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New Temporary Laws to Protect Tenants & Landlords Rights During COVID-19

New Temporary Laws to Protect Tenants & Landlords Rights During COVID-19
  • Olivia White
  • Jul 30 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has afflicted countries across the world and disrupted the lives of millions. Victoria has been at the forefront of the crisis as the state has been in lockdown twice due to the spread of the virus. With more positive cases coming out in the state, it is apparent that restrictions are the only way to go forward.

However, the economic impact has been significant, with many people losing their jobs and various businesses pulling down their shutters. The federal and state governments have introduced several measures to ease the financial burden of Melbournians.

One of these is the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020, which has been brought forth to protect the rights of tenants and landlords during the pandemic.

The new laws had become a necessity as many residential property owners and tenants were unable to adhere to the lease agreements. Some of the landlords were trying to take undue advantage while tenants were refusing to pay due to the situation.

However, the new laws have paved the way for fair settlements and agreements. Cleaning and disinfecting the premises at the end of the tenancy is also gaining attention due to the virus. Several people are opting for professional end of lease cleaning in Melbourne to sanitise their homes since the cleaners are taking all the COVID-19 precautions to disinfect the properties.

All of these measures are helping tenants and landlords to stay away from the negative impact of the crisis. Let us understand the new legislation in detail to stay insulated from the financial upheaval caused by the pandemic.

The New Residential Tenancy Laws During COVID-19

The legislation has introduced temporary regulations which came into effect from 29 March 2020 and will last for six months. The laws have created a moratorium on evictions and have created provisions for rent relief for tenants facing hardships. It also stipulates regulations regarding ending a tenancy during the moratorium period.

If you own or live in a leased property, then the first step should be that both the parties must communicate and come to an agreement for a rent reduction or deferment of rental payments if the tenant is going through a tough time currently.

If you are not able to negotiate amicably and enter into a dispute, then you can use the dispute resolution service in Melbourne to settle the matter. Thus it is important for both landlords and tenants to know about these laws that allow all the residents to have stable accommodation and avoid homelessness.

Rights of Tenants During the Six-Month Period

  • A tenant or a sub-tenant cannot be evicted from the rented property during the moratorium period of six months if he/she is unable to pay the rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The law is applicable to all residential properties, rooming houses, social housing, caravan parks, and disability accommodations.
  • The landlord cannot increase the rent during these six-months. It can be increased once the moratorium ends, but it should be in accordance with the lease agreement signed between the two parties.
  • The government has also created a COVID-19 rental relief grant that will help tenants in Melbourne to claim $2000 rental support if they are financially distressed due to the crisis. The grant amount goes directly to the account of the landlord or agent as a contribution for the tenant’s total rental payment.
  • The tenant must opt for a reduced rent agreement over deferring the payments as it can lead to the creation of a huge debt at the end of the six-month period. If the situation doesn’t get better, then it will become a financial burden for the tenant. Thus it is recommended to sign the reduced rent agreement and claim the rent relief grant to make the payments.
  • If the landlord or the agent is uncooperative or avoiding contact, then the tenant must initiate the dispute resolution process to get help. It does not require the approval of the landlord. If the tenant feels that the landlord is not responding to his requests or is being unfair with the terms of the agreement, then he can contact the service.
  • The landlord cannot place the name of the tenant in the blacklist of the residential tenancy database if the tenant is unable to pay the rent due to COVID-19.

Ending A Tenancy During the Moratorium

  • A tenant can end the periodic tenancy by sending a 14-day notice to the landlord about the intention to vacate. A similar procedure needs to be followed to end the fixed-term tenancy. The tenant will be exempted from the lease break fee if he is vacating due to financial crunch, need for personal care, relocation to public housing, relocation to temporary crisis accommodation, etc.
  • The landlord can approach the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to terminate the tenancy. However, VCAT will look into the circumstances before ordering the eviction. The tenant can take help of the free services, such as tenancy advocates, community legal centres, etc., to prepare for the hearing.
  • VCAT can order immediate eviction after the hearing if it is proven that the tenant has caused damage, has interfered with the safety of the landlord, agent or neighbours, or has been given the notice to vacate under s368 of the Residential Tenancies Act due to violence. It can also order the tenant to vacate if the property is deemed unfit for habitation. The landlord can hire end of lease cleaners in Melbourne to get it cleaned after the eviction to get it sanitised and clean.

Rights of Landlord During the Six-Month Period

  • If the tenant is facing financial trouble currently, then you can discuss the renegotiation of the rental amount. On the other hand, if the tenant is not facing any hardship, but is refusing to pay the rent, then you can get a VCAT order to terminate the lease agreement.
  • Tenants can end the lease before the due date without incurring any penalties or get the fixed-term rental period reduced to vacate the premises. However, the bond claiming procedure has not been changed during the period. Thus the tenants must get the rental property cleaned for the inspection.
  • The end date on the reduced rent agreement can be after the six-month moratorium. Also, if the new agreement is expiring, you can get it extended and must get it registered with Consumer Affairs Victoria.
  • A dispute resolution order cannot be extended by the landlord or the tenant. Only the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer can make changes to the order. Both the parties must abide by the order even after the six-month period as they are applicable even after the moratorium ends.
  • If the landlord had served an eviction notice to the tenant before 29 March 2020, but the date of eviction was after the start of the moratorium, then the notice is not effective. The landlord must contact VCAT to get an order for termination of the lease to evict the tenant. VCAT will take into account the circumstances of both the parties and then make a decision.
  • The landlord has to fulfil all other responsibilities mentioned in the lease agreement during the period, such as getting the repair work done on the rented property. It can be exempted if it is not possible for the landlord to get it done due to financial problems or a lockdown situation.
  • The landlord should get in touch with the insurance company and lenders to understand how they will be covered in the current situation. If they enter a rent reduction agreement, then they are eligible for a 25% reduction in land tax. Also, if the tenant claims the rent relief grant, it will be given directly to the landlord.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented situation which has been troubling for both landlords and tenants. Many are relying on professional end of lease cleaning in Melbourne to disinfect their homes at the end of the tenancy. Also, it is imperative for them to know about the new laws related to the termination of lease and evictions to safeguard their rights during the next few months.