Six month moratorium on residential tenancy evictions during COVID-19

The NSW Government is introducing an interim 60-day stop on landlords seeking to evict tenants due to rental arrears as a result of COVID-19, together with longer six month restrictions on rental arrears evictions for those financially disadvantaged by COVID-19.

Read the media release
Read the new Regulation

New measures
Coronavirus (COVID-19) has already had a significant impact on the economy, meaning some tenants are having difficulty keeping up with rent payments. The NSW government is introducing measures to help landlords and tenants work together. The new measures include an interim 60 day stop on landlords issuing termination notices or applying for NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) eviction orders due to rental arrears, where tenants are financially disadvantaged by COVID-19.

“This will allow time for Government financial support to reach those who need it and limit social movement in order to minimise public health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A landlord is required to negotiate a rent reduction with the tenant in good faith in the first instance, and can only seek to give a termination notice or apply for an eviction after the interim 60-day stop if it is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the specific case.

Fair Trading will be able to assist landlords and tenants try to reach an agreement if needed.

Along with these restrictions on evictions for rental arrears, the Government will be extending the notice periods for certain other lease termination reasons to 90 days. At any time during the 60 day stop and the longer six month restrictions, landlords can still apply to the Tribunal at any time to take possession of a property if they are suffering undue hardship.

Eligibility
To meet the requirements for 60 day stop on evictions and the longer six month restrictions, a household needs to demonstrate they are impacted by COVID-19. A household is COVID-19 impacted if:

1. one or more rent-paying members of a household have lost employment or income (or had a reduction in employment or income) due to COVID-19 business closures or stand-downs, or

2. one or more rent-paying members of a household have had to stop working or reduce work hours due to illness with COVID-19 or due to COVID-19 carer responsibilities for household or family members, and

3. the above factors result in a household income (inclusive of any government assistance) that is reduced by 25% or more.

Important
All tenants who are not impacted by COVID-19 are expected to honour their existing tenancy agreements including paying all rent and charges in full.

Flowcharts
To understand how the ban on evictions due to COVID-19 may affect your tenancy, see the first flowchart. If you are a landlord and you want to understand how the new measures affect all types of residential tenancy terminations, use the second flowchart.
Flowchart: Can a tenancy be terminated during COVID-19
Flowchart for landlords – termination of tenancy options

Template letters


For tenants

We have created a template letter for tenants to help them when approaching landlords to request rent reduction. We have also created an example.
To help with your request, your letter should also include:

1. your original household income
2. your change in circumstances due to COVID-19 and how this has impacted on your household income
3. the rent payment you would be able to meet under your new household income
4. any income support you receive

Tenant template letter
Tenant example letter

For landlords when responding to a tenant
All landlords must be prepared to negotiate rent payments with tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19.

To help you, we have created a template you can use when responding to rent reduction requests. We have also created an example.
Your response letter should also include:

1. your financial situation – be open and honest about your financial situation, including whether you rely on the rental income to cover mortgage repayments or other expenses.

2. your conversations with your lender – outline the result of conversations you’ve had with your lender about waiving or reducing your own mortgage repayments.

3. the rent payment that you would be able to accept

4. clarify whether the rent payment loss (arrears) will be waived or repaid

Landlord template letter to tenant
Landlord example letter to tenant

For landlords when talking to their financial institution
Landlords are encouraged to approach their financial institutions to seek a mortgage freeze or reduced repayments as part of the negotiation discussions with their tenant/s. We have created a template you can use when approaching your lender. We have also created an example.

Your letter should include:

1. your financial situation be open and honest about your financial status if you rely on the income from your rental property to help pay for the mortgage, and are negotiating with your tenant about rent payment, this should be outlined and evidenced in your request.

2. the mortgage waiver or reduced payment you are seeking until you or your tenant resumes normal employment arrangements.

3. clarify whether your rental payment losses (arrears) will be waived or repaid under a repayment plan with your tenant once the COVID-19 emergency is over

Template letter from landlord to financial institution
Example letter from landlord to financial institution

Frequently asked questions

Can a tenant and landlord still end a tenancy if they agree?
Yes. A tenant and landlord can agree to end a tenancy and decide when and how this is to happen.

What proof does a tenant need to show they are impacted by COVID-19?
The tenant can provide simple documents to show that they are impacted by COVID-19, for example:
proof of job termination/stand-down, or loss of work hours
proof of Government income support
proof of prior income.

What do the changes mean for tenants who are impacted by COVID-19?
The new rules put an immediate 60 day stop on termination notices and Tribunal applications for terminations based on rental arrears where a tenant is unable to meet their rental obligations due to being impacted by COVID-19.

This will allow time for tenants to receive Government income support and for landlords to negotiate a reduction or waiver of mortgage repayments with their lender.

It will also allow time for tenants and landlords to negotiate possible reductions in rent if needed. A dispute resolution process is available through NSW Fair Trading if no agreement can be reached or where the landlord or tenant would prefer to use this option.

Does the tenant need to pay back the rental arrears or will the amount be waived?
The amount of rent arrears accrued by a tenant who has negotiated reduced rent will not automatically be waived. Whether rental arrears will be waived is subject to negotiation between the tenant and the landlord (with assistance from Fair Trading’s dispute resolution process as required).

Are sub-tenants covered by the stop on evictions?
The stop on evictions applies to sub-tenants who are unable to meet their rental obligations and who are covered by the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. These are tenants where the property is subject to a written residential tenancy agreement and:

are a sub-tenant under a written residential tenancy agreement with the tenant named in the main tenancy agreement, or

a tenant under the main written tenancy agreement has transferred the tenancy to them.

Can I still end my tenancy using the required notice periods and not negotiate with my landlord?
Yes. Tenants who do not wish to stay in their premises can terminate using the existing notice period required for their specific agreement.
Tenants seeking to end a fixed term agreement early may be required to pay break fees under their agreement. Details about ending a fixed term agreement early are outlined on the Fair Trading website.

Why are we not protected from eviction for six months as was announced following the National Cabinet meeting recently?
The package announced is designed to support tenancies to continue wherever possible. The new laws will provide a six month moratorium on landlords giving termination notices, or making applications for forced evictions, due to rental arrears for tenants who are impacted by COVID-19, provided both parties seek to find a mutually workable solution.

The new laws allow landlords, after the 60-day stop, to seek to terminate a COVID-19 impacted tenancies for rental arrears but this can only occur if they have tried to negotiate a rent reduction with the tenant in good faith and seeking a termination is fair and reasonable in the circumstances of the specific case.

What if the landlord refuses to negotiate and we can’t reach an agreement?
The landlord and tenant should both attempt in good faith to negotiate a reduction in rent.

NSW Fair Trading provides a dispute resolution process that landlords and tenants can use if they can’t reach an agreement themselves. Fair Trading will request evidence from the tenant about their previous income and current income from all sources, including any Government income support. Information will also be sought about any application the tenant has made for income support.

Tenants need to have an idea of how much rent they can pay when considering negotiations. Fair Trading will then contact the landlord to seek a mutual agreement on a temporary arrangement for the payment of rent.

Is income calculated before or after tax?
When determining whether a tenant meets the COVID-19 impact test, the income received is the money coming into the tenant’s bank account after tax.

How does the test apply to group houses where not all rent paying
tenants have been affected by COVID-19?
The COVID-19 impact test applies to the total household income, inclusive of any government assistance, such as the new job keeper payments.

Will my landlord insurance cover my rental losses?
Landlords should check their insurance policy to see whether they are covered for rental default. Different policies will have different limits and requirements. Many insurers are adopting new procedures to deal with the impacts of COVID-19, and may require evidence that the landlord has attempted to negotiate with the tenant.

I am a landlord, but I can’t afford to provide a reduction in rent
Landlords should seek to negotiate with their lender to try to obtain an agreement to waive or reduce mortgage repayments. Many lenders are offering to reduce or waive payments at this time.

If this is possible, landlords should have a greater capacity to agree to a reduced rent or charges for a period of time. The immediate 60-day stop on evictions will also allow time for the tenants to access Government income support and may allow tenants to resume paying existing rent.

Can tenants be encouraged to look at accessing their super to pay rental arrears?
Agents and landlords must not encourage tenants to access their super early to cover any rental arrears. This could constitute unlicensed financial advice and may not be in the best interests of the tenant. Financial advice must only be provided by qualified and licensed financial advisers or counsellors, not by agents or landlords.

What happens once the interim 60 day stop ends?
Once the intermin 60 day stop has ended, a tenant(s) who is still unable to meet their rental obligations due to COVID-19 can only have their tenancy terminated on the basis of rental arrears if the landlord has attempted to negotiate reduced rent in good faith but the tenant has failed to do so.

I am a tenant in social housing – does the stop on evictions apply to me? I am a tenant in social housing – does the stop on evictions apply to me?
Social housing providers have their own processes for dealing with rental arrears and are not covered by the new provisions.

Example scenarios

Reduced income together with income support resulting in less than 25% loss of income

A tenant pays $300 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement

The tenant earned $800 per week but lost their income as a sole trader due to the impacts of COVID-19 business closures on their business, following public health orders

The tenant now receives income support of around $1,500 per fortnight, or $750 per week, paid through their employer*

The tenant’s lost income per week is $50 per week, which is less than 25% of the tenant’s original income.

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears does not apply to this tenant.

Increase in income due to government support payments

A tenant pays $300 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement

The tenant earned $650 per week but lost their job due to business closures following public health orders

The tenant now receives income support of around $1,400 per fortnight, or $700 per week, paid through their employer

The tenant’s income has now increased as a result of the Commonwealth payment: instead of $1,300 per fortnight, they now earn $1,400 per fortnight*

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction due to rental arrears does not apply to this tenant, because there has been no reduction in their total income.

Tenant and co-tenant in a family household. The tenant loses income and gets income support

A family pays $750 per week in rent in total and the adults are co-tenants under their tenancy agreement

Tenant A earns $1,000 per week, while their partner tenant B earns $500 per week

Tenant A loses their job due to business closures, but is receiving a government payment of around $1,100 per fortnight or $550 per week*

There is no impact on tenants B’s income

The lost household income is equal to $450, which is equal to 30% of the original household income

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household.

Tenant is sole breadwinner, tenant loses income and gets income support

A tenant pays $600 per week in rent under their tenancy agreement and is the sole breadwinner for the family

The tenant loses their job due to the business closures following the public health order announcements. The tenant’s income was previously $1,000 per week

The tenant receives income support payments from the government of around $1,500 per fortnight, which equals $750 per week*

The loss in household income is equal to $250 per week which is 25% of the original household income

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household.

Share household where all tenants are on the main lease

Two friends share a house and are named on the lease.

The rent is $1000 per week

Tenant A earns $1200 per week and tenant B earns $800 per week, making a combined household income of $2000 per week

Tenant A loses their job and now receives $1115 per fortnight which is around $557 per week.

The combined income of the household is now $1357 per week

The loss in income is $643 per week, which is 32% of the original household income.

The stop on termination notices and applications for eviction orders due to rental arrears applies to this household

Share household with head tenant and sub-tenant on a written lease with head tenant

Two friends share a house and the rent payable on the main lease is $1000 per week

Tenant A is the head tenant and has a written sub-tenancy agreement with Tenant B

Tenant A earns $1200 per week and tenant B earns $800 per week, making a combined household income of $2000 per week

Tenant A loses their job and now receives $1115 per fortnight which is around $557 per week.

The combined income of the household is now $1357 per week

The loss in income is $643 per week, which is 32% of the original household income

The stop on eviction orders being issued due to rental arrears applies to Tenant A’s agreement with the landlord

As Tenant B’s income has not changed, the stop on notices for termination and eviction does not apply to Tenant B’s sub tenancy agreement with tenant A.

I need more support and information
Trained dispute resolution officers in Fair Trading are available to help landlords, managing agents and tenants to negotiate temporary changes in rental arrangements, if agreement cannot be reached between parties.

When you seek assistance with negotiations, we may need to obtain some initial information before it can schedule a time to discuss the matter with both parties.

How to seek help
If you have attempted to negotiate a rental plan without success you can apply for assistance by completing the Tenancy Complaint Form.

Apply for assistance
Tenants will be asked to provide evidence that they are experiencing financial hardship, such as:

proof of temporary or permanent job loss (eg, employer separation letter, evidence of reduced shifts)

proof that your business has suffered due to COVID-19 (eg, type of business – noting that some are now the subject of a government ban and cannot operate)

proof of previous employment income and current income (eg, bank statement, payslip)

proof of Government income support payments or applications made (eg, statement or advice/acknowledgement from Centrelink)

Tenants will need to assess the amount of rent that they are able to pay and the type of rental arrangement requested, for example:

Reduce my rent by $100 a week for a period of six weeks, or

Reduce my rent by $200 a week until employment resumes

Copies of your evidence can be uploaded from your mobile device and attached to the complaint form.

How long is the process?
We will be treating negotiation requests as a matter of priority and will respond as quickly as possible.

The timing for each negotiation process will be largely influenced by the demand for the service as well as whether parties can provide the requested information in a timely manner.


https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/resource-library/publications/coronavirus-covid19/property/moratorium

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How to manage your investment property over the Christmas break

With Christmas just around the corner, you’re probably looking forward to a well-deserved break. Trouble is, your property manager and tenants are probably doing the same. So how do you keep your investment property safe over the holidays?

Follow our 5 tips.

Tip 1: Be prepared and plan ahead

If your investment property has any plumbing or electrical problems, fix them NOW. Chances are, those niggling little concerns could become major problems when the only help at hand are emergency plumbers and electricians. Over Christmas, they’re hard to find and charge accordingly. Attending to them now could save you a lot of money and your tenants a lot of grief.

Tip 2:  Does your investment property have air conditioning?

Air conditioners must be serviced regularly to ensure they remain in good working order. Like plumbing and electrical problems, you don’t want the expense of emergency repairs over Christmas. Remember to clean filters at least once a year to help prolong their serviceable life and reduce repair costs.

Tip 3:  Does your property have a swimming pool?

If so, you must have an up-to-date Swimming Pool Certificate of Compliance. In NSW, these Certificates are essential. They last 3 years but it’s important to ensure the pool gate and fencing are regularly checked. You are also required (by law) to have a resuscitation chart clearly visible.

Tip 4: Window locks are a legal requirement

Since March 2018, all strata buildings in NSW are required to have robust, child-proof window locks to restrict how far a window can be opened. This regulation applies to all windows that are 2m above the ground outside and 1.7m above the floor inside. The locks must prevent windows opening more than 12.5cm.

Tip 5:  Your tenant’s holiday plans

If your tenant has holiday plans, they need to advise your managing agent how long they will be away and provide their holiday contact details. While away, your tenants need to arrange for someone to regularly clear the mailbox. An overflowing letterbox is an advertisement the property is empty.

What’s your managing agent’s holiday plans?

Obviously, your managing agent is entitled to take a holiday but your investment property and tenants still need to be supervised – especially if the unexpected happens.

At Stills Properties, we ensure all tenants are provided with a list of emergency phone numbers for electrical and plumbing services. These trades have been working with us for years because they are reliable, highly trustworthy and ethical. We also keep on top of all property maintenance issues to minimise the need for any emergency call-outs.

Does your current property manager do this? If you don’t feel your investment property is getting the care it should, get in touch with Stills Properties on 1300 091 638 or email propertymanager@stillsproperties.com.au.


Prepare now for new residential tenancy laws

The NSW Parliament recently passed a number of amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. With over 30% of the NSW population renting, these changes are designed to make it easier for tenants to make a rental property feel like home.

For landlords, it creates an opportunity to attract and retain high quality, long term tenants – providing greater income certainty on their investments.

The new laws also improve protections for victims of domestic violence.

The implementation date for the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Review) Bill 2018, is expected to begin in the first half of 2020 so it’s important all landlords start planning now.

The Reforms in summary

A. Minimum standards identified

At the beginning of any tenancy, all properties will need to meet 7 minimum standards to be deemed fit for habitation. These standards will also need to be maintained throughout the tenancy (by way of repairs). While not an exhaustive list, these standards are considered the minimum baseline.

The 7 minimum standards are:

  1. The property must be structurally sound
  2. Each room must have adequate natural or artificial lighting (the exceptions are storage rooms or garages)
  3. There must be adequate ventilation throughout the property
  4. It must have an electricity and/or gas supply with adequate electricity and gas outlets for lighting, heating and appliances
  5. The property must have bathroom facilities (including toilet and bathing facilities) which provide user privacy
  6. The property must be connected to water supply infrastructure for the supply of hot and cold water for drinking, washing and cleaning
  7. The plumbing and drainage must be satisfactory

B. New resolution powers & rectification orders

The property management industry is plagued by disputes over repairs and maintenance issues along with claims of property damage caused by tenants. The new legislation is designed to reduce these problems by providing NSW Fair Trading with greater powers – including the ability to issue rectification orders.

C. Rent increases limited for periodic leases

Rent increases for periodic leases (that is, where the tenancy has no specified time limit) will be restricted to once every 12 months under the new laws.

D. Protections for victims of domestic violence

Tenants who need to escape a violent partner will be able to terminate their tenancy immediately and without penalty. In addition:

  • The victim/s will not be held accountable for any property damage that occurred during a domestic violence incident
  • The same is true if they are a co-tenant who is not the perpetrator
  • If a tenant terminates a lease because they are a victim of domestic violence, the landlord or their agent are prohibited from adding their name to the tenancy database

E. Separate meters for granny flats etc.

With the rise of dual occupancies, granny flats and the like, the Residential Tenancy Amendments include a new definition for “separately metered premises”. The purpose of this amendment is to reduce the number of disputes between landlords and tenants over who pays for water, electricity and gas.

F. Other changes

The amendments are quite comprehensive and include a number of other changes including:

  • The introduction of penalties for landlords or agents if they fail to provide the tenant with a property condition report at the beginning of the tenancy
  • Mandatory set fees for breaking a fixed-term lease
  • Penalties for landlords who fail to repair smoke alarms
  • Clarification on taking photos and videos during inspections and publishing them to advertise the property for re-lease or sale
  • Stopping database operators charging tenants to access their own information

Take care of your tenants and they’ll take care of your property

Your investment property is a valuable asset so it’s only natural you want to ensure it’s providing a great return on investment, with tenants that will take care of it.

This new legislation is designed to help you do that by providing tighter guidelines on what’s acceptable from both a landlord’s and tenant’s point of view.

For an informed and conscientious property manager to look after your investment needs, call Brigitte Stills on 1300 091 638 or email propertymanager@stillsproperties.com.au She’s been looking after landlords and their properties for over 30 years.


The 3 essentials of stress-free property management

Purchasing an investment property is exciting but also a large financial commitment. Whether you own one or several, you need tenants who are reliable, care for your property and pay their rent on time.

Some landlords choose to manage their own rental properties while others use a professional property manager. Whatever you choose to do, there are 3 essential elements to ensure your property investment generates good rental returns.

1. Securing the best tenants

Problematic tenants are costly and time consuming. It takes careful, strategic marketing and thorough screening of all potential tenants to ensure you quickly eliminate any troublesome ones.

The best tenants will respect your investment and treat it as if it was their own home. They will take good care of the property, promptly report any maintenance issues and pay their rent on time. Ideally, they will want to continue on in the property for years to come.

2. Minimising vacancies

Once you secure a great tenant, you’ll want to keep them for as long as possible. Therefore, tenant retention should be your top priority. Longevity in a tenancy equates to better returns on your property investment.

Relationship building, good communication and knowledge of the rental laws are the keys to building a long-term tenancy. It’s also important for any maintenance requirements to be dealt with in a timely manner.

3. Caring for your Investment

Regular property inspections are essential to ensure your investment is being looked after and any necessary repairs and maintenance addressed.

When carrying out routine inspections there are a number of things you should be looking for:

  • Is the tenant sub-letting the property?
  • How many people and/or pets are living at the property? Does this comply with the rental agreement?
  • Has furniture been placed to hide any damage?
  • Has the property been cleaned adequately to ensure there are no issues at the end of the tenancy?
  • Are smoke detectors in place and operational?

In most cases, tenants simply need education on their responsibilities for caring for the property.

Maximising the rental return on your investment property doesn’t happen by accident

Every landlord hopes their investment property appreciates so they see increases in their rental return. But successful, stress-free property management is never a “set and forget” investment. It takes active management and open communication between the property manager, landlord and tenant.

If you are looking for an experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated property manager, contact Brigitte at Stills Properties. She’s been managing investment properties for landlords for over 30 years.

For further information or to discuss your investment needs, call Brigitte Stills on 1300 091 638 or email propertymanager@stillsproperties.com.au


4 things commercial landlords must know

Commercial properties are an attractive investment option for private investors. While commercial properties typically yield high rental returns with long tenancies, there are several things landlords must know to ensure they make the most out of their investment.

1.Commercial lease differences

If you own a residential investment property you may be surprised to know there are some key differences between commercial and residential leases. Commercial leases:

  • tend to be more involved and complex than residential leases
  • are longer than residential tenancies; usually three to five years with one or two option terms of three to five years each depending on the space of the building
  • have a minimum and maximum lease term which can be negotiated by both parties
  • are harder to break than residential agreements
  • include annual rent reviews and increases
  • have the tenant pay for all outgoings, including rates, taxes, levies, water and utilities
  • have the tenant pay for all outgoings, including rates, taxes, levies, water and utilities
  • are negotiated between landlord and tenant to equally benefit both parties.

2. Lease Agreement

The lease agreement is a legal document clearly outlining the rights and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant. Everything should be spelled out in the terms of the lease agreement to avoid confusion during the tenancy and ensure maximum protection for both parties.

The lease agreement should include:

  • rent amount and how it is calculated
  • rent increases and when they will occur; increases are typically determined by a fixed price (expressed as a percentage), market review or Consumer Price Index (CPI)
  • outgoings (rates, taxes, levies, water and utilities)
  • lease start date and duration
  • option rights for extension or renewal
  • cost and responsibility repairs, maintenance and costs
  • sign-on incentives
  • fit-out responsibilities, approvals and expenses
  • allowable improvements
  • option to assign a lease (tenant transfers the lease to a new tenant)
  • make good provisions at end of lease (return property to its original state)
  • breaking the lease (ending an agreement early) and associated fees
  • security bond, either bank guarantee or personal guarantee
  • payment of landlord fees

Each state and territory have specific legislation on commercial and retail leases. You should seek advice from a commercial lawyer before drafting your commercial lease agreement.

3. Landlord responsibilities

As a commercial landlord, it’s essential you understand your main responsibilities before negotiating the terms of the lease agreement.

In most commercial leases the tenant is responsible for the interior of the rented premises, which includes the fit-out and repairs and maintenance of walls, floors, fixtures and inclusions throughout the lease term.

As the landlord, the exterior condition and structural integrity of the property is your responsibility, including repairs and maintenance of all structural aspects of the building. You must make sure the property is fit-for-purpose, meaning it suits the nature of the tenant’s intended business operations. And, you must ensure the tenant’s operations won’t impact the local area.

Additionally, your property must have adequate building insurance, comply with building codes and meet health and safety standards. Rates and body corporate fees must be current when the lease is signed and gas and electrical safety certified.

4. Ideal tenants

Like residential property investments, securing the right commercial tenant is key to maximising your rental return. Responsible and profitable tenants that pay on time and are a good, long-term fit for your premises are also key to your success as a commercial landlord. But finding potential tenants and appealing to their specific business needs can be challenging.

Local, experienced and well-networked commercial agents are best placed to introduce ideal tenants, identify any red flags, negotiate the terms of the agreement and help you fill your commercial space – allowing you to get on with building your property investment portfolio.



Need more information?

Stills Properties has been managing investment properties for Sydney landlords for over 30 years, contact us to discuss your investment property management needs.