The Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Act 2020 (the Act) had put into place a moratorium on evictions and other measures relating to residential tenancies to address the financial impacts of COVID-19. Other elements of the Act include:
- a ban on rent increases during the moratorium period;
- fixed-term tenancies will automatically convert to periodic tenancies if they expire during the period unless another fixed-term agreement is entered into;
- landlords do not have to carry out non-urgent repairs if they themselves are experiencing financial hardship or are not able to access the premises due to restrictions on movement; and
- tenants experiencing COVID-19 related financial hardship who end a fixed-term tenancy prior to its end date will not incur break lease fees, but will still be liable for damage and rent arrears.
The Act applies to all residential tenancies including those in public and government housing, park homes as well as boarders and lodgers.
The evictions moratorium pursuant to the Act has just ended on 28 March 2021. Now that the emergency period has ended, what does this all mean for residential tenants and landlords?
Terminations and evictions after end of rental moratorium
Landlords might be keen to terminate leases and evict tenants who do not wish to vacate the property. However, it is important to note that there is a very specific process that a landlord needs to abide by in order to terminate a tenancy and to legally evict a tenant. A landlord is prohibited from turning off essential utilities like electricity, gas or water, change the door locks, or take any other action to push a tenant out of a property unless a Court order grants the landlord such authority.
If a tenant believes that they will suffer as a result of an eviction, they can then ask the Court for a temporary suspension of the Court order for up to 30 days. It is important to note that tenants must continue to pay rent that is due until they have vacated the property and ensure that they continue to maintain the property to a reasonable standard. Landlords and tenants are highly encouraged to negotiate in good faith to agree on mutually acceptable tenancy arrangements.
Residential Rent Relief Grant Scheme
What should you do if you are a tenant and are in financial difficulty? The Government has introduced various COVID-19 response initiatives to assist in this regard during the emergency period. Among the initiatives that are still available is the Residential Rent Relief Grant Scheme (RRRGS).
The RRRGS was implemented to offer rent support for tenants on Centrelink incomes to meet rent payments after the end of the emergency period. Grants are capped at $2,000.00 per tenancy. Tenants must be facing a significant rent increase as well as meet all of the general eligibility criteria in order to be eligible for the grant.
Rent arrears assistance grants are also still available to help tenants pay their outstanding rent debt that arose before 1 December 2020. Grants for 75% of rent arrears, up to a maximum of $4,000, will be paid directly to eligible landlords. This includes any rent that was waived or reduced during the emergency period. Applications for rent arrears assistance and rent support grants close 28 June 2021.
Residential Tenancies Mandatory Conciliation Service
Landlords and tenants must go through with the Residential Tenancies Mandatory Conciliation Service in the event of a dispute. The Residential Tenancies Mandatory Conciliation Service was established to help landlords and tenants to try and agree on a solution to resolve COVID-19-related tenancy disputes. Applications for conciliation via the Residential Tenancies Mandatory Conciliation Service remain open until 28 June 2021 for disputes that arose during the emergency period, and the service will continue for as long as necessary.
We at AH2 Legal will continue to monitor this space to keep track of the various measures and policies announced by the Australia government as the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic progresses and will keep you informed as much as we can during this time.
In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy. Stay calm and rest assured that if you have any legal questions or issues, that we at AH2 Legal are available via telephone, email, and WeChat to help you out however we can.