PROPERTY

How to get rent relief if you're under financial stress

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Can't pay your rent? If you have been impacted by COVID-19, the good news is that you can't be evicted for six months.

Each state and territory government are releasing much needed rent relief guidelines to assist financially distressed tenants, following the federal government's announcement of a six month freeze on evictions on March 29.

Tenants are confused about their rights and have been sweating on the rent relief details. Some real estate agents have been telling tenants to access their superannuation under hardship provisions to pay their rent, only to be slapped down by ASIC threatening fines of up to $126,000 for what constituted unlicensed financial advice.

coronavirus rent relief financial stress

As well, help to pay the rent is still weeks away with the JobKeeper $1500 per fortnight payment reaching employers in the first week of May. Accessing JobSeeker can be a long drawn out process with reports of some Australians waiting at least 11 weeks for payments.

Not surprisingly tenancy support services have been flooded with distressed renters needing advice over the past weeks as they waited for clarification on their rights. The Tenants Union in New South Wales had 1800 visits per day to its website about the impact of COVID-19, up from an average of 250 per day.

A rent strike movement has been building as state governments took their time releasing specific details about the moratorium with more than 17,000 renters signing up for the COVID-19 Rent Strike because landlords are not willing to negotiate rent relief. While the federal government set down the rules for commercial tenancies, it is up to the states to change the tenancy laws.

More details on how rent relief will work are being released. Each state has different rules and renters need to research what is on offer and know their rights. One of the best ways is to get in touch with your local tenancy support service, listed at the end of this article.

How does the rent relief work?

Renters in financial distress are told by state and territory governments to approach their landlord and engage in meaningful negotiations about rent reductions. If no agreement can be reached, there are dispute resolution processes being offered.

What is clear is rent relief doesn't mean tenants stop paying rent altogether. As the Western Australian government explains: "Tenants who can afford to continue to pay rent should keep paying rent, to avoid building up a debt."

It doesn't look likely that the amount of a tenant's reduced rent will be automatically waived. This has to be negotiated and tenants may still be liable for it.

Landlords can ask for proof of severe financial distress before agreeing to any rent reduction or freeze. This can include proof of job termination or loss of work hours or proof of government income support. But the landlord has no right to request to see tenants' financial statements.

It does mean that landlords can't lock tenants out of their rental home. It is illegal to do so.

New South Wales

Tenants who can't pay their rent will benefit from a 60-day stop on termination notices.

It allows time for tenants and landlords to negotiate possible reductions in rent as well as for tenants to receive government income support. Also landlords can negotiate a reduction or waiver of mortgage repayments with their lender.

If an agreement can't be reached, there is a dispute resolution process through NSW Fair Trading. Then the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal will have discretion to assess whether it is fair and reasonable to evict in the circumstances of each case.

See details: fairtrading.nsw.gov.au.

Queensland

The Queensland government moved to put a retrospective freeze on evictions of tenants by property owners from March 29. "It's not in the interest of anyone to have tenants left without a place to go when we are fighting to prevent the spread of a deadly disease," explains deputy premier Jackie Trad.

Also if you are renting and your lease expires during the COVID-19 public health crisis, you can't be evicted.

"This means that a property owner must offer an extension to the lease for at least a further six months," says housing and public works minister Mick de Brenni.

"Alternatively, if a tenant cannot pay rent due to impacts of coronavirus and wants to end their lease early, they will be allowed to do so," says de Brenni.

But if you can't get an agreement with your landlord, you can contact the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) for conciliation which is a mandatory requirement.

For help with your tenancy, talk to the RTA:

  • text (SMS) "Hi" to 0480 000 782
  • call the RTA information hotline on 1800 497 161 from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday, or from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday
  • visit the Residential Tenancies Authority website.

Queensland renters facing hardship can access a grant up to four weeks rent or a maximum of $2000.

"This is a last resort for Queenslanders in need of support while they are waiting for federal government support to prevent homelessness," explains deputy premier Jackie Trad.

Western Australia

A moratorium on evictions for six months means landlords are not allowed to evict tenants in cases of severe financial hardship related to COVID-19, during that period of time.

Tenants should discuss their financial situation with their property manager or landlord as soon as possible if they are struggling to make rent payments at this time.

Affected landlords and tenants are urged to negotiate a mutually acceptable short-term agreement in a bid to preserve the tenancy 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, a move that aims to relieve pressure on the Magistrates Court and State Administrative Tribunal.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian government has passed a moratorium on the eviction of tenants for 120 days, but it could be extended by a further 90 days.

Tenancy Advice Support Around Australia

We're cutting through the confusion to help you manage your money during the coronavirus outbreak. Click here for more on how COVID-19 could affect your job, budget, super and investments.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
Comments
Ross Skamnaki
April 23, 2020 8.16am

Hello no one has mentioned anything about aged pensioners that work part time to pay for rent and utilities. My employer wants to claim job keeper but how will that effect my pension and my tax as well

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