With the coronavirus outbreak shutting down Australia for the foreseeable future, many of those already affected are wondering how they'll continue to pay their rental bills. Federal and state governments have acknowledged this is going to be a problem and have announced some steps to help ease the pressure. Here's what you need to know.
What's changed with renting during coronavirus so far?
With the government's restrictions on how many people can congregate in certain locations around the country, the way we rent has changed for the time being.
Open house inspections and auctions are now banned across the country as of the time of writing. You'll still be able to inspect a premise if you're looking to rent a new place but only one-on-one inspections will be allowed.
What about rental support during the coronavirus downturn?
On 29 March, the Prime Minister announced the state governments had agreed they would undertake some changes in regards to renting in the country, including a temporary moratorium on evictions.
"As part of its work on helping businesses hibernate, National Cabinet agreed that short-term intervention is needed for commercial tenancies," Morrison said in the press announcement.
"National Cabinet agreed to a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenancies in financial distress who are unable to meet their commitments due to the impact of coronavirus."
This meant the following changes were being worked on to provide relief for struggling tenants:
- a short term, temporary moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent to be applied across commercial tenancies impacted by severe rental distress due to coronavirus;
- tenants and landlords are encouraged to agree on rent relief or temporary amendments to the lease;
- the reduction or waiver of rental payment for a defined period for impacted tenants;
- the ability for tenants to terminate leases and/or seek mediation or conciliation on the grounds of financial distress;
- commercial property owners should ensure that any benefits received in respect of their properties should also benefit their tenants in proportion to the economic impact caused by coronavirus;
- landlords and tenants not significantly affected by coronavirus are expected to honour their lease and rental agreements; and
- cost-sharing or deferral of losses between landlords and tenants, with Commonwealth, state and territory governments, local government and financial institutions to consider mechanisms to provide assistance.
But while it's a great first step, many of the states still need to ensure the changes are enshrined in regulation and legislation.
Renters in NSW during the coronavirus pandemic. While politicians are rightly concerned about the impact on the economy of the coronavirus pandemic, the real rubber hits the road for us when it comes to paying bills. And for about a third of us, coming up with the rent when jobs are being shed at a prodigious rate is a massive problem. Where do you stand as a renter in these trying times?
How do the updated rental changes vary between states and territories?
In NSW, there are plans to implement the COVID-19 relief as agreed upon in the National Cabinet but there are still no strategies or changes made public as of yet.
Keep an eye on the Fair Trading website for updates but for now, it encourages tenants speak to their landlords or real estate agents if they have any concerns or trouble. This obviously isn't ideal but in absence of any real legislative support, it's a good first step. You can also get in touch with Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Services for further advice.
In fact, the only state to really enact laws to prevent evictions at this point is Tasmania, which on 3 April, put a halt to it until at least 30 June.
This means any vacate notices handed out in Tasmania have no affect until that date. While the changes are a welcome relief, the government reminded tenants it was not a "rent holiday" and urged them to continue making rental payments.
Other states and territories are expected to follow in similar footsteps in the coming weeks.
In terms of monetary rental relief, Queensland is the only state to offer additional support for struggling renters right now. As a part of its COVID-19 Rental Grant, renters who have lost their job and don't have access to other financial assistance are able to apply for a one-off payment of up to $2,000 to cover four weeks of rent.
It's paid directly to the landlord or owner who's owed the rent and will only be applicable to those waiting for Centrelink payments but haven't yet had their applications approved.
Outside of Queensland, those on income support payments offered through Centrelink can receive rental assistance as well as Jobseeker or JobKeeper payments. While the rental assistance payments remain unchanged for now, it's possible some adjustments could be made as the coronavirus downturn continues.
For now, these are encouraging steps forward as many around the country struggle but hopefully, future announcements will further alleviate the anxiety being felt by renters.
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