a fixed-term tenancy on the basis of hardship.
- Tenants will be protected from being added to tenancy databases (or ‘blacklists’) for breaches of agreements resulting from COVID-19 impacts.
State Government Assistance in ACT
The ACT Government have introduced a number of measures to assist both landlords and tenants, although specific legislation concerning evictions and hardship during COVID-19 has not been announced.
As with the other Australian States it is wise to work with tenants in financial stress due to COVID-19 to come up with a plan and ensure the plan is in writing.
For an overview of the measures that are available, see below:
- Push back the issue of residential general instalments and land tax assessments by 4 weeks
- Apply a $150 rebate to the fixed charge component of all residential rates bills in 2020-21
- Freeze the Fire and Emergency Services Levy in 2020-21 at the current 2019-20 level
Residential tenancy relief
The government will provide a land tax and rates rebate to landlords of residential properties who reduce rents by at least 25% for tenants impacted by COVID-19.
The rebate will be equal to 50 per cent of the rent reduction, capped at $1,300 per quarter (around $100 per week), for up to six months. This will provide rental relief to impacted tenants of up to $200 per week.
Household utilities and concessions
Households already receiving the Utilities Concession will receive an additional $200 rebate through their electricity bill.
This includes: Centrelink Pensioner Concession Card holders, Centrelink Low Income Health Care Card holders and Veteran’s Affairs Pensioner Concession Card or Gold Card holders.
The government will also contribute up to $250,000 to a new fund to assist households severely impacted by COVID-19.
Details on how the fund will operate will be determined in consultation with electricity retailers, who will asked to make a co-contribution in order to access the fund.
State Government Assistance in VIC
The Victorian Government has not yet implemented legislation as NSW and QLD have, but are urging renters and landlords to work together and agree on a payment plan. Evictions are still allowed for the non-payment of rent during COVID-19, by following the standard eviction process through VCAT.
Tenants can however apply to VCAT based on severe hardship, but this again follows the standard process.
The Victorian government has however implemented restrictions on the inspection for the lease of a property. Originally there open homes were not allowed, only private inspections. There has now been further restrictions – if the property is tenanted, the tenant cannot be home at the time of the inspection because there is a restriction of no more than 2 people allowed in an indoor space. If the property is vacant, an inspection is only permitted where an estate agent and one other person (the person for whom the inspection is organised by private appointment) are present at the premises.
State Government Assistance in QLD
The QLD Government is encouraging tenants, property owners and agents to work together to sustain tenancies during COV-19.
To assist landlords in providing rental relief to tenants the Government has committed over $400 million. Eligible land owners can apply for up to 3 months waiver and 3 months deferral of landlord tax if either of the following circumstances apply (visit treasury/qld.gov.au/programs-and-policies for further detail):
- You are a landowner who leases all or part of a property to one or more tenants and all the following apply:
- the ability of one or more tenants to pay their normal rent is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;
- you will provide rent relief to the affected tenant(s) of an amount at least commensurate with the land tax relief; and
- You are a landowner and all the following apply:
- all or part of your property is available for lease;
- your ability to secure a tenant(s) has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;
- you require relief to meet your financial obligations; and
To be eligible for land tax relief, a landlord needs to comply with a number of principals which are aimed at encouraging landlords to work with tenants during this time and include:
- Negotiating in good faith with the tenant to seek a mutually agreeable solution
- Not being able to evict a tenant due to financial stress as a result of COVID-19
- Not charging break lease fees for tenants who need to break a lease early due to COVID-19 impacts
To assist tenants the government is offering a crisis payment of up to $500 for up to 4 weeks if a tenant is homeless, or at imminent risk of becoming homeless as a result of COVID-19.
Tenants and property owners and managers are encouraged to agree on solutions together. If this is not possible, conciliation through the RTA will be a mandatory process, subject to legislative amendments. Once the agreement is made between parties, the The RTA has a COVID-19 General Tenancy COVID-19 special terms form (18D) so the new agreement can be recorded properly.
The government has also put a freeze on evictions due to rent arrears for 6 months (from 29th March, 2020) for tenants experiencing financial stress due to COVID-19 and also given tenants the right to refuse entry for non-essential reasons.
It’s important to note that all restrictions on evictions only apply to those who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 and can provide proof. If tenants cannot provide any evidence, then the normal tenancy legislation will apply.
State Government Assistance in WA
In Western Australia, the government has not implemented support for landlords and tenants. The advice still remains that tenants and landlords should work together to come up with a plan and then formalise the plan in writing.
The moratorium on evictions has not yet been passed, so tenants can still be evicted. In saying that, this is the last thing you want to do during the pandemic as some rent can be better than no rent and it can be difficult to find a new tenant during this time.
If a tenant falls behind in rent, the normal arrear process should still be followed until an agreement is made with the tenant, if this is the way you would like to proceed.
State Government Assistance in SA
The SA Government has endorsed a number of initiatives aimed at helping landlords and tenants effected by COVID-19. They are designed to encourage landlords and tenants to work together to agree on a plan. The measures introduced by the government aim to:
- Prevent eviction for non-payment of rent as a result of COVID-19
- Prevent increases in rent
- Allow landlords and agents to use technology such as face-time, live video or time-stamped photos for routine inspections where possible, unless there are exceptional circumstances and sufficient safety measures in place for an inspection in person
- provide a general protection for tenants who breach their agreement as a result of complying with a direction under law relating to COVID-19
In addition, there is a land tax deferral which allows home owners to defer payment of their 3rd and 4th quarter instalments for up to 6 months. For further detail, visit the SA revenue website at revenuesa.sa.gov.au
State Government Assistance in NT
There is currently no specific changes to legislation, or landlord / tenant assistance packages from the Government, but when something is announced this information will be provided.
If you would like to understand how our Yabonza can shape your property's future in this challenging times, speak with our knowledgable asset managers.