Queensland’s government has unveiled the Queensland Residential Tenancies Practice Guide, formalising the temporary requirements and protections for tenancies impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Practice Guide was published to help property owners and their tenants in their discussions to negotiate a way through the next six months while there is a moratorium on evictions.
What is the Queensland Residential Tenancies Practice Guide?
The state government worked with Tenants Queensland and the Real Estate Institute of Queensland to develop the guide which provides an outline for landlord and tenant negotiations of arrangements for residential tenancy agreements, including rooming accommodation agreements, for people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It sets out the steps for tenants and property owners to negotiate variations to residential tenancy agreements, including rent adjustments and breaking leases, supporting the process through to a successful outcome for all parties. It also sets out the steps for the conciliation process which is facilitated by the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA). This process is mandatory where parties are unable to reach an agreement.
What’s included in the Queensland Residential Tenancies Practice Guide
Ending residential tenancy agreements
The emergency response has made changes to when and why property owners and tenants can end their tenancy agreement during the Covid-19 pandemic emergency period to 30 September 2020. Property owners can only end tenancies that are Covid-19 impacted if they are preparing to sell the property and it needs to be vacant, or if they or an immediate family member needs to move in. Evidence may be required and penalties may apply for misusing the approved reasons.
Tenants can end an agreement with or without grounds after providing the required notice during the Covid-19 emergency period if they’re experiencing domestic violence or the property is not in good repair within seven days of moving in. Tenants who need to end their fixed-term lease early, have lost 75 per cent or more of their income, and have less than $5000 in savings, will have their break lease costs capped at the equivalent of one week’s rent.
Entry into rental properties must be in line with public health directives and advice and can only take place when necessary. Entry may be necessary to respond to emergency repairs or comply with ongoing regulatory obligations to ensure tenant safety, such as monitoring smoke alarms. Entry is also permitted if the property owner believes it necessary to protect the premises from damage. Where possible, inspections should be completed via video.
Tenants can refuse non-essential physical entry for routine repairs and inspections, inspections for sale, property valuations and reletting, and abandonment if they or a member of their household is under quarantine, if entry contravenes a public health direction, or if someone in the household is a vulnerable person who should limit their contact with other people.
Negotiating rent variations due to Covid-19
If neither party is significantly financially impacted by Covid-19, they must continue to abide by the terms of the tenancy agreement. However, tenants who can’t pay their usual rent due to income loss associated with Covid-19 should discuss and negotiate a rent reduction with their property manager. Tenants will need to prove they have experienced a 25 per cent reduction in income, or that their rent exceeds 30 per cent of their income with evidence such as a copy of an employment separation certificate, confirmation from Centrelink, or a medical certificate. The new agreement should be put in writing using the General tenancy, room accommodation and moveable dwelling Covid-19 variation agreements in the Practice Guide.
Either party experiencing hardship as a result of the pandemic should make all reasonable attempts to access relevant Federal and state financial relief packages, such as the JobSeeker payment, land tax concessions, or mortgage relief.
Special considerations for vulnerable renters
Changes have also been made to give tenants experiencing domestic and family violence more options. In the case of domestic or family violence:
- Tenants can end their interest in a tenancy agreement, providing seven days’ notice of their intention to leave and appropriate evidence.
- Tenants can leave immediately after providing the notice and the break lease costs will be capped at the equivalent of one week’s rent.
- Tenants can request their rental bond contribution to be refunded to them.
- Tenants can change the locks to their rental property without consent. They must provide copies of keys or access codes to the rental property owner as soon as practicable.
- Property owners can ask remaining co-tenants to top-up the rental bond if a bond contribution is refunded to a tenant.
- Property owners must prevent misuse or disclosure of information in a notice of intention to leave as there are penalties if they are not met.
When both parties can’t agree
Tenants and property owners are encouraged to agree on solutions together. However, if this is not possible, it is compulsory to use the RTA’s free and impartial conciliation service to agree on rent variation, ending agreements and managing tenancies. In the interim, tenants are required to continue paying the required rent, or as much as they can afford. For Covid-19 matters, evidence will need to be provided along with the request. Evidence can include employment separation letter or notice of reduced hours to prove loss of income, medical certificate, and documents to prove steps taken towards getting income support such as the Jobseeker payment.
If an agreement still can’t be reached, you will be issued with a Notice of Unresolved Dispute so you can apply to Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) for a decision. If this happens, more information about the QCAT process will be provided with the Notice of Unresolved Dispute.
Rent relief and assistance for tenants and property owners
A range of financial assistance packages is available from the Federal and State Governments to help tenants and property owners experiencing financial hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Eligibility criteria and the process of applying for the following relief and assistance is also provided in the Practice Guide:
- Queensland Government land tax rebates and deferrals for property owners who reduce their tenant’s rent
- Queensland Government utilities rebate available to all Queensland households
- Australian Government income support (including JobKeeker payments, economic supplements and Child care subsidy).