Government initiatives for landlords impacted by Coronavirus

The rules are changing on an almost daily basis.

But, the rights and responsibilities of landlords are becoming clearer each day, as state and territory governments announce amendments to tenancy acts.

LandlordsThis is what property investors 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 several 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)

Qld MapOn 9 April, the Queensland State Government announced it had implemented measures (yet to become law) 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.

Queensland AustraliaIt 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 further announcement was made on 19 April, advising that a Residential Tenancies Practice Guide COVID-19 for property owners and tenants had been developed in consultation with stakeholders.

The proposed measures are due to be introduced into Parliament on 22 April.

A summary of the guidelines includes:

  • 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.
  • Tenants can be asked to provide the same proof of finances to property managers just as they would when starting a tenancy.
  • Clear guidance on access for the sale of the property, virtual rental inspections and access for essential repairs and maintenance.
  • A 75 per cent income loss threshold before a tenant can end a tenancy with a seven-day cap on break lease fees.
  • Limiting any extension on the term of a tenancy agreement during the COVID-19 period to September 30, 2020 unless agreed otherwise by the owner and tenant, or there is an appropriate ground to end the tenancy.

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

rental grant for tenants experiencing hardship and unable to access (or waiting for) other financial support has been introduced.

Professionnal Offices Building ExteriorRental 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 (yet to become law) 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)

Nsw MapThe NSW State Government 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).

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.

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.

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 NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (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.

Tenanted Property RentAfter 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 but the tenant has failed 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 are also being 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)

Legislation to reform residential and commercial tenancy laws will be introduced to the Victorian Parliament on 23 April.

Vic MapThe 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 will enable 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

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

Melbourne SuburbsLandlords 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.

Payments 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)

Wa MapOn 16 April, the Western Australian State Government introduced legislation into its Parliament to address residential tenancies impacted by rental distress due to COVID-19.

The Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020 will introduce 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.

However, interest will not be able to be charged on rent arrears.

Repair RenovateThe legislation will also see rent increases prohibited for six months and suspend landlords’ repair obligations.

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 (tenants will still be liable for damage and rent arrears).

Landlords and tenants are urged to negotiate and come to mutually beneficial arrangements during the six-month period.

However, if agreement can’t be reached, the Commissioner for Consumer Protection will be given new powers to make the conciliation of disputes between landlords and tenants mandatory.

Relief packages

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

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)

Sa MapOn 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

Land TaxIn 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)

Tas MapOn 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.

TasmaniaDuring 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

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

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)

The Northern Territory Government is yet to announce any details on how it will address tenancy matters including the moratorium on evictions.

Nt MapHowever, the NT Government has advised that its Residential Tenancies Act 2019, passed in February, is being deferred to allow for further legislative changes that may be required in line with the local and national responses to COVID-19.

In line with outcomes of National Cabinet discussions the Territory Labor Government is working on further legislative amendments to create longer negotiation periods between tenants and landlords, and create fairer terms for new leases for demonstrated hardship due to COVID-19.

The NT Parliament has been recalled to sit on 24 April to pass more COVID-19 emergency legislation which may include potential changes to residential tenancy laws.

This section will be updated once further details are known.

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)

Act MapThe Australian Capital Territory Government is preparing regulations to support tenants financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Measures include a six-month 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.

During the six-month period, landlords/property manages will not be able to evict tenants if they cannot afford their rent.

Any outstanding rent during the moratorium of an agreed rental amount will be owed to the landlord, but they cannot charge interest on the arrears.

Tenants will also not be able to be blacklisted for non-payment of rent which results from COVID-related financial losses.

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.

calendar-mortgage-bills-house-due-payment-loan-date-timeIf 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.

If the landlord agrees to completely freeze rental payments until the tenant has access to income, any rent that is not collected during this period would become a debt owed to the landlord.

The ACT Government is also offering an incentive to landlords to reduce rent payments.

However, if landlords choose this option, tenants cannot be asked to re-pay the rent reduction amount in the future (i.e. landlords cannot claim the difference from their tenants at a later date).

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:

Guest Author: EBM Rentcover Insurance: At EBM RentCover we empower landlords and property professionals with the tools and knowledge needed to make informed decisions about landlord insurance.

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'Government initiatives for landlords impacted by Coronavirus' have 2 comments

    Avatar

    April 26, 2020 Phil

    In Victoria, is there a certain amount the landlord must lower the rent by to be eligible for the 25% land tax deduction?

    If not dropping it by $5 or so PW is a win/win, no?

    Reply

      Michael Yardney

      April 26, 2020 Michael Yardney

      Phil The proposals have not been legislated yet – more deatils will come over the next weeks

      Reply


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