It is like a roller coaster ride of uncertainty and change, that is literally peaking in ebbs and flows on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. Property Managers are just waiting to see what is over the crest at the top of the ride, is it a sharp downward spiral or an easy slope we can navigate with just a manageable amount of fear. As an industry, we’ve been thrown a few challenges and there’s probably a few more to come, but the only way to deal with a challenge is to look it in the eye and say “accepted”, with all the force and conviction you can muster.
The Queensland Government met right before the Easter break to discuss the boundaries concerning the six month No Eviction Moratorium. The positives to come from the announcements are that we now have some clear policy to work with and it is important property managers have a solid understanding of the changes that will affect them, their owners and tenants during the COVID-19 moratorium.
We have broken it down into the key facts that have come out of the Queensland Government’s meeting below, as well as an update on some of the Residential Tenancies Authorities (RTA) latest information to separate the facts from fiction.
THE LATEST FACTS CONCERNING COVID-19 AND RENTING IN QUEENSLAND
FREEZE ON EVICTIONS UPDATE
· QLD Government has confirmed they are placing a freeze on evictions for 6 months for Queensland renters experiencing financial distress due to the impacts of COVID-19. It is applicable at this stage from the 29th of March until the 29th of September.
· The changes such as the freeze on evictions apply to those who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 situation and can demonstrate this with supporting evidence.
· Debts can’t accrue for tenants (ie they can’t pay back a rent reduction shortfall at the end of a tenancy) and that they will not be placed on a tenancy database if they are experiencing hardship.
· You can’t ask for information about their finances or for them to draw on their superannuation or sell personal items to raise the money for rent.
· A cap on break Lease fees – equivalent one weeks rent.
· Renters and property owners are encouraged to agree on solutions together.
· If this is not possible, conciliation through the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) will be a mandatory requirement.
· The Australian Government has expanded financial support entitlements. Make sure Tenants have applied to Centrelink for the COVID-19 income support.
· If a tenant has lost their job and do not have access to any other financial assistance, and haven’t been able to negotiate a change in rent, you may be eligible for a COVID-19 Rental Grant. The COVID-19 Rental Grant of up to $500 a week for up to four weeks ($2000 maximum) which is available to Queenslanders who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and have exhausted all other options.
RESIDENTIAL RENTAL HUB
The Residential Tenancies Authority has responded to the crisis by setting up a new website that outlines all the new changes to tenancy legislation in Queensland as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. It outlines all the latest information for Landlords, Tenants, and Property Managers. Some of the changes the RTA has advised:
Entry to Properties
· Tenants can refuse entry to the property for non-essential reasons (including routine inspections), particularly if they or a member of their household has a higher risk profile if exposed to COVID-19.
· If you can postpone or reschedule inspections to a time where all parties are comfortable, this is the best way to minimise risk. All parties must communicate openly and respectfully and try to establish an agreed way to work during this difficult time. Any agreement should be recorded in writing.
· Inspections can still be done via video conference (if the tenant agrees), detailed photos or by appointment while observing social distancing and hygiene protocols. Refer to Queensland Health for information on the current public health directions.
Current Form12’s (Notice of Intention to Leave)
These will still stand if they aren’t related to COVID-19.
Showing / Leasing Properties
Currently, private inspections by appointment can still go ahead.
Repairs and maintenance may be required to keep the premises safe, and in many cases can be completed in-line with social distancing rules.
End of Lease
· New protections now mean that property owners will be prohibited from evicting a tenant if their lease expires during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
· This means that a property owner must offer an extension to the lease for at least a further 6 months. · Alternatively, if a tenant cannot pay rent due to the impacts of coronavirus and wants to end their lease early, they will be allowed to do so.
· Tenants will still be required to demonstrate respect for their property and neighbours by maintaining their home in accordance with their tenancy agreement.
RTA new Form 18D – there is a new COVID-19 Variation agreement – to be used in rent reduction situations.
RTA ADVICE FOR TENANTS
Talk to your property manager or the owner to make them aware of your situation and to request the changes you need to your rent arrangements.
Put in writing any agreement you reach with the property owner or manager about rent adjustments and timelines.
RTA ADVICE FOR OWNERS AND PROPERTY MANAGERS
Consider requests for changes to rent arrangements including rent adjustments if your tenant is experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. Put in writing any agreement you reach with the tenant about rent adjustments and timelines. Tenants and property owners and managers are encouraged to agree on solutions together. If this is not possible, conciliation through the RTA will be a mandatory process, subject to legislative amendments.
The most important information from the RTA – If you have not been significantly impacted by COVID- 19, continue to meet your tenancy obligations including paying rent and other responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008.
So again, the important thing here is to communicate. Jump on the front foot and share as much of this information with your owners and tenants so they are able to also decipher the key information and are well aware of the difference between fact and fiction and what the Government and the RTA’s expectations are as we navigate these unchartered waters.
Here is the statement from the Queensland Government on Thursday 9th April 2020.
Click here to access the RTA Rental Hub.