Covid-19 and your Rights as Tenant or Landlord

Consumer Affairs VictoriaA State of Emergency has been declared in Victoria due to the serious risk to public health posed by coronavirus (COVID-19). The Victorian Government has enacted new laws to protect people in housing crisis, and declared a moratorium on evicting people out of their housing.


This page sets out rights and responsibilities in areas we are receiving increased enquiries about. Due to the regularly changing nature of circumstances in Victoria, we will update this information as often as possible.

Housing

New temporary laws exist to protect Victorian tenants, landlords and the rental market from the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Tenants and landlords must comply with the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020. The new laws apply for six months from 29 March 2020.

New rules cover a moratorium on evictions, rent relief for eligible tenants, suspension of rental increases, land tax reductions and deferrals for landlords, and a new dispute resolution process. Details are set out under ‘Information for tenants’ and ‘Information for landlords’ on this page.

We encourage landlords, agents and tenants to try to reach an arrangement, put it in writing, and register it with us. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can use the new, free mediation service.

New laws help protect you as a tenant from eviction and allow you to negotiate a rent reduction with your landlord if you’re suffering financial hardship due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The laws apply for six months from 29 March 2020. This means you can’t be evicted if you are served a notice to vacate on or after this date because you can’t pay your rent due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

These laws apply if you’re a tenant or sub-tenant in a residential property, or a resident living in a rooming house, social housing, under a site agreement at a caravan park, or in specialist disability accommodation.

See the new process for negotiating a reduced rental agreement.

What if I want to leave?

Under these temporary laws, tenants can break their lease early, or have their fixed term rental period reduced, in some circumstances. The process for claiming your bond remains the same. 

Contact us for further information.

What if I’ve already been served a notice to vacate? 

The new laws apply for six months from 29 March 2020. This means if your landlord served a notice to vacate on or after this date, it does not have effect. 

The landlord may seek an order through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to terminate the tenancy under some circumstances (including if you damage the property, use it for criminal activity, if serious violence occurs, or if the landlord wants to sell or move back into their property).

Can I be put on a blacklist for not paying rent? 

The landlord must not list you on a residential tenancy database (blacklist) if you are unable to pay rent because of coronavirus (COVID-19). For more information, view Tenancy databases (blacklists).

Money may be available to support you

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) offers a new rent relief grant for those facing financial hardship. 

Eligible tenants can apply for rent relief if they register an agreement they have reached with their landlord with us, or use our dispute resolution process to reach a reduced rent agreement. Learn more about the rent relief grant and check your eligibility under this scheme.

If you are not eligible for a rent relief grant, there is a range of information and other services available to support you. You may also be eligible for Commonwealth Rent Assistance through Centrelink.

How long will my new rent be frozen for? How much can the landlord raise the rent by after that time?

The laws are in effect for six months from 29 March 2020. Your landlord cannot increase the rent during that time. They can increase the rent after that time, but only within the terms of your lease agreement and the Residential Tenancies Act. If your landlord issues you with a notice of rent increase after this time and you think that an increase is not reasonable, you can apply to us for a rent assessment.

Where can I learn more? 

To stay updated on changes to renting laws, subscribe to our email list

You can also ask questions by lodging an enquiry.

New laws support landlords and help protect tenants in residential properties from eviction, other than in exceptional circumstances, and allow for the rent to be reduced if they are suffering financial hardship.

The laws apply for six months from 29 March 2020. If you have served a notice to vacate on or after 29 March 2020 to a tenant who cannot pay their rent because of financial hardship resulting from the coronavirus, it is not effective.

The laws apply to you if you are the landlord of a residential property, the operator of a rooming house, the owner of a caravan park, or a provider of specialist disability accommodation. 

See the new process for negotiating a reduced rental agreement.

What if my tenant refuses to pay rent?

Contact the tenant to determine why they have stopped paying rent. You cannot evict the tenant for non-payment of rent unless you can establish that the non-payment is wilful and seek a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decision to have the tenant evicted. Wilful non-payment may include: 

  • participation in a ‘rent strike’
  • not paying rent when they haven’t experienced financial hardship. 

In this case, contact us.

Please include appropriate evidence to support your reason for seeking a VCAT decision, such as correspondence from the tenant advising that they are not paying.

We will determine whether one of the exceptions applies and refer it to VCAT for determination if appropriate.

If the tenant is not paying rent due to the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19), you should try to come to an agreement with them about the rent they can afford to pay. 

What if my tenant wants to leave? 

Under these temporary laws, tenants can break their lease early, or have their fixed term rental period reduced, in some circumstances. The process for claiming the bond remains the same.

Contact us for further information.

What about my other responsibilities under the lease? 

You still have the same responsibilities to your tenant that currently exist under your lease, including carrying out repairs.

What financial help is there for me?

Contact your insurance and mortgage providers to determine the terms covering your situation.

Your tenants may be eligible for support under the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) rent relief grant for those facing financial hardship. Tenants may be entitled to up to $2,000 to help cover any shortfall in their rent. This money is paid directly to you. 

If you agree to reduce the rent, you may also be eligible for a 25 per cent land tax reduction. A deferment to 31 March 2021 may also be possible. For more information, visit State Revenue Office – Tax relief for eligible businesses.

How long will the new rent be frozen for, and how much can I increase the rent by after this period?

The laws are in effect for six months from 29 March 2020. You will not be able to increase the rent during that time. You can increase the rent after that, but only by a reasonable amount.

Where can I learn more?

To stay updated on changes to renting laws, subscribe to our email list.

You can also ask questions, by lodging an enquiry.

Some not-for-profit agencies may help eligible tenants in financial crisis. For initial advice and referral to a financial counsellor, visit the National Debt Helpline website.

The Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP) can make a referral where appropriate. It supports tenants who are financially disadvantaged and vulnerable, and have certain specified tenancy issues.

On 18 March 2020, the Victorian Government announced almost $6 million for Victorian homelessness organisations. The funding will help protect Victorians at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you need urgent help with housing, contact the Department of Health and Human Services’ housing assistance team. Call 1800 825 955 (free call, 24 hours) or visit the HousingVic website.

Restrictions on indoor gatherings

The Stay at Home Directions (No 4) dated 13 April 2020 (SAHD) restrict the number of people who may gather in indoor spaces to two people. Unless an exception applies, a person must not enter a residence unless:

  • no other person is in that space; or
  • only one other person is in that space; or
  • more than one other person is in the space, but all of those persons ordinarily reside at the same premises as the person.

Inspections for lease and sale

Clause 11(3)(c) of the Stay at Home Direction (SAHD) allows a person to permit another person to enter their place of residence if it is necessary for the second person to enter the premises for the purpose of their work. Therefore, a person may permit an estate agent to enter the person’s place of residence to allow the estate agent to undertake their work related to the place of residence.

Clause 11(3)(d) of the SAHD allows a person to permit another person to enter their place of residence if the second person is entering for the purposes of attending a private inspection of the premises for the purposes of a prospective sale or rental of the property.

Inspections of occupied properties

Private inspections of an occupied/tenanted residential property are permitted. An inspection is only permitted where an estate agent and one other person (the person for whom the inspection is organised by private appointment) are present at the premises.

An inspection where an estate agent, the prospective tenant/purchaser and a resident of the premises are all present is not permitted. In this case the resident of the premises will have to leave the premises, and should do so for a reason permitted under the SAHD, namely, to obtain necessary goods or services, for care and other compassionate reasons, to attend work or education or to exercise.

Those in isolation or quarantine:

  • should not leave their homes, except to seek medical attention
  • should not permit others to enter their premises for a voluntary inspection.

This does not prohibit any inspection that is permitted by law without consent by the resident, such as:

  • a landlord inspecting a property after serving a valid notice to enter under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, and
  • an estate agent entering a property to exercise their lawful duties (such as inspecting the premises on behalf of a landlord).

Inspections of vacant properties

Private inspections of a vacant residential property are permitted. An inspection is only permitted where an estate agent and one other person (the person for whom the inspection is organised by private appointment) are present at the premises.

Inspections of tenanted properties

Inspections by vendors or landlords

A vendor or a landlord wanting to enter a property to inspect it is permitted if they have served a valid notice to enter the premises under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.

Inspections by estate agents

An estate agent is permitted to enter residential premises to exercise lawful duties as part of the exercise of their occupation, including to inspect a property on behalf of a landlord or vendor.

Restrictions on indoor gatherings do not apply to an estate agent entering an indoor space where it is necessary to enter a property in the exercise of their occupation. Accordingly, an estate agent may enter premises to conduct an inspection on behalf of a landlord or vendor irrespective of the number of residents of the property present at the time.

Estate agents, vendors or landlords conducting any inspection should ensure compliance and high levels of hygiene. See the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) information on appropriate cleaning and disinfecting.

More activities may be restricted as the coronavirus (COVID-19) progresses. Estate agents should monitor the DHHS website for the most up-to-date information and advice.

 

Consumer Affairs Victoria

 

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