What legal protections are there for tenants experiencing hardship because of COVID-19?
The Tasmanian Government has passed a law that protects tenants who are experiencing hardship from losing their income as a result of COVID-19.
It changes part of the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 for an 'emergency period'. The emergency period lasts for 120 days and can be extended by the Minister for 90 days at a time.
Note: the Government's strong advice to tenants is to continue to pay rent where they can afford to as these emergency period amendments do not provide for a rent holiday.
Can I ask my landlord to reduce my rent?
During the emergency period owners and tenants can come to an agreement to reduce the rent.
This agreement should to be in writing and signed by both parties.
Any agreement will be taken to form part of the residential tenancy agreement.
From a tenant’s perspective it is better that there is an agreement to reduce the rent as this will ensure that there are no arrears owing.
Can I break my lease if I won’t be able to survive financially if I have to pay rent during this time?
Tenants or owners can apply to break a fixed term lease if its continuation would cause severe hardship to the tenant.
The Residential Tenancy Commissioner may make an order as to whether the continuation of the agreement would cause severe hardship to the tenant. The Commissioner’s order can be appealed to the Magistrates Court for seven days following the order being made.
An order will take effect on the day after the end of the seven-day appeal period.
To begin this process a tenant or owner will need to complete the application form.
If tenants want assistance with the application, they should contact the Tenants’ Union on 6223 2641 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Can I be evicted from my rental property because of rent in arrears?
There is suspension of evictions for tenants relating to rent in arrears. This means during the emergency period a notice to vacate given before the emergency period begins will have no effect if the tenant has not yet vacated. Owners will not be able to issue a notice to vacate for rent in arrears.
This will suspend all evictions due to rent arrears, including those currently before the courts.
At the end of the emergency period, a property owner will be able to issue a notice to vacate and recover the rent in arrears, if the tenant is still in breach of their agreement, in the normal way. A property owner will be able to recover any outstanding rent from the tenant’s bond or, in the event the amount exceeds the Bond, through civil proceedings, just as they are able to do now.
Does my landlord still have to do urgent repairs for health and safety reasons?
There is no change to emergency or urgent repairs as these are necessary to ensure the health and safety of tenants.
During the emergency period general repairs and maintenance will not be required to be done. This reduces the need for tradesman to enter rental properties during the emergency period.
Can the landlord and property manager come into my house for property inspections?
While there is an emergency period in place, inspections will be limited to those for urgent or emergency repairs and other limited circumstances such as if the owner believes there is a risk to the health and safety of the tenant, or that not gaining access will result in damage to the premises.
If I have signed a contract for a lease but the landlord changes their mind, can I be prevented from moving in to the premises?
If both the landlord and tenant have signed the lease agreement, there is a binding contract and the tenant is legally allowed to move in. If the landlord changes their mind, they will have to make an application to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner on the basis of hardship (see above).
I’m a landlord and I have asked my tenant to move out, as the lease has ended. Do I still need to give them 42 days’ notice?
Yes. The Residential Tenancy Act 1997 provides that a landlord must give 42-days notice for end of lease (Notice to Vacate). If, at the end of the 42-days notice, the tenant has not moved out, the landlord can file an Application for an Order for Vacant Possession at the Magistrates Court. Due to COVID-19 the Magistrates Court is applying its discretion to the hearing of such applications. As a result, all landlords should include a cover letter explaining why the matter needs to be heard.