Residential tenancy - Changes to residential tenancies in Tasmania during COVID-19

The Tasmanian Government has extended the COVID-19 emergency period for residential tenancies to 1 December 2020. This means some protections initially put in place for residential tenants during the pandemic, and due to expire on 30 September 2020 have been extended to 1 December 2020.

The following information is to help people understand the changes to residential tenancies with the introduction of the COVID-19 Disease (Emergency Provisions) Act 2020.

Changes to termination by notice to vacate

A notice to vacate issued by an owner to a tenant is of no effect until 1 December 2020 (previously 30 September 2020). 

From 1 July 2020 the following exceptions are:

  • the tenant agrees to vacate
  • a notice to vacate has been served for a non-fixed term lease because the property is to be sold, have major renovations or to allow the owner or a close family member to move in
  • a notice to vacate has been served due to the tenant using the property for an unlawful purpose
  • a court terminates the lease
  • the lease has been terminated for severe hardship by the Residential Tenancy Commissioner.

An owner or tenant can also apply to the Magistrates Court of Tasmania to terminate the agreement as a result of violence or damage caused by wilful behaviour.

This Government's strong advice to tenants is to continue to pay rent they can afford as these emergency period amendments do not provide for a rent holiday.

Notices to vacate can still be issued before 1 December 2020 (previously 30 September 2020) but will have no effect until after this date.

Immediate halt to any increases in rent

Any rent increase that was due to take place between 23 April 2020 and 1 December 2020 (previously 30 September 2020) will not take effect until 2 December 2020.

This includes any rent increase where notice was given prior to 23 April 2020, if that rent increase is yet to take place.

Reducing rent by mutual agreement

During the emergency period owners and tenants can come to an agreement to reduce the rent. This agreement should to be:

  • in writing, and
  • signed by both parties.

Any agreement will be taken to form part of the residential tenancy agreement.

CBOS has developed a rent reduction agreement template (DOCX, 17.7 KB) to help both owners and tenants through this process.

Rent Relief and Landlord Support Funds

The Tasmanian Government is providing rent relief for residential households who rent homes in the private market and who are experiencing housing stress because of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The COVID-19 Rent Relief Fund was established in May 2020 to help tenants and property owners suffering extreme hardship, with support of up to $2,000 or four weeks rent available.

Tenants who have already received financial help to pay their rent can apply for a second rental extra support payment if their circumstances have not changed.

A new Landlord Support fund has also been established for landlords suffering from financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.

The Support Funds are available until 1 December 2020.

For more information, including how to apply, go to the Communities Tasmania website.

Breaking a lease due to severe hardship

Parties can apply to the Residential Tenancy Commissioner (the Commissioner) to have an Order to break a fixed term lease agreement in the case of severe COVID-19 related hardship.

This option should be seen as a last resort.  It is best to maintain a positive relationship between owners and tenants. The best way to do this is for owners and tenants to discuss their concerns.

The Commissioner may make an Order as to whether the continuation of the agreement would cause severe hardship. Once the Commissioner has made a decision, either party has seven days to lodge an appeal with the Magistrates Court of Tasmania.

An Order will take effect on the day after the end of the seven day appeal period.

An Order may specify compensation payable by the owner or tenant.  If compensation is awarded, it would weigh up the parties’ circumstances and make an Order based on the rights and burdens of each party.

Severe hardship

There are many factors that may contribute to severe hardship including:

  • family tragedy
  • financial misfortune
  • serious illness
  • impacts of natural disasters and
  • other serious or difficult circumstances.

A household is considered to be impacted by severe COVID-19 related hardship if one or more members of a household:

  • have lost their job/income or their hours/income have been reduced due to a business closing down or standing down staff during the COVID-19 emergency
  • have stopped working or reduced work hours due to COVID-19 illness or now have carer responsibilities for the household or family members and
  • the above factors have resulted in a 25% or more reduction in household income - this includes any government assistance.

Assessing an application

The Commissioner considers the following when assessing an application for an Order for severe hardship:

  • reasonable living costs
  • liquid assets
  • unavoidable or reasonable expenses that would normally be able to be met outside of the current COVID-19 emergency
  • employer/work forcing a tenant to relocate
  • suffering severe physical or mental illness affecting capacity to continue the tenancy.
Examples to support a claim for severe hardshipExamples not considered essential - not meeting the criteria

Official notice to vacate
NOTE: This is not a warning of a possible eviction due to rental arrears as this would not be valid until after the emergency period has ended

Early or lump sum repaying a loan, mortgage or credit card debt

Pending disconnection of essential services
NOTE: This does not include mobile phone or internet bills

Holiday

Notice of impending legal action

Buying non-essential items such as an outdoor setting

Letter from a charitable organisation regarding person losing a job or being unable to provide basic necessities

Entertainment costs

Bank notice for an overdraft call or repossession of a mortgaged property 
Overdue medical bills 
Letter from a doctor verifying person unable to earn an income due to illness or caring for a family member 
Final notice from a school to pay mandatory fees 
Funeral expenses 
Repossession notice of essential items 

Applying for an Order

If you believe you need to apply for an Order complete an:

The Commissioner will contact the parties and allow them an opportunity to respond to the application. All information will help the Commissioner assess whether an Order should be made.

The Commissioner may make an Order as to whether the continuation of the agreement would cause severe hardship. Once the Commissioner has made a decision, either party has seven days to lodge an appeal with the Magistrates Court of Tasmania.

An Order will take effect on the day after the end of the seven day appeal period.

Delay to evictions due to rent in arrears

NOTE: This amendment is in place until 1 December 2020

There is a suspension of evictions specifically relating to rent in arrears. This means during the emergency period:

  • An owner will not be able to issue a notice to vacate for rent in arrears
  • a notice to vacate given before the emergency period begins will have no effect if the tenant has not yet vacated.

This will suspend all evictions due to rent arrears, including those currently before the courts.

This Government's strong advice to tenants is to continue to pay rent they can afford as these emergency period amendments do not provide for a rent holiday.

At the end of the emergency period, owners will be able to issue a notice to vacate and recover the rent in arrears, if the tenant is still in breach of their agreement, in the normal way. Owners will be able to recover any outstanding rent from the tenant’s bond. In the event the amount exceeds the bond an owner can start civil proceedings.

Read more information on ending a lease.

General repairs and maintenance

During the emergency period general repairs and maintenance will not be required to be done. This reduces the need for tradesman to enter rental properties during the emergency period helping to reduce any risk of COVID-19 infection.

There is no change to emergency or urgent repairs as these are necessary to ensure the health and safety of tenants.

Property inspections

The COVID-19 Disease (Emergency Provisions) Act 2020 amended section 56 of the Residential Tenancy Act 1997, relating to ‘right of entry’ for the emergency period. These amendments were in effect until 30 June 2020.

As of 1 July 2020, these restrictions were lifted. Property inspections under section 56 of the Act can now be undertaken.

All inspections must be undertaken in line with the COVID-19 Safe Workplace guideline for the real estate industry(PDF, 237.6 KB).

COVID-19 Safe Workplace Guideline

The Tasmanian Government's COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Framework supports workplaces as they re-open or expand their business activities during the pandemic, while ensuring the health and safety of all Tasmanians. WorkSafe Tasmania has developed a COVID-19 Safe Workplace guideline for the real estate industry(PDF, 237.6 KB) to help agents, tenants and property owners to understand their responsibilities as the industry returns to work.

Important: Rules regarding limited property inspections under section 56 of the Residential Tenancy Act 1997 are still in place.

Responsibility of tenants for cleanliness or damage

Tenants are to keep a premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness during the tenancy.  At the end of the tenancy the tenant is to return the premises in as nearly as possible the same condition it was in, at the beginning of the tenancy, or specified on the ingoing condition report, apart from wear and tear.

During the emergency period a tenant is taken not to have failed to comply with this clause, if they cannot meet this requirement due to COVID-19.

For example; if a tenant is moving out of a property and is unable to get a commercial company to clean the carpets because of lockdown restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated: 14 Sep 2020