Western Australia’s introduced rent relief legislation follows most of the nation’s states and territories in a bid to protect tenants and landlords from financial pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic. The new legislation is designed to prevent homelessness across the state.
Residential Rent Relief Grant for tenants
The state government has made $30 million available for grants of up to $2,000 for residential tenants who lost their jobs on or after 20 March, 2020 and are facing financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tenants or sub-tenants who lost their job, applied to Centrelink for income support, or have less than $10,000 in savings and are paying at least 25 per cent of their rent will be eligible. The online form for applications will be available on the Government of Western Australian website from Friday 1 May.
Ban on evictions and rent increases
During the Coronavirus emergency period, there is a six-month moratorium on evictions and prohibition on rent increases. The state government has outlined in its guidelines that renters are not required to provide their landlord with a proof of their savings, and that a letter from a former employer is sufficient to prove financial hardship. The new rules do not mean tenants don’t have to pay rent and any arrears, due to hardship or any other reason. Instead, the rent may need to be paid back at the end of the lease, suggesting that a final decision about rent arrears is yet to be reached.
Tenants whose fixed term is due to expire during the emergency period will be allowed to continue on as a periodic agreement, allowing the extension of fixed-term leases to month-to-month leases. Tenants are also allowed to end their tenancy early without break-lease fees. However, evictions are still allowed in limited circumstances, for example, if a tenant causes serious damage to a property.
Negotiations between landlords and tenants
Landlords and tenants are encouraged to negotiate the terms and agreement in good faith to achieve a shared beneficial outcome. The new laws create a framework for those discussions but Commerce Minister, John Quigley, said the government is expecting a spike in disputes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The legislation will provide a mandatory conciliation step in the dispute resolution process,” Mr Quigley said. “This will act as a buffer between complainants and the Magistrates Court and the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT), protecting the Magistrates Court and SAT from being flooded by residential tenancy dispute applications.”
No tax relief for residential landlords
While landlords are less obliged to conduct non-urgent repairs, there are no measures introduced to provide financial relief in the form of land tax reductions like those in New South Wales, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. Landlords who are facing financial difficulty are instead encouraged to access bank assistance which includes a freeze on mortgage payments.
The new tenancy laws apply equally to tenants in public and private housing, park homes, boarders and lodgers. Anyone facing financial distress should contact their landlord or property manager.