Can your landlord kick you out on the street during a Pandemic?

(Source: Tenants Union of NSW)

The Tenants’ Union of NSW is concerned about the legal and income support frameworks not being sufficient to protect people from being seriously impacted by this economic and health crisis.  They are currently advocating for support from government and the broader community to help prevent a deeper crisis caused by widespread and significant rent arrears.

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Can my landlord evict me during this crisis?

Right now, they can proceed with the same legal processes as usual. However, they must still follow the processes laid out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.  You can’t be evicted without Tribunal orders, and only the Sheriff can physically remove you.  See our factsheet on evictions and when your landlord ends the agreement.

There are likely to be major announcements made very soon – we do not recommend moving home following a notice of termination before the National Cabinet has made its announcement.

You can attempt to negotiate with your landlord – if you are already in arrears, it’s better to be proactive . It’s unlikely to cost you anything to do so. A community member, Sage, has helped draft this letter you might find useful to send. Remember to edit it before sending! See also this statement from the Real Estate Institute of Australia. It may be useful to help convince your real estate agent.

However, there are more than 80 other organisations and experts around Australia are calling on all Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to put a stop on evictions during this health crisis. Consider signing this petition and viewing full statement here.

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Can my landlord continue holding inspections for rent or sale, including open homes?

Landlords and their agents must ensure they do not breach the reasonable peace, comfort and privacy of their tenants. At the moment this may require taking steps to prevent the spread of disease by people visiting during an inspection. The Prime Minister announced last night that open homes are to be cancelled by public health order from midnight on the 25th March 2020. We consider this to mean any gathering of people to inspect a property, whether they are there by appointment or truly open home.

Landlords and agents may need to consider:

  • asking every person intending to attend an inspection if they have returned to Australia from overseas in the past 14 days and also if they are currently experiencing fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath ( the current main symptoms assoc with Covid 19). If the answer is yes, then the landlord or agent should tell the person that they cannot enter the house until they have self-isolated for 14 days or they have had a Covid 19 test that has come back negative for the virus
  • provide masks to make sure people are attending and who may be infected but are showing no symptoms can’t unknowingly transmit the virus through air droplets
  • providing sanitiser/hand wash for people to use when attending an inspection and making sure they and the agent use it
  • ensure no one touches anything
  • limit the number of people inside a property at any one time to maintain safe distances.

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I have lost income, what can I do?

You can attempt to negotiate with your landlord about paying a reduced or no rent for a short period.  This may be in their interests because it may be much more difficult and expensive to replace you than give some reprieve.  Some landlords will be more willing to do this, especially if their mortgage costs are not excessive.  However, there is no provision within the Residential Tenancies Act to compel landlords to act with leniency in this situation.  Here is a template for this kind of written request  you might find useful.  Refer also to  this statement from the Real Estate Institute of Australia. It may be useful to help convince your real estate agent.

You can not be evicted from your home for rent arrears without an order from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and only the Sheriff can physically evict you from your home.

Centrelink may be able to assist with emergency payments.

If you are evicted owing more than the bond is worth, or by an order of the Tribunal you may be listed on a tenant database for up to 3 years. This can have a serious impact on your ability to find a home in the future.

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I’m having trouble with other household bills, what can I do?

All electricity and gas retailers are required to have a customer assistance program.  If you are having trouble paying other household bills like electricity, gas or water contact your provider/retailer to find out about their customer assistance program and its eligibility criteria.   If you are eligible under the program you are protected from disconnection and your retailer should work with you to develop a suitable payment arrangement and offer other relevant relief or support.

The Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW has more information about a range of useful resources you may be eligible for if you are facing financial difficulties.
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I’m in public or community housing, I heard that pensioners and other income support payments are increasing. Will this increase my rent?

There are two payments, the Economic Support payments of $750 and Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight. We have had confirmation from the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services, Gareth Ward, that both public and community housing will not charge an increased rent for these payments.

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I am supposed to be at Tribunal, should I still go? What will happen to my case?

NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has now announced changes to their procedures on their website.

You can apply to have a phone hearing.  Ensure you inform the Tribunal if you are in a higher risk category, for example if you are immune suppressed or a carer for elderly relatives, so they can consider this when assessing and prioritising your request. While you are able to do a phone hearing on a mobile, in general landlines are preferred because of the reliability of the line.

More information about requesting an adjournment can be found on NCAT’s website here.
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I am an international student and my housing is affected by travel ban. What can I do?

Many students already may have housing organised.  They may have entered arrangements that are individual or shared residential tenancy agreements in the private rental market, lodgings in private households, or some that are less clear – for example, in Sydney, with Campus Living Villages, Iglu or Urbanest whose forms may look something like a tenancy, or something like a boarding house.   Some, especially those on university grounds, are excluded from both the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 and the Boarding Houses Act 2012.

Those blocked from entering the country for some time, and may be liable for occupancy fee or rent over this period.  The relevant legislation is silent here. Both the ‘Schedule 1 (‘Occupancy Principles’) of the Boarding Houses Act 2012 and Section 43 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 cover abatement of rent, but never anticipated this type of situation. Some people who are not covered by residential laws may need to refer to the Australian Consumer Law or even common law.

The following courses of action are recommended:

  1. As soon as possible seek to negotiate with your landlord for a waiver of any board or rent covering the period of your absence due to the travel ban. As well as being the decent thing to do, it may also be in their commercial interest to avoid missing out on your contract entirely if the ban prevents significant numbers of people starting their studies this year.
  2. Contact your local Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service for assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts come to nothing. Click ‘Get advice’ here. Again the rules may be different for different kinds of landlord or renting agreement.
    – Ensure you know your rights regarding any goods left behind.
    -You cannot be evicted from your housing unless the landlord follows the proper legal process.
  3. If your housing provider has a relationship with your educational institution, contact your student association or university housing officer (where there is one) for assistance, given the Task force chair’s comments reported here.
  4. Contact your student association and tell them about your experience.

Does the COVID19 crisis change any of my rights or obligations?

No, not currently. The State and Federal Governments have the power to announce measures that may impact some of your rights and obligations relating to your tenancy. Keep checking back here and/or with other updated pages to make sure you have the most current and accurate information about your legal rights about renting in NSW.

NSW Fair trading has FAQs concerning COVID-19 on their website which may be useful.

I’m ok but I want to help my community.  How can I do that?

This is a time when everyone needs to support each other.  If you know of neighbours who may have mobility or health issues that make it more difficult to obtain food and other groceries, you could consider reaching out to them and offering your support directly.

There are mutual aid groups springing up across different areas. Many of them are on Facebook and you may be able to find a local group that way. If you’re not ok, these groups may be able to assist you. You can find a database of groups here.


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