The ACT Government has pledged $5.25 million in emergency support measures to assist renters and landlords affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that the government, landlords, and tenants must work together again to address the consequences of the current lockdown.
“It is important for the government, landlords, and tenants to work together again to respond to the impacts of the current lockdown,” Mr Barr said.
“Once again, access to free mediation will be available to help commercial landlords and tenants negotiate changes to rental agreements.
“The economic impacts of this pandemic will be felt for years, and we are providing significant financial support to keep our local small businesses going.”
Residential Tenancy Relief
A new residential tenancy COVID-19 emergency response declaration has been issued, which provides a twelve-week moratorium on evictions for rent arrears for renters who are in financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Residential landlords who provide rent relief will be eligible for a credit on their residential land tax of up to $100 per week to offset the expense of passing on rent relief to tenants who have lost income due to COVID-19.
There will also be new measures in place to protect those who are ordered to quarantine or self-isolate as a result of a public health directive, from being forced to leave their rental property during their quarantine or self-isolation period.
Commercial Tenancy Relief
During the current ACT lockdown, the government is also reintroducing rules that require commercial landlords to engage in good faith negotiations with local business tenants hardest hit by COVID-19.
The new temporary commercial leases declaration will prohibit commercial landlords from taking prescribed steps against tenants affected by COVID-19, such as ending leases without first discussing lease terms. The announcement will take effect on August 12, 2021, when the ACT was placed under lockdown.
Commercial landlords that provide rent relief may be eligible for a $5,000 commercial rates credit. Owner-operators who meet the eligibility requirements are also eligible for a credit.
This is in addition to the COVID-19 Business Support Grants of up to $20,000 available for businesses that have experienced a significant decrease in turnover due to the current health restrictions.
In addition to these initiatives, the ACT Government would waive rent payments for any commercial and community sector tenants of government-owned properties affected by the COVID-19 lockdown for September.
Attorney-General, Shane Rattenbury said: “This residential tenancy measure will support these Canberrans by ensuring they do not become homeless during the moratorium period.
“Renters should continue to meet their rent obligations if they can do so; the twelve-week moratorium on evictions for COVID-19 impacted tenants is not a rent holiday.
“To support physical distancing, inspections will have to be carried out virtually and the timeframes for non-urgent repairs relaxed.
“The measures also prevent COVID-19 impacted tenants from being listed in a tenancy database or ‘blacklist’ if they fell into arrears during the moratorium period,” Mr Rattenbury said.
Calls for nationwide implementation
The Australian Retailers Association’s CEO, Paul Zahra, applauded the ACT Government’s commercial tenancy relief measures and called for leasing protections to be applied nationwide.
“Rent is the biggest pain point for lockdown affected retailers in the ACT, with many scrambling to keep their businesses alive as costs continue to mount with little or no money coming through the door,” Mr Zahra said.
“We’ve been in discussions with the ACT Government for several weeks to secure rent relief payments and protections for tenants, and we’re pleased to see these important measures in place.
“The ability of some retailers to pay their rents during this difficult period has been causing much stress and anxiety, so the announcement from the ACT Government has come as a welcome relief.
“The announcement follows the NSW Government reinstating the leasing code of conduct and the Victorian Government’s commercial tenancy relief scheme to support businesses who are suffering through lockdowns.
On the other hand, Mr Zahra said that the leasing code should be enforced nationally because it provides an important framework for negotiations between landlords and tenants. It should not be limited to jurisdictions with more severe lockdowns.
“Businesses are feeling the pinch now more than at any stage before in the pandemic, and whilst there is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccination rates steadily improving and a reopening of society on the horizon, the lockdown pain will continue to be felt for several more weeks,” Mr Zahra added.