COVID-19 and the residential tenancies shake up

Countless Australians are facing financial hardship in the wake of significant coronavirus (COVID-19)-related job loss.

Despite the tenant-landlord relationship largely being governed by individual Rental Agreements, the Federal Government have announced some crucial changes to help vulnerable tenants during these tough times.

On March 29, the Prime Minister released a statement anticipating the threat of COVID-19 to persist for a minimum of 6 months. For the duration of this period the Government have called for a moratorium on evictions. This means that from approximately the end of March to the end of September, landlords will not be permitted to evict tenants for failing to pay rent. Following this announcement many States and Territories have enacted emergency legislation to implement further safeguards for residential tenants.

Whilst the ban on evictions was announced at the national level, each State and Territory have their own versions of a Residential Tenancies Act which governs the landlord-tenant relationship.

ACT-specific changes

The ACT Government has enacted a piece of emergency response legislation which amends, among other things, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. The changes allow the Minister to make various declarations including on the following topics:

  • Bans to terminations of residential tenancy agreements
  • Bans on evictions and recovery of possession of a property
  • Change or limit rights of landlords under the Act
  • Modifying residential standard residential tenancy terms to allow parties to make agreements as to rent reductions

Just last week the Attorney-General made a declaration, impacting rental relations in the ACT. The temporary modifications to the Residential Tenancies Act protects tenants, who have been impacted by the pandemic (i.e. by a reduction in salary), by:

  • Allowing tenants to come to an agreement with the landlord to temporarily reduce the rent payable under their Agreement
  • Granting tenants immunity from being evicted for failing to pay rent for the next 3 months
  • Preventing landlords from increasing rent
  • Increasing tenant’s possession rights, restricting landlords’ access to properties and only permitting access if the tenant consents, there are urgent repairs required or they have obtained an order from ACAT

The Declaration also prevents ACAT from acting on existing orders relating to a tenant’s failure to pay rent for the duration of the moratorium period.

These measures are all temporary and are designed to be suspended at the Minister’s will following the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Griffin Legal will continue to monitor the situation and keep our clients updated as the situation evolves.

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