Renting & Coronavirus: What you need to know

Leo Patterson Ross • 27/03/2020

This post covers common questions about renting and Coronavirus COVID-19. The Tenants' Union of NSW is working hard to keep this information up to date, and we'll add to this post as we have more to share. This post has been updated several times since we first published it in mid March. Always, seek advice from your local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service about your options – tenants.org.au/get-advice (phone or online contact is best). The following does not constitute legal advice, and we are working fast so some errors may appear and later be corrected.

Not in NSW? There are services across the country who can help:

 

Contents:

 


 

Can my landlord evict me during this crisis?

Right now, they can proceed with the same legal processes as usual. However, they must still follow the processes laid out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. You cannot be evicted without an order from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), and only the Sheriff can physically remove you. See our factsheet on evictions.

There are likely to be major announcements made very soon – if you get a notice of termination, we do not recommend moving home before the National Cabinet has made its announcement.

You can attempt to negotiate with your landlord – if you are already in arrears, it's better to be proactive. It's unlikely to cost you anything to do so. A community member, Sage, has helped draft this letter you might find useful to send. Remember to edit it before sending! See also this statement from the Real Estate Institute of Australia. It may be useful to help convince your real estate agent.

The Tenants' Union and more than 80 other organisations and experts around Australia are calling on all Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to put a stop on evictions during this health crisis. Please sign our petition and read the full statement.

 


 

Can my landlord continue with inspections, including open homes?

The NSW government has banned open house inspections where premises are up for sale or lease. 

Landlords and agents can still show a single party the premises after they have made an appointment with the tenant(s) for individuals.

  • asking every person intending to attend an inspection if they have returned to Australia from overseas in the past 14 days and also if they are currently experiencing fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath (the current main symptoms associated with Covid-19). If the answer is yes, then the landlord or agent should tell the person that they cannot enter the house until they have self-isolated for 14 days or they have had a Covid-19 test that has come back negative for the virus
  • provide masks to make sure people are attending and who may be infected but are showing no symptoms can't unknowingly transmit the virus through air droplets
  • providing sanitiser/hand wash for people to use when attending an inspection and making sure they and the agent use it
  • ensure no one touches anything

We are aware of a number of landlords and agents who have already begun to put these measures into practice.

See also our factsheet on privacy and access.

 


 

I have lost income, what can I do?

You can attempt to negotiate with your landlord about paying a reduced or no rent for a short period. This may be in their interests because it may be much more difficult and expensive to replace you than give some reprieve. Some landlords will be more willing to do this, especially if their mortgage costs are not excessive. However, there is no provision within the Residential Tenancies Act to compel landlords to act with leniency in this situation. A community member, Sage, has helped draft this letter you might find useful to send. Remember to edit it before sending! See also this statement from the Real Estate Institute of Australia. It may be useful to help convince your real estate agent.

You cannot be evicted from your home for rent arrears without an order from the Tribunal and only the Sheriff can physically evict you from your home. See our factsheet on rent arrears.

Centrelink may be able to assist with emergency payments. For more information see this factsheet from Economic Justice Australia.

If you're evicted owing more than the bond is worth, or by a Tribunal order, you may be listed on a tenant database for up to 3 years. This can have a serious impact on your ability to find a home in the future. See our factsheet on tenant databases.

The Tenants’ Union of NSW is concerned that our legal and income support frameworks are not sufficient to protect people from being seriously impacted by this economic and health crisis. We will be advocating for support from government and the broader community to help prevent a deeper crisis caused by widespread and significant rent arrears. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter or subscribe to our e-bulletin to stay up to date. You can also consider whether you are comfortable sharing your story in the media, we are getting a lot of enquiries from journalists on this issue.

 


 

I’m having trouble with other household bills, what can I do?

If you are having trouble paying other household bills like electricity, gas or water contact your provider/retailer to find out about their customer assistance program and its eligibility criteria. All electricity and gas retailers are required to have a customer assistance program. If you are eligible under the program you are protected from disconnection and your retailer should work with you to develop a suitable payment arrangement and offer other relevant relief or support.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW has more information about these customer assistance programs, and range of useful resources you may be eligible for if you are facing financial difficulties. See also the Australian Energy Regulator’s info for customers in hardship. Usefully they have their fact sheets in a range of languages other than English.

 


 

I am supposed to be at Tribunal, should I still go? What will happen to my case?

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has now announced changes to their procedures on their website.

You can apply to have a phone hearing. Ensure you inform the Tribunal if you are in a higher risk category, for example if you are immune suppressed or a carer for elderly relatives, so they can consider this when assessing and prioritising your request. While you are able to do a phone hearing on a mobile, in general landlines are preferred because of the reliability of the line.

If you are unwell and/or required to self isolate and will be unable to attend the hearing you can request the Tribunal adjourn the hearing – that is, for the Tribunal to change the date of the hearing. More information about requesting an adjournment can be found on the Tribunal's website here.

 


 

I am an international student and affected by the travel ban. What can I do?

Many students already have housing organised in Sydney, but are now affected by the travel ban. They may have entered arrangements that are individual or shared residential tenancy agreements in the private rental market, lodgings in private households, or some that are less clear – for example, in Sydney, with Campus Living Villages, Iglu or Urbanest whose forms may look something like a tenancy, or something like a boarding house. Some, especially those on university grounds, are excluded from both the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and the Boarding Houses Act 2012.

Those blocked from entering the country for some time may be liable for occupancy fee or rent over this period. The relevant legislation is silent here. Both the Schedule 1 ('Occupancy Principles') of the Boarding Houses Act 2012 and Section 43 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 cover abatement of rent, but never anticipated this type of situation. Some people who are not covered by residential laws may need to refer to the Australian Consumer Law or even common law.

We recommend the following courses of action:

  1. As soon as possible seek to negotiate with your landlord for a waiver of any board or rent covering the period of your absence due to the travel ban. As well as being the decent thing to do, it may also be in their commercial interest to avoid missing out on your contract entirely if the ban prevents significant numbers of people starting their studies this year.
  2. Contact your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service for assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts come to nothing – tenants.org.au/get-advice. Again the rules may be different for different kinds of landlord or renting agreement.
  3. Ensure you know your rights regarding any items left behind. See our factsheet on goods left behind.
  4. You cannot be evicted from your housing unless the landlord follows the proper legal process. See our factsheet on evictions.
  5. If your housing provider has a relationship with your educational institution, contact your student association or university housing officer (where there is one) for assistance, given the Task force chair’s comments reported here.
  6. Contact your student association and tell them about your experience.

 


 

I'm in public or community housing. Will my rent go up due to increasing social support payments?

Renters in public and community housing have expressed concern that their rent may increase because pensioner and other income support payments are being increased. There are two payments, the Economic Support payments of $750 and Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight. These two payments are not assessable for calculating rents in public and community housing. So, your rent should not increase. You can look up the new list of what income is assessable on the DCJ website here.

 


 

Does the COVID19 crisis change any of my rights or obligations?

No, not currently. The State and Federal Governments have the power to announce measures that may impact some of your rights and obligations relating to your tenancy. Keep checking back at tenants.org.au to make sure you have the most current and accurate information about your legal rights about renting in NSW.

If you need any general legal advice and information about renting in NSW, your local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service are the best people to speak to, and their services are free! Their contact details are under Get Advice – tenants.org.au/get-advice.

NSW Fair trading has FAQs concerning COVID-19 on their website which may be useful.

 


 

I’m ok but I want to help my community. How can I do that?

This is a time when everyone needs to support each other.  If you know of neighbours who may have mobility or health issues that make it more difficult to obtain food and other groceries, you could consider reaching out to them and offering your support directly.

There are mutual aid groups springing up across different areas. Many of them are on Facebook and you may be able to find a local group that way. If you're not ok, these groups may be able to assist you. You can find a database of groups here.