Updates on Rights of Tenants and Landlords in Canberra during COVID-19

Updates on Rights of Tenants and Landlords in Canberra during COVID-19
  • Sophie
  • Aug 11 2020
It is unbelievable how much the world has changed since the novel coronavirus started spreading like wildfire. Every country has been affected by the pandemic, and it has emerged as a once-in-a-century-health-crisis.

The economic burden of the disease has become a matter of concern. Canberra, which has recorded 110 positive cases so far, has been able to stay away from the catastrophic damage of the virus. However, the restrictions on movement and non-essential services have impacted the population of the ACT.

Many people have lost their jobs or are facing losses in business. It has impacted their income, and consequently, their ability to pay rents. Also, cleanliness and disinfection have become a priority, and people are hiring professional bond cleaning in Canberra to sanitise their homes and properties.

The cleaning services are in high demand among tenants who are looking to relocate to cheaper neighbourhoods and landlords who are trying to woo tenants in an unprecedented situation.

Meanwhile, the ACT government has stepped up and come to the rescue of tenants and landlords who are suffering financially during the ongoing crisis. The government has published fact sheets that have put forth the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords to avoid situations like homelessness.

So here are all the details that you need to know to understand your rights and responsibilities during COVID-19.

Temporary Changes In The Residential Tenancies Act

The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 has been amended by the ACT government for a brief period. The changes include a moratorium on evictions of tenants beginning from 22 April 2020 for six months.

It mandates that tenants facing financial trouble cannot be evicted from the leased property. Both the parties can negotiate on rent reduction and postpone the non-urgent repairs for the period. The landlord cannot increase the rent during these six months, and the Canberra-based tenants will not get blacklisted in the tenancy database due to non-payment of rent.

The tenants who plan to terminate the lease agreement before the end date will not be penalised, while the inspections will be conducted with strict restrictions in place. However, tenants vacating the premises must hire a professional service for bond cleaning in Canberra as the process of claiming rental bonds has not been changed.

Rights of Tenants Impacted By COVID-19

  • The moratorium is applicable to all those tenants in Canberra who are eligible for the Jobseeker or Jobkeeper payment. It is also applicable to those households whose income has reduced by 25% or more.
  • According to the changes, the tenant and the landlord can discuss a rent reduction plan for a specific period, and amend their existing lease agreement accordingly. The parties need to sign the new agreement and can choose to extend the period of rent reduction through a mutual decision if the tenant continues to suffer from financial distress.
  • As a tenant in Canberra, you cannot be evicted from the leased property due to non-payment of rent. If your household is impacted, then the landlord cannot issue a notice to vacate or terminate the lease agreement. He cannot apply to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) for possession of property or to get an eviction order.
  • The landlord cannot increase the rent during the moratorium of six months if you have been facing financial hardships.
  • If you are unable to make any payment to the landlord, then you will have to pay back the rental arrears at a later stage. However, you do not have to pay back in case of rent reduction.
  • If your landlord had obtained a vacate order from ACAT before the moratorium was put in place, even then you cannot be evicted if you have been impacted by the pandemic or have not vacated the premises. You will have to submit an application with ACAT to get the order suspended.
  • If you share the house with other tenants who are unable to pay the rent, then you must discuss the rent reduction clause with the landlord. You can choose to terminate your periodic lease agreement by providing the landlord with a written three-week notice. For a fixed-term lease agreement, you can pay the break lease fee and end it. If you are facing financial distress, then you can apply to ACAT to terminate the lease without paying any fee. However, you must get the premises cleaned with the help of bond cleaners in Canberra to claim the bond back without any dispute.
  • If you are unable to reach any resolution with your landlord to reduce the rent or have entered into a dispute during the moratorium, then you can contact the Conflict Resolution Service which offers free mediation service.
  • The landlord cannot access the leased premises during the period without your consent to maintain social distancing. They can be allowed only for conducting urgent repairs or if they have an order from ACAT.

Rights of Landlords During The Moratorium

  • As a landlord in Canberra, you cannot evict your tenants for non-payment of rent during the moratorium period, which will last until 22 October 2020. The landlords cannot issue a notice to vacate or terminate the agreement or apply to the ACAT to get an order of possession of the property.
  • If your tenant has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, then he must continue to pay the full rent as per the existing lease agreement. If he denies paying the rent, then you can approach the Conflict Resolution Service for mediation.
  • If the tenant is facing financial challenges due to the current situation, then you can negotiate to reduce the rent amount temporarily. You can also allow rental payment freeze for a specified period. The tenant is obligated to make these payments as rent arrears later.
  • The government is offering land tax rebates for landlords. Thus if you agree to reduce the rent by 25% for six months, then the ACT government will provide land tax rebates of 50% of the rent reduction to a maximum of $2,600 over six months.
  • The fourth quarter residential general rates instalments and land tax assessments¬†for 2019-20 will be sent four weeks later and will be payable four weeks later. You will be eligible for a $150 rebate for all residential rates bill and the Fire and Emergency Services Levy will be the same as the previous year.
  • The tenant can terminate the lease agreement before the end date by providing a three-week notice for a periodic agreement or by paying the break lease fee for a fixed-term agreement. However, they must ensure that they cover the requirements of bond cleaning in Canberra to get their bond back.
  • To validate that the tenant has been impacted, the tenant must provide proof of eligibility for JobSeeker or JobKeeper payment. They can show proof of job termination, reduction in work hours, a bank statement showing a reduction in income or a statutory declaration.
  • The landlord cannot increase the rent during the moratorium. When the rent reduction period ends, then the rent will revert to the same amount that was being paid by the tenant before COVID-19. The rent can be only increased after an interval of a year.
  • If you have a landlord insurance policy in place, then you must contact the insurer to determine if it covers loss of rental income to make a claim.
  • If you plan to undertake a property inspection during the emergency period, then you must stick to a virtual tour to maintain social distancing norms. If the tenant does not provide the required support for a virtual inspection, then you can apply to ACAT to access the property. During a physical inspection, the landlord must comply with all the safety regulations related to COVID-19.

Conclusion

The pandemic has changed the way we live and reside in our homes. If you are feeling anxious about hygiene, then you can hire bond cleaners in Canberra to disinfect your homes or get your bond back at the end of the tenancy. For all other updates on your rights as a tenant or landlord during the moratorium, refer to the points mentioned above.