If you find that you cannot manage to pay your full rent you should contact the landlord or agent 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, and market rents are now dropping in some areas. Some landlords will be more willing to do this, especially if their mortgage costs are not excessive.
You can try to negotiate a rent reduction regardless of whether you fit within the eligibility criteria of being a COVID-19 'impacted tenant' . See the information below for things to consider before and during negotiations.
Step 1: Work out what you need to manage your rent
Rent reduction: waiver or deferral. What will work for you?
A rent waiver generally refers to the landlord agreeing to not collect rent or only partial rent for a period. The tenant is not required to pay this amount back.
Rent deferral is a situation where the rent for a period is still payable, but the actual payment is delayed for a period. The tenant has a debt, with an agreed repayment plan that starts in the future. A deferral can be for the entire rent but it is more likely to be for part of the rent. It is important to consider your ability to make future repayments when considering this option.
Think very carefully about any offer of rent deferral, i.e. an agreement to defer rent now, but requiring you pay back rent later – especially where there is no rent waiver included as part of the final negotiated outcome. This may cause significant issues later on. It is a good idea to call your local Tenants' Advice Service to get advice before entering into a rent deferral agreement.
A rent reduction agreement can be for a combination of part waiver and part deferral. If you are discussing this option with the landlord or agent ensure you are clear about what portion of the reduction will be waiver, and what portion is deferred.
A rent freeze is not a rent reduction. It does what you might expect – it keeps things exactly as they currently are, frozen. It means that rents cannot be increased for a period. Current rent is still payable in the regular time periods and it does not mean the rent gets reduced. However you might usefully discuss and confirm a rent freeze with the landlord when negotiating the repayment period, to confirm there will not be a rent increase during the period you are repaying any deferred rent.
Accumulated arrears or unpaid rent
If you are already behind in your rent you need to take this into account during negotiations and discuss with the landlord or agent how you will treat any arrears accumulated up until the point at which you come to an agreement on a new reduced rent. You should also take this into account when calculating what you can afford now and what you can afford to pay in the future.
What can I afford?
Rent Reduction Calculator
We have created a Rent Reduction Calculator to help you work out what you can afford or help you consider an offer made by the landlord and what payments options could work for you.
Our Rent Tracker Postcode Tool can also assist to show what rents are for other properties in your area.
Putting together a budget
For assistance in putting together a budget you can speak with a financial counsellor. See the Financial Rights Legal Centre website or National Debt Hotline for free resources, or to find a free service near you. You might also find the budgeting resources available on the moneysmart.gov.au website useful.
We have heard from renters who’ve contacted their landlords or the real estate agents about being in financial distress, and have been told to consider applying for early release of their superannuation and/or documentation of this before their request for a rent reduction or early release from their lease is considered.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has made clear they believe this behaviour may be a breach of the Corporations Act and an agent found to be in breach could face hefty penalties. If the agent or landlord actively encourages you to access your super you might want to provide them this ASIC letter and consider lodging a complaint with ASIC.
Step 2: Write to the landlord/agent with your proposal
Request a rent reduction
Write to the landlord/agent with your proposal. We have a template letter you can tweak to suit your personal circumstances and use.
Outcome in writing
If they agree to reduce your rent make sure you have that agreement clearly in writing. You can use our template Rent Reduction Agreement.
Step 3: Negotiations
Depending on their response, you may need to negotiate with the landlord or their agent. For information on the how to negotiate, what to do if the landlord won't negotiate, and the Fair Trading Formal Rent Negotiation Process, see COVID-19 Guide: Rent negotiations