On 4 September 2020, the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Declaration 2020 (No 3) was declared. The Declaration comes into effect on 14 September.
The Declaration is the third declaration of COVID-19 relief provided to residential tenants, coming after the Residential Tenancies (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Declaration 2020 (No 1) and (No 2), which provide relief up until 22 October 2020.
The current Declaration, which will apply from 23 October until 31 January 2021 (unless extended again), is designed to:
- extend some of the provisions from the first two COVID-19 residential tenancy declarations; and
- provide transitional arrangements for the repayment of rental arrears which accrued during the six month moratorium on evictions which commenced on 22 April 2020 and expires on 22 October 2020 (Moratorium Period).
Some provisions from the first two declarations are extended by the new Declaration until 31 January 2021, including:
- modification of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (ACT) which stipulates that tenants can only be required to pay a maximum of two weeks' rent in advance (unless the tenant elects otherwise) is extended so that it applies to any fixed term residential tenancy agreement entered into before 6 April 2020. This provision formerly applied only to agreements entered into after 6 April. The provision applies to all tenants, not just those who have been impacted by COVID-19.
- the prohibition on listing a COVID-19 impacted tenant on a tenancy database for failure to pay rent is extended until 31 January 2021.
- the provision allowing a COVID-19 impacted tenant to terminate a tenancy agreement with three weeks' notice is extended.
- the clause allowing COVID-19 impacted tenant and landlords to agree to temporary rent reductions is extended so that rent reductions may apply beyond the end of the COVID-19 period.
The other key aspect of the Declaration is the implementation of a transition period in relation to the end of the moratorium on evictions of COVID-19 impacted tenants that expires on 22 October 2020. The Declaration provides that:
- Landlords are prohibited from evicting COVID-19 impacted tenants who accrued rental arrears during the Moratorium Period until after 31 January 2021.
- The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal is required to consider making a payment order instead of a termination order in relation to tenants who:
- were impacted by COVID-19 during the Moratorium Period; and
- accrue debts between 23 October 2020 and 31 January 2021,
providing tenants with a further opportunity to save their tenancy if they accrue a rental debt after the Moratorium Period ends.
Ultimately, the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that COVID-19 impacted tenants continue to receive relief beyond the Moratorium Period, which takes into account the ongoing financial impacts of the pandemic on tenants.