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Rental relief for COVID-19: Your rights, responsibilities and how to negotiate with your landlord
By MyBudget Editor

Are you worried about how to pay your rent during the COVID-19 pandemic? We’re pleased to provide a summary of rent relief packages state by state, as well as advice about how to negotiate with your landlord and stay on top of your household budget.

If your income has taken a hit due to the coronavirus crisis and you’re concerned about keeping up with your rent payments, you’re certainly not alone. Nearly one-third of Australian households are renting, and a significant proportion are expected to need some form of financial relief.

You’re probably already aware that several weeks ago the Federal Government announced a six-month ban on residential rental evictions, however, details have been scant about how this will work in practice.

As residential tenancies fall under state laws, it’s been up to each state and territory government to determine how to implement the Federal Government’s announcement. Also, whether to introduce further measures to keep people in housing, all the while trying to balance the interests of tenants and landlords.

Thankfully, the situation in most states has now become clearer:

New South Wales COVID-19 rent relief measures

The NSW Government has introduced a 60-day ban on evictions if your household income has fallen by at least 25% due to COVID-19. The ban can be extended to six months if necessary, and before requesting an eviction, landlords must first try to negotiate a rent reduction with you.

For further information about your rights contact the Tenants’ Union of NSW.

Victoria COVID-19 rent relief measures

Victorian renters may be eligible for a $2,000 grant providing you first try to negotiate a six-month rent reduction or deferral with your landlord. You must also lodge the terms of any new agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

To be eligible for the Rent Relief Grant, which will be paid to your landlord to count towards the new rental amount, you need to have less than $5,000 in savings, be still paying at least 30% of your income in rent and have household income of less than $1,903 per week.

If you’ve been unable to negotiate new rental terms with your landlord, but meet the other eligibility requirements, you may still be eligible for the grant providing you’ve undertaken a rental dispute resolution or mediation process with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

For further information contact Tenants Victoria.

Queensland COVID-19 rent relief measures

The Queensland Government has also introduced a six-month freeze on evictions due to COVID-19 and rental grants.

To be eligible for a rental grant, you must have lost your job due to COVID-19, applied for Centrelink benefits, and have less than $10,000 in savings. In addition, you’ll need to have exhausted all attempts to negotiate a rent reduction or freeze with your landlord, and be able to provide evidence of this.

The COVID-19 Rental Grant is a one-off payment of up to four weeks rent (to a maximum of $2,000), which will be paid to your landlord on your behalf.

For further information contact Tenants Queensland.

Western Australia COVID-19 rent relief measures

In Western Australia, a ban on evictions for six-months is set to be introduced for those affected by COVID-19, along with a ban on rent increases and grants. Tenants and landlords are urged to negotiate on rental payments and you’ll also be able to end a lease early without incurring break fees.

Grants will be available for tenants or sub-tenants who have lost their job, applied to Centrelink for income support, or have less than $10,000 in savings and are paying at least 25 per cent of their rent. WA Consumer Protection will administer residential relief grants with applications open from May 1.

For further information contact Tenancy WA.

South Australia COVID-19 rent relief measures

South Australia has outlawed rent increases for six months and introduced a ban on evictions in cases where tenants are facing extreme COVID-19 related financial hardship.

For further information contact the Tenants’ Information and Advisory Service.

Tasmania COVID-19 rent relief measures

The Tasmanian Government has introduced measures to protect tenants from eviction until at least 30 June, which may be extended further. It is also encouraging tenants and landlords to negotiate if COVID-19 circumstances mean you can no longer pay the full rental amount.

Both tenants and landlords can also apply to break a lease in the event of a 25% or more reduction in household income - this includes any government assistance.

For further information contact the Tenants’ Union of Tasmania.

Australian Capital Territory COVID-19 rent relief measures

The ACT Government has banned evictions in the short-term and frozen rental increases. It has also introduced incentives for landlords to offer rent reductions of at least 25% for up to six months.

For further information contact Legal Aid ACT.

Northern Territory COVID-19 rent relief measures

The NT Government is yet to implement a ban on evictions, but pressure is building on it to do so and an announcement is expected shortly. New rental legislation due to take effect has been postponed to consider longer negotiation periods between tenants and landlords and create fairer terms for tenants who can demonstrate hardship due to COVID-19.

For further information contact the Darwin Community Legal Service.

Tips to negotiate a rental reduction with your landlord

In most cases, your first course of action should be to contact your landlord (via your managing agent, unless it’s a private arrangement) to explain how you’ve been affected by COVID-19 and try to negotiate a rent reduction or freeze.

Any request you make to pay less rent should be made in writing and should include as much information about your situation as possible, at a minimum:

  • Details and evidence of your income prior to COVID-19
  • Details and evidence of how your income has been affected
  • Details and evidence of any Centrelink, or other government assistance payments, you’ve applied for or are receiving
  • Details of the new amount of rent you would be able to pay

NSW Fair Trading has an example letter template you can use.

If you’re able to negotiate a reduction or freeze in your rent with your landlord you should keep all related paperwork, or a written record of any conversations, to avoid any potential for misunderstanding.

In addition, it’s a good idea to keep a rental diary detailing the date your rent is due and the full amount and the date you make a payment and the amount, along with any statements of receipts.

Create a budget to work out how much rent you can afford to pay

Before negotiating with your landlord, it’s important to understand how much you can afford to pay and to avoid committing to a figure that might be unrealistic. They key is to create a budget that includes all of your income and expenses. This will show you where you can make adjustments to your spending habits.

Download our free budget template or contact MyBudget on 1300 300 922 and we can help to create a free budget for you.

In budgeting speak, your non-discretionary expenses describe the cost of keeping a roof over your head, food on the table, a car on the road and any other essentials, such as medicines. Your discretionary expenses are everything else—money you spend on things you don’t really need. This is your opportunity to reduce your discretionary spending by cutting non-essential expenses out of your budget. (Remember, it’s not forever—just while you get back on your feet.)

At MyBudget, we’re finding that most clients are able to rearrange their spending to account for social distancing measures. The money they would have spent on, say, going out or their gym membership, is being redirected to other expenses.

Understanding your rights and obligations

No matter where in Australia you live, none of the proposed or introduced relief schemes wipe out rental debt completely. The message in that is to not completely ignore your rent payments or delay the pain. The safest option is to assume that any rental arears will need to be repaid eventually, which means that it’s better to come up with an affordable plan.

State regulators remind renters that landlords have financial commitments, too. Landlords with investment property loans will have access to loan relief measures introduced by the banks, but any deferred loan repayments will need to be paid back on their part too.

Media reports have highlighted cases of real estate agents and landlords pressuring tenants to sell assets or take up the Australian Government’s temporary access to superannuation in order to pay their rent. Real estate agents and landlords have been warned against providing financial advice in this way.

If you are considering accessing your super, we recommend first seeking financial advice from your superannuation fund or financial advisor to ensure you understand the risks and effects. Alternatively, there may be other steps you can take to find the money for your rent.

Lastly, renters are reminded that, despite the ban on evictions related to COVID-19, many of the existing rental laws remain in place. This means you may still be evicted for other breeches of your lease, such as causing significant damage, keeping unlawful pets or conducting illegal activities at the property.

Help is at hand

If you need help re-ordering your financial priorities or finding ways to make your money go further during this challenging time, MyBudget can help.

We’re offering free budget consultations over the phone to all Australians. The customised budget we create will give you a detailed view of your finances, so you know exactly how much money you have for rent and bills—and it’s yours to keep.

To book your free phone appointment contact MyBudget on 1300 300 922 or enquire online.

Read more about COVID-19 financial relief measures, download a budget template, discover how MyBudget works, sign up for money tips on the MyBudget Blog or follow MyBudget on Facebook.

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