This will help prevent a second wave of homelessness
The WA Parliament has passed the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020. This means that there will now be a moratorium on tenancy evictions for the emergency period (30 March to 30 September 2020).
This is good news for tenants who are experiencing hardship, as it will help to prevent a second wave of homelessness, as housing and having a place to self-isolate is the best defence against this virus.
However, the key message is that rent must still be paid during the COVID-19 environment. If a tenant has experienced loss of income, they must speak to their landlord immediately and enter into a rent repayment agreement.
A rent repayment agreement is an agreement (either written or verbal) that is made between a tenant and a landlord about any rent that is not paid in accordance with the tenancy agreement during the emergency period that sets out how some or all of the unpaid rent will be reimbursed to the owner.
Other key elements of the law include
- No increase to rents during this emergency period.
- Fixed term tenancies that end during this period will automatically revert to periodic agreements unless another fixed term agreement is entered into. This new fixed term agreement cannot enforce a higher rent than the previous agreement.
- Landlords do not have to conduct non-urgent repairs and maintenance.
- When and how default notices can be given for non-payment of rent, failing to enter into a rent repayment agreement or failing to maintain an agreement.
- A mandatory conciliation process through the Commissioner for Consumer Protection.
Terminations can still occur for the following reasons
- Causing damage to the property.
- Posing a threat to the landlords or neighbours.
- Not paying rent or refusing to enter into a rent repayment agreement.
- Abandoning the property.
Provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (RTA) for family and domestic violence still apply.
Shelter WA is seeking clarification from the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) on several aspects of the new law as it applies to community housing providers. The areas for clarification are:
- The application of section 75A in the RTA during the COVID-19 emergency period. The new law appears silent on the interaction of section 75A from the RTA.
- Where community housing providers have already provided hardship arrangements for residents and clients, how do these interact with the new law?
- How does a provider of boarding and lodging accommodation address health and safety, anti-social behaviour and terminations under a licence to occupy?
Clarification is needed
Shelter WA is seeking clarification from the Department of Communities on the application of the new laws specifically to rent setting and the annual rent variations. Shelter WA understands that the Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) Package has recently been increased and will confirm with the Department how this is to be handled given the ban on rent increases under the new laws.
Shelter WA will continue to work with DMIRS and the Department of Communities, in partnership with the sector, to ensure that the issues raised by community housing providers are heard and that they are provided with the right guidance considering these interim changes to law during the emergency period.
If you have any additional concerns in your ability to continue to provide housing and accommodation services in the COVID-19 environment, please contact Lisa Kazalac at Shelter WA here who is coordinating the work.