What support is on offer for landlords during the COVID-19 pandemic?

By Mark Rosanes | 11 May 2020

Are you a landlord having difficulty collecting rental payments or just wanting to offer support to your tenants? These options can help you keep afloat.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a difficult situation for Australia’s residential rental system. Scrambling to curb transmission of the virus, the government has placed the country under lockdown causing many businesses to halt operations. This has almost instantly resulted in loss of jobs or reduced hours for many workers, adversely affecting their capability to pay rent.

But while many tenants are faced with the challenge of sustaining lease payments at a time when their incomes have become unstable, landlords are also under financial pressure to keep their investment property loan repayments covered.

The government’s announcement last March of a six-month moratorium on evictions was clearly welcomed news to tenants experiencing financial stress because of the outbreak. However, the government has abandoned attempts to achieve a nationally consistent approach to address the issue instead leaving it to the states and territories to settle on the finer details on how to provide support for those affected.

This has left landlords with more questions than answers as Australians are now faced with different sets of legislation and financial support depending on where they live.

So what support is available for residential landlords in each jurisdiction?

New South Wales

The state government has announced a $440m package to help both landlords and tenants affected by the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes financial support through land tax waivers and rebates.

Residential landlords will also be able to apply for a 25% rebate in land tax on the basis that the same rental reduction is granted to their tenants. However, if a tenant’s reduced income as a result of the pandemic requires further reductions to their rental payments, then it’s advised that both parties open a discussion to reach an agreeable rate during this time.

Landlords can apply to the NSW civil and administrative tribunal to seek eviction if they are in financial distress at any time, and after the 60-day stop “if it is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the specific case”. Under the scheme, a landlord or managing agent must negotiate with a tenant who is struggling to make rental payments, with dispute resolution by NSW Fair Trading. Unpaid rent accrues as arrears during this period, but tenants will not be blacklisted.

Queensland

The government has provided a $400m land tax relief program for residential and commercial tenancies, allowing landlords to apply for a waiver of up to three months and a deferral of three months of land tax.

Landlords must “provide rent relief to the affected tenants of an amount at least commensurate with the land tax relief” to be eligible.

Victoria

The state government has offered a $500m package comprised of $420m in land tax relief for commercial and residential tenancies, and $80m for residential tenants in hardship.

Landlords who will provide rent relief to tenants financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will be eligible for a 25% discount on their land tax, while any remaining land tax can be deferred until March 2021.

Western Australia

The state government has committed $30m rental assistance for residential tenants who were laid-off and are struggling with their finances. Under this scheme, the state government will shoulder rents of up to $2,000, which will be paid directly to the landlord. This grant will be provided in addition to rental reductions negotiated between tenants and landlords.

South Australia

The South Australian government recently announced a $50m tax relief package for residential and commercial landlords, modelled on similar packages in NSW and Victoria.

Under the emergency scheme, landlords will be offered a 25% reduction on their 2019-20 land tax liability on affected properties but would be required to pass on the full benefit of the tax relief to their tenants impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

SA has already cut land tax by $189m from July and extended a $13m relief package to allow deferment of 2019-20 land tax bills by six months.

Tasmania

According to the government, residential landlords who are experiencing hardship and unable to meet land tax payments should contact the state revenue office. The commissioner will consider deferring any outstanding land tax until 30 June or may organise alternative payment arrangements. In addition, interests will not be applied to any outstanding 2019-20 land tax debt.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT will give landlords a land tax rebate if they cut tenants’ lease payments by 25% for up to six months and will match 50% of the rent reduction to maximum of $2,600 during the same period or $100 each week.

Residential tenants and landlords may also reach an agreement to delay rental payments if a tenant is not earning income. Any outstanding rent during this period will be a debt owed to the landlord but is free of interest for the six months of the moratorium period.

Northern Territory

NT has recalled parliament last week to pass more coronavirus emergency legislation, including residential tenancy laws. The government has indicated that it’s working on measures to create ‘fairer terms’ for new leases, and longer negotiating periods between tenants and landlords.

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