On 22 April the Queensland Government set out measures that each residential Landlord and Tenant will have to abide by during the pandemic period.

The laws are being introduced as a way to balance Landlord and Tenants’ rights during these unpredictable and volatile times.

During the pandemic, it has never been more important to ensure people do not become homeless and for public health reasons, it is also just as important for people to be able to self-isolate in their own homes. This means the Government is taking measures to ensure that renters can remain in their rental properties for the duration of this crisis.

If you own a property for rent in Queensland, including a unit, share house, you rent out a room in your house or you rent out a caravan or houseboat, there are rules that must now be followed. Your rights and responsibilities are set out in the Residential Tenancies And Rooming Accommodation Act 2008.

Neither property owners or Tenants are to blame for the effects of COVID-19, and now is the time to work through this together to get out to the other side of this pandemic.

A Range Of New Measures:

 
In response to COVID-19, the Queensland Government is introducing a range of measures to support the residential rental sector:
  • Tenants in financial distress due to the impact of the coronavirus who cannot meet their rent commitments cannot be evicted or listed in a tenancy database for rent arrears.
  • Fixed term agreements due to expire during the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended to 30 September 2020 (unless the Tenant requests a shorter term).
  • There will be capped break lease fees of one weeks’ rent for eligible Tenants where the household income has reduced by at least 75% and they have savings of less than $5,000.
  • Owner obligations for routine repairs and inspections have been relaxed but regulatory obligations to ensure Tenant safety in the rental property continue to apply.
  • Tenants may refuse physical entry for non-essential reasons, including routine repairs and inspections, particularly if a member of the household is a vulnerable person. However, Tenants must agree to virtual inspections if physical inspections are not agreed to.
  • Tenants and property owners should work together to reach a mutual agreement on any changes to the rent and other terms of the lease. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the parties are required to undertake conciliation to resolve disputes which aims to achieve conciliated agreements which form part of the tenancy agreement.

When a Tenant Is Protected:

 
For a Tenant to be able to use the protection of the six-month moratorium on evictions, they must prove that their rental household is impacted as follows:
  1. The Tenant is suffering excessive hardship due to the COVID-19 emergency if any of the following apply:
    1. one or more Tenants or residents are afflicted by COVID-19;
    2. they are subject to a quarantine direction to stay at a place;
    3. a public health direction has closed their employment or restricted their employer’s trade or business;
    4. they are self-isolating because they or a member of their household or someone they are a primary carer for is a vulnerable person;
    5. they are unable to work or return home because of a travel restriction;
    6. they have been prevented from leaving or returning to Australia; AND
  2. the Tenant suffers a loss of income of 25% or more, OR
  3. the rent payable is 30% or more of that Tenant’s income.
 
If there is more than one Tenant under the lease, the tenancy will be COVID-19 impacted if each of the Tenants has suffered or is suffering excessive hardship and there has been a loss of 25% or more of the combined total income of all Tenants OR the rent must be 30% or more of the combined total income of all Tenants.

Ending a Tenancy:

 
There are also now additional reasons for property owners or Tenants to end a tenancy early where a Tenant has suffered from the effects of COVID19, including:
  1. where the property owner or their immediate family needs to move into the rental property;
  2. where the property owner is preparing the property for sale or the sale of the property requires vacant possession by settlement;
  3. where the Tenant is experiencing domestic and family violence;
  4. where the Tenant finds on moving into the property that it is not in good repair.
 
If a landlord needs the property to be vacated by a Tenant, they must give the Tenant the required written notice to leave and must also have evidence to substantiate their reasons. Penalties may apply for misusing or making false statements.
 
A Tenant however can end a tenancy with or without grounds however does still need to provide the landlord or property manager with the required written notice.

For Further Information:

 
The Residential Tenancies Practice Guide (which can be found through the Queensland Government Residential Rental Hub here) provides more information about the residential tenancy changes that will soon take effect.
 
The Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) can provide information and support to Tenants and property owners to assist them in reaching agreement. They also offer a free dispute resolution service if an agreement cannot be reached.
 
If you need help with your tenancy, you should seek further advices from your solicitor or contact the RTA, which can be contacted as follows:
  • text (SMS) “Hi” to 0480 000 782
  • call the RTA’s information hotline on 1800 497 161 from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, or from 9am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday
  • visit the Residential Tenancies Authority website
 
The content of this column is to provide a general guide on this topic. Professional advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
 
If you are a Landlord or Tenant requiring legal advice on your rights and obligations for residential tenancies during this pandemic, please contact our experienced and friendly property team for specific advice for your circumstances.