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TRAVEL & LEISURE

Here's What the Queensland Government's Moratorium on Rental Evictions Means for You

To help those financially impacted by COVID-19, the government has temporarily banned some evictions. But there's a bit of fine print — here's what you need to know.
By Sarah Ward
April 25, 2020
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Here's What the Queensland Government's Moratorium on Rental Evictions Means for You

To help those financially impacted by COVID-19, the government has temporarily banned some evictions. But there's a bit of fine print — here's what you need to know.
By Sarah Ward
April 25, 2020
  shares

In late March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the national cabinet had agreed to a six-month moratorium on evictions for both residential and commercial tenancies financially impacted by COVID-19. Like many coronavirus regulations, though, the moratorium then had to be implemented by individual states and territories. And on Wednesday, April 22, the Queensland Government did just that.

As part of a package of special COVID-19 protections that has just been legislated in the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020 and explained in the Residential Tenancies Practice Guide, the government has introduced a six-month ban on evicting people financially impacted by COVID-19 — one that's backdated to apply from Sunday, March 29 until Wednesday, September 30. The eviction moratorium also applies to tenants whose lease expires during the next six months, with property owners required to offer an extension until at least Wednesday, September 30.

The government hopes this pause on evictions will allow time for financial support (such as Centrelink and the new Jobkeeper payments) to reach tenants, and will "ensure people do not have to face the prospect of homelessness" during the pandemic, as stated on the state's new COVID-19 Residential Rental Hub.

As always, there's some fine print — so we've broken it down.

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First up, what is a moratorium?

Simply, it's a temporary ban or suspension of an activity.

And an evictions moratorium?

A temporary ban on evictions. In Queensland, the evictions moratorium is for six months, backdated to apply from Sunday, March 29 until Wednesday, September 30 — and applies only to renters who have been financially disadvantaged by COVID-19. More on that below.

During this period, landlords are not able to issue a notice to leave to renters who have been financially disadvantaged by COVID-19. Now and in the past, landlords must issue a notice to leave if they wish to evict a tenant and, in more serious circumstances, an order, which must obtained through QCAT. Then, only with a warrant, can a police officer physically remove you from the premises.

What happens when these six months are up?

The government did not legislate what will happen after the six-month eviction moratorium period ends if you do not pay your rent during the period — that is, whether you can then be evicted for not paying rent.

That said, you are encouraged to start negotiations with your landlord if you are having trouble paying rent during this six-month period, and to apply for mandatory conciliation through the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) if you can not come to an arrangement. More on that below.

If you negotiate a tenancy variation agreement for a new, lesser rent amount for the six-month period — a rent reduction — you will not have to pay the shortfall after the period is up as you are no longer liable for the larger amount during the agreed period. For example, if your landlord agrees to reduce your rent by $100 per week for the six-month period, you will not need to make up that extra $100 per week at a later date. When the period is up, you will need to resume paying your full rent amount, however.

That said, your landlord may ask that you negotiate a tenancy variation agreement that includes a payment plan for unpaid rent.

So, does that mean I don't have to pay rent?

If you have been financially impacted by COVID–19 and you cannot pay rent during this six-month period, you cannot be evicted due to rental arrears (missed rent payments) during the six-month period — but you are encouraged to start negotiations with your landlord for a longer-term rent reduction if needed. You're also advised to "keep paying what you think is reasonable", which the Qld Government specifies is 30 percent of your income.

Once a new rent has been agreed on, a Tenancy Variation Form (RTA form 18d) must be submitted.

What's important to note is that you're only protected from evictions if you've been put in position of excessive hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency, because one or more rent-paying members of your household has:

  • been afflicted by COVID-19, or
  • been subject to a public health direction to stay at a place, or
  • are self-isolating because either they're vulnerable to COVID-19, a member of their household is vulnerable to COVID-19, or a someone they are a primary carer for is vulnerable to COVID-19, or
  • had to stop working or reduce their ours because a public health direction has closed their place employment or restricted their employer's trade or business, or
  • been unable to work because of a travel restriction, or
  • been prevented from returning to Australia.

In addition to falling into one of the above categories, to demonstrate excessive hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency, one or more rent-paying members of your household must:

  • have suffered a loss of income of 25 percent or more, or
  • now be faced with paying rent that represents more than 30 percent of their income.

If you and your landlord cannot come to a new arrangement, you must apply for conciliation through the RTA. This is mandatory. As part of the conciliation process, you will be required to provide the RTA with information to show your loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to substantiate the hardship you're experiencing, and to demonstrate that you're either receiving income support payments or you've taken steps towards getting income support.

If you do not meet the above eligibility, you're expected to honour your agreement and pay all rent and charges in full.

What about if I've lost my job? Or had my shifts cut?

As outlined above, if you have been financially impacted by COVID–19 due to losing your job or having your shifts cut, and you cannot pay rent during this six-month period, you cannot be evicted due to rental arrears — but you are encouraged to start negotiations with your landlord for a longer-term rent reduction if needed, and will be required to work through RTA conciliation if that is not successful.

If you have lost your job, don't have access to any other financial assistance and haven't been able to negotiate a reduction in your rent, the government has implemented a COVID-19 Rental Grant. It is only available to Queensland tenants who have lost their job, have applied to Centrelink for income support, are waiting for their application with Centrelink to be approved, do not have more than $10,000 in cash and savings, and can provide evidence of their efforts to negotiate a payment plan with their landlord — and have exhausted all other options.

Designed to bridge the gap until Centrelink payments start, it provides a one-off payment of up to four weeks rent (up to a maximum of $2000), and is paid directly to your landlord. Applications close at 5pm, on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Do I have to pay it later?

If you do not pay any rent and do not make an arrangement with your landlord, your unpaid rent will accrue as arrears during this period. Whether or not you'll have to pay this rent after the six months needs to be negotiated with your landlord.

As outlined above, if you negotiate a new, lesser rent amount for the six-month period, you will not have to pay the shortfall after the period is up as you are no longer liable for the larger amount during the agreed period. For example, if your rent drops by $100 per week, you will not need to make up that extra $100 per week. When the period is up, you will need to resume paying your full rent amount, however.

And if I can't, I won't be evicted — right?

During the six-month moratorium, no — you cannot be evicted for not paying rent if you or your household has been financially impacted by COVID-19, as explained above. What happens after that period ends, though, hasn't been legislated by the government.

To clarify, this moratorium primarily protects you from evictions for not paying rent if you have been financially impacted by COVID-19. That said, it also applies to tenants who reach the end of their lease during the six-month freeze period — that is, before Wednesday, September 30. If your lease expires within moratorium period and you don't want to move, your landlord must offer you an extension on your existing lease until at least Wednesday, September 30, unless you specifically request a shorter term.

The moratorium does not apply if you breach your rental agreement. In that case, your landlord can still evict you — with timeframes varying depending on the reason.

You can also still be issued with a notice to leave if the property is being sold, or the owner is preparing the property for sale.

If I receive a phone call or email from my landlord about being evicted what should I do?

If your landlord is unaware of the moratorium, you can direct them to the COVID-19 Residential Rental Hub and the RTA website. At the latter, you'll also find forms for varying your rental agreement due to COVID-19.

If you visit the Tenants Queensland website, you can also access template and example letters to use when approaching your landlord about rent reduction. You can also contact Tenants Queensland by phone to obtain free tenancy advice.

And, you can receive free financial advice from professionals by calling the National Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007.

Am I allowed to break my lease and move out early if I need?

You can, but you must be experiencing extreme financial hardship due to COVID-19. Your household must have lost 75 percent of more of your income, and have less than $5000 in savings — and you must be able to prove this.

If you're in a fixed-term agreement, you might need to pay a break free; however that will be capped at the equivalent of one week's rent for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You'll also still need to pay any rental arrears you owe prior to advising your landlord that you need to break the lease.

If you're having difficulty advising your landlord that you're breaking the lease — they're refusing to discuss the matter with you, or they can't be contacted — you'll need to go through the aforementioned RTA conciliation process.

Have more questions?

There's a heap of FAQs on the COVID-19 Residential Rental Hub, as well further details in the Residential Tenancies Practice Guide and an outline of the special COVID-19 protections for residential tenants on the RTA website. The Tenants Queensland website features fact sheets, forms and other useful links — and if you're still unsure you can get free tenancy advice by contacting its Queensland Statewide Tenant Advice Referral Service by phone.

Published on April 25, 2020 by Sarah Ward

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