On 20 April 2020, the WA parliament passed the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Response) Act 2020 to amend the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 during the COVID-19 emergency. These provisions are effective from 30 March 2020 to 29 September 2020, unless another date is regulated (COVID Emergency Period). Below are the key changes during this period.
1. Rent Relief Scheme
A tenant can apply for a $2,000 grant from the WA government if they have agreed a rent reduction with the Landlord or engaged in Consumer Protection’s conciliation process and are in financial hardship, meaning the tenant:
a) lost their job after 20 March 2020 due to COVID-19;
b) are receiving Centrelink income support (does not include JobKeeper);
c) and all other tenants in the property have less than $10,000 in savings; and
d) and all other tenants in the property spend more than 25% of their post-tax income on rent.
Applications can be made here: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/residential-rent-relief-grant-scheme
2. Periodic Leases & Rent:
Rent cannot be increased during the COVID Emergency Period and any attempt to increase rent has no effect until after the COVID Emergency Period is over. This includes notices which were given before 30 March 2020 that specified a rent increase to commence sometime during the COVID Emergency Period.
The Landlord and tenant may agree to reduce the rent during the COVID emergency period due to financial hardship. If they do agree to reduce the rent, then it may be increased back to the previous rent amount (but not more), provided they both agree.
3. Fixed Term Leases & Rent:
If a fixed term lease ends during the COVID Emergency Period and the parties renew the lease (enter into a new lease), the rent payable during the COVID Emergency Period cannot be more than the rent under the previous lease.
If the lease ends during the COVID Emergency Period and a new lease is not entered, the lease continues as a periodic lease until a new lease is entered, the COVID Emergency Period ends or the lease is terminated (see below). A party can apply to the Court to amend the terms of the continuing periodic lease, though it cannot order an increase in rent.
A tenant may terminate a fixed term lease before the end of the lease term if the tenant suffered financial hardship from COVID-19 and the Landlord is not entitled to compensation for loss, other than unpaid rent or property damage.
4. Evictions & Lease Terminations:
If a tenant fails to pay rent during the COVID Emergency Period, the Landlord cannot give a default notice unless they have entered into a rent repayment arrangement and the tenant failed to make payments under that agreement.
If a tenant fails to pay rent but that failure is not due to financial hardship caused by COVID-19, the Landlord may give notice offering to enter into a rent repayment arrangement and stating the lease will be terminated if rent is not paid or the tenant does not enter into a rent repayment arrangement.
If the tenant, unreasonably, does not pay rent or enter a rent repayment arrangement within 60 days of the notice, the Landlord may submit to the Commissioner for Consumer Protection in relation to the failure to pay rent to enter into conciliation. Details on the conciliation process are still be prepared and expected to be released in or about late May 2020.
If the conciliation fails to reach an agreement and the tenant has not cooperated with the conciliation process, the Landlord may apply to the Magistrates Court to terminate the lease.
A Landlord can still apply to the Magistrates Court to terminate a lease where the tenant:
a) Causes serious damage to the property or abandons the property;
b) Injured the landlord, property manager or neighbours; and
c) The tenant or landlord is suffering undue hardship.
5. Termination due to Family violence
A tenant may give notice terminating their interest in a lease where they or their dependant are or are likely to be the victim of or witness family violence. This notice must be accompanied with a Domestic Violence Order, Family Court injunction or application, a copy of a police charge relating to violence against that tenant or a family violence report.
6. Housing Repairs:
Under Residential Tenancies Act 1987, it is a term of every lease for a Landlord to maintain the property in a reasonable state of repair and conduct any repairs within a reasonable period. During the COVID Emergency Period, the Landlord will not breach this term if they do not conduct repairs due to financial hardship caused by COVID-19.
Landlords must still conduct urgent repairs (repairs needed to supply services to the property, avoid risk of injury or property damage or prevent undue hardship to the tenant) as soon as practicable.