COVID-19 and renting: What tenants need to know

When the economic fall-out from COVID-19 began to bite in 2020, the government moved to protect renters.

Here is a state-by-state guide on what tenants need to know a year on from those protections coming into play.

That was then…

Let’s start with what happened last year…globe-economy-growth-health-world-heart-decline-map

For many Australians, COVID-19 has not been so much of a health pandemic but an economic challenge.

March 2020 saw a global pandemic declared and a raft of restrictions introduced to try to curb the spread of the virus.

While the infection rate was low by international standards, the financial ramifications were far-reaching.

The Commonwealth Government moved quickly to introduce measures to support its citizens.

Recognising that almost one-third of the Australian population are renters, a six-month moratorium on evictions was announced (on 29 March 2020), to protect tenants from being evicted due to financial hardship resulting from COVID-19.

Each state and territory determined the details of the eviction moratorium and any relief packages they wanted to deliver.

This is now…

A year has passed since the declaration of the pandemic threw the world into chaos and the Government launched programs to ensure Australians were protected from the economic fall-out.

As the effects of the pandemic played out, state and territory governments reviewed the protection measures in place for renters – making adjustments as necessary.

By the end of March 2021, the protections for renters introduced 12 months earlier had ended in most jurisdictions.

With this in mind, here’s a rundown on where things stand in each state and territory…

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 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)

If you are renting privately in Queensland, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • Queensland24 April 2020, temporary legislation introduced
  • a freeze on evictions due to rent arrears for tenants impacted by COVID-19 – effective 29 March 2020 to 29 September 2020
  • leases could be broken early with limited fees (one weeks’ rent)
  • blacklisting due to rent arrears prohibited
  • rental grant for eligible tenants introduced (applications closed 27 April 2020)

From 30 September 2020, the transition back to normal tenancy arrangements and processes began.

Measures that ceased to apply from 30 September 2020:

  • the six-month eviction moratorium for COVID-19 rent arrears
  • fixed-term agreement extensions for COVID-19 impacted tenants
  • ending agreement provisions that prevent property owners from ending tenancies with COVID-19 impacted tenants without grounds and provide additional grounds for parties to end tenancies (owner-occupation and sale of premises which require vacant possession)
  • adjusted rent and bond processes that support parties to negotiate arrangements to manage COVID-19 impacts on their tenancies
  • mandatory conciliation of COVID-19 related tenancy disputes through the RTA.

Measures that continue to apply until 30 April 2021:

  • provisions allowing tenants experiencing domestic and family violence to end their tenancies quickly
  • protections for tenants against being listed in a tenancy database for rent arrears caused by COVID-19 impacts
  • limits on re-letting costs for eligible tenants who end their fixed-term tenancies early
  • short-term tenancy statement extensions for moveable dwellings
  • entry restrictions and requirements to support COVID-19 social distancing measures
  • relaxed repair and maintenance obligations.

New South Wales (NSW)

If you are renting privately in New South Wales, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • Bew Sous Walessix-month moratorium on new forced evictions of tenants in rental arrears due to COVID-19 introduced – effective 29 March 2020 to 15 October 2020
  • leases could be broken early with limited fees (two weeks’ rent)
  • blacklisting due to rent arrears prohibited
  • 23 September 2020, the evictions moratorium was extended until 26 March 2021
  • tenants who accrued rent arrears between April 2020 and March 2021 were not subject to the standard tenancy eviction rules
  • 4 March 2021, a six-month transition period from 27 March announced
  • during the transition period tenants and landlords were able to enter a repayment plan for any COVID-induced arrears
  • tenants were only able to be evicted if they failed to meet the terms of that plan

The six-month transition period commenced 27 March 2021. From 27 March 2021:

  • current COVID-19 residential tenancy measures will be repealed
  • amendments to legislation will be introduced to prevent tenants from being automatically evicted due to COVID-19 induced rental arrears
  • landlords and tenants will be supported to draw up rental repayment plans that enable landlords to recoup COVID-induced arrears, while keeping tenants in their properties
  • COVID-19 impacted tenants will be protected from being blacklisted on tenancy databases for arrears.

Victoria (VIC)

If you are renting privately in Victoria, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • Victoria23 April 2020, COVID emergency legislation passed to reform tenancy laws
  • ban on evictions and rental increases introduced – effective 29 March 2020 to 29 September 2020
  • leases could be broken early without penalty
  • blacklisting due to rent arrears prohibited
  • rent relief grants for eligible tenants introduced (applications closed 28 March 2021)
  • August 2020, restrictions extended to 31 December 2020
  • September 2020, a further extension announced, with the ban on evictions and rent increases continuing until 28 March 2021

The moratorium ended 28 March 2021. From 29 March 2021:

  • temporary protections cease
  • landlords can evict tenants for rent arrears and increase rents
  • new rights and responsibilities apply
  • rent reduction agreements can no longer be lodged with Consumer Affairs Victoria
  • application can be made directly to VCAT for dispute resolution

Western Australia (WA)

If you are renting privately in Western Australia, here are the measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • Wasterm Australia16 April 2020, legislation passed to address residential tenancies impacted by rental distress due to COVID-19
  • moratorium on evictions and ban on rent increases introduced – effective 30 March to 29 September 2020
  • leases could be broken early without penalty
  • COVID-19 Residential Relief Grants Scheme introduced for eligible tenants (applications close 28 June 2021)
  • 10 September 2020, emergency period extended to 28 March 2021, during which time evictions and rent increases were prohibited

On 28 March 2021, the emergency period ended. From 29 March 2021:

  • ordinary tenancy laws resumed
  • landlords can evict tenants for rent arrears and increase rents

South Australia (SA)

If you are renting privately in South Australia, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • South Australia8 April 2020, legislation passed to protect landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 crisis
  • ban on evictions and rental increases introduced – effective from 30 March 2020 to 8 October 2020
  • blacklisting due to rent arrears prohibited
  • 2 February 2021, eviction and rent increase moratorium extended to 31 May 2021 or 28 days after all relevant declarations relating to COVID-19 have ceased, whichever comes first

The moratorium continues until 31 May 2021. Until 31 May 2021, measures remain in place that:

  • institute a short-term moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19
  • prevent landlords from increasing rent, where the tenant is suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19
  • 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

Tasmania (TAS)

If you are renting privately in Tasmania, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • Tasmamia3 April 2020, 120-day emergency period introduced into Residential Tenancy Act
  • emergency period ended 25 July and extended to 30 September 2020
  • moratorium on evictions and ban on rent increases introduced – effective 27 March to 30 September 2020
  • Rent Relief Fund introduced for eligible tenants (applications close 30 June 2021)
  • November 2020, emergency period extended to 31 January 2021

Emergency period ended on 31 January 2021. From 1 February 2021:

  • emergency provisions ceased
  • landlords can evict tenants for rent arrears and increase rents (in line with the Residential Tenancy Act 1997)
  • general repairs and maintenance are required to be done in line with the Act

Heads up: Changes to the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 have come into effect to allow the Residential Tenancy Commissioner to issue a repayment order which will allow landlords to recover any outstanding rental arrears which have been accrued during the COVID-19 emergency period. The rent arrears payment order does not override the obligation of a tenant to make regular payments of rent but instead, the order outlines a schedule for repayments in addition to normal rent obligations.

The Northern Territory (NT)

If you are renting privately in the Northern Territory, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • The Northern Territory (nt)24 April 2020, COVID-19 emergency legislation passed including the Tenancies Legislation Amendment Act 2020
  • unlike in other states and territories, no moratorium on evictions was introduced
  • 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
  • 28 April 2020 and 11 May 2020, COVID-19 Modification Notices passed that impact the processes involved in the Residential Tenancies Act 1999

Heads up: On 1 January 2021, changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1999 commenced. Some of these changes focus on keeping pets in residential rental properties, making it an offence to fail to comply with the requirement to place tenants’ unclaimed bond moneys into the Tenancy Trust Account, and removing the option that condition reports may be entirely based on images.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

If you are renting privately in the Australian Capital Territory, here are measures introduced to protect tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • temporary changes were made to residential tenancy legislation to support tenants financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and to assist landlords
  • measures included a moratorium on evictions due to rental arrears, a temporary freeze on rental increases, and preventing ‘blacklisting’ as a result of tenants not being able to pay rent – effective from 22 April to 22 October 2020

The eviction moratorium has now ended. However, some measures to support tenants and landlords and to provide a smooth transition out of the moratorium are in place until 30 April 2021.

Measures that remain in place until 30 April 2021:

  • Acta transition period that limits evictions on the basis of rent arrears accrued during the moratorium period for COVID-19 impacted households in certain circumstances
  • the continued ability to negotiate reduced rent
  • a requirement for ACAT to consider making a payment order instead of an eviction order for a COVID-19 impacted household
  • the continued ability for a tenant in a COVID-19 impacted household to terminate their fixed-term tenancy agreement early and without penalty
  • continued restrictions on a negative listing being made about a person from a COVID-19 impacted household on tenancy databases
  • the ability for a tenant from a COVID-19 impacted household who had previous ACAT orders suspended during the moratorium to apply to ACAT to vary or set aside those orders
  • the continued ability for tenants on pre-6 April 2020 fixed-term tenancies to pay just two weeks’ rent in advance (all other tenants are already able to do this)

Heads up: The reforms in the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020 (No 1) and Residential Tenancies Amendment Act 2020 (No 2) are now in effect.

This article was written by the team at EBM RentCover and was originally published here.  EBM RentCover is one of Australia’s leading landlord insurance providers, protecting more than 150,000 rental properties across Australia.

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