Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Act 2020
What does the Act do? Prevents landlords from evicting residential tenants who have fallen into financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Introduces a moratorium on eviction for six months except in limited circumstances including, for example, if a tenant is causing serious damage to the property or injury to the landlord or a person in adjacent premises; the landlord or tenant is experiencing undue hardship; a tenant is experiencing family violence and the perpetrator needs to be evicted; the tenant abandons the premises; or the agreement is frustrated. Prohibits rent increases from 30th March 2020 to 29th September 2020 (Emergency Period). Provides that any fixed term tenancy agreement due to expire during the emergency period will continue as a periodic agreement. Relieves landlords of the obligation to conduct ordinary repairs if the reason they cannot do so is COVID-19 related financial hardship or a lawful restriction on movement. Enables a tenant to end a fixed term tenancy prior to its end date without incurring break lease fees (tenants will still be liable for damage and rent arrears).
Can tenants be evicted during the Emergency Period? Tenants can still be evicted if they are causing damage to the property, posing a threat to the landlord or neighbours, or abandon the property. Provisions supporting victims of family and domestic violence will also continue to apply. Tenants can also be evicted where arrears of rent were accrued prior to the Emergency Period.
What should affected landlords and tenants do? Affected landlords and tenants are urged to negotiate a mutually acceptable short-term agreement in a bid to preserve the tenancy during the emergency period. However, if agreement can’t be reached, conciliation proceedings must be entered into by landlords and tenants, a move that aims to relieve pressure on the Magistrates Court and State Administrative Tribunal (SAT).
What type of tenancies are affected? The Act applies to residential tenancies agreements under the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (WA), long-stay agreements under the Residential Parks (Long-stay Tenants) Act 2006 (WA) and boarders and lodgers. The Act also applies to all public housing tenancies and government employee housing provided by the Housing Authority.
What does all of this mean? A moratorium on evictions for six months means landlords are not allowed to evict tenants in cases of severe financial hardship related to COVID-19, during that period of time. It is a moratorium on eviction, not a moratorium on rent. Tenants should continue to pay rent if they can afford to, to avoid building up a debt. Tenants should discuss their financial situation with their property manager or landlord as soon as possible if they are struggling to make rent payments at this time. When it comes to managing the social and economic issues related to COVID-19 we are all in this together and landlords and tenants will need to talk to each other and work out a way forward. Keeping renters in their homes during the pandemic can help to stop the spread of COVID-19 – allowing people to stay in their accommodation is for public health reasons as well as addressing the problem of tenants moving at a time when it might not be possible financially. Landlords, who may also be in financial distress, should bear in mind that in may be difficult to fill a vacant rental property in the next six months. Even without this moratorium, tenants were not going to be evicted overnight. There is a process in place in Western Australia for tenancy evictions and this involves:
the issue of breach notice with a fortnight to bring rent up-to-date;
a termination notice if rent is still outstanding after 14 days;
an application to the Magistrates Court then needs to be made within 30 days;
a Magistrates Court order to evict a tenant and a hearing date cannot be earlier than 21 days after the notice of termination is issued; and
if the Magistrates Court makes an order that the tenant(s) must leave, and they believe they are likely to suffer hardship as a result, tenants can ask the Magistrate for the order to be suspended for up to 30 days.
In the meantime, tenants should pay what rent they can – these changes are about allowing time for tenants to get their financial situation sorted out, so they can start paying rent again as soon as it is practical to do so.