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Recognising the impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on a number of South Australians, the State Government is proposing a number of initiatives aimed at helping landlords and tenants whose incomes have been affected.

These initiatives will need to be approved by State Parliament, and can be expected to be in place for the duration of the declared emergency period as a result of COVID-19 to provide some assurance to those in the private rental sector.

The new measures aim to:

  • institute a short-term moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent due to severe rental distress as a result of COVID-19
  • prevent landlords from increasing rent
  • allow landlords to use technology such as face-time, live video or time-stamped photos for routine inspections where possible, unless there are exceptional circumstances and sufficient safety measures in place for an inspection in person
  • extend the tenant’s ability to arrange to have repairs carried out by agreement with the landlord
  • provide a general protection for tenants who breach their agreement as a result of complying with a direction under law relating to COVID-19.

SACAT will continue to be able to consider undue hardship to tenants or landlords.

Where tenants have been impacted by COVID-19 but still have the capacity to pay their rent, they should continue doing so. Where alternative arrangements are needed as a result of COVID-19, tenants and landlords are encouraged to work together on an agreement and – where an agreement cannot be reached – the matter may need to go before the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. More information on these measures will be made available following Parliamentary approval.

Listed below are some of the common situations arising from this health crisis and advice for landlords and tenants.

I have lost my job and am unable to pay my rent

You can write to the landlord or agent to request a rent reduction or to terminate your fixed term lease. 

If the landlord/agent agrees:

  • make sure that any changes to the agreement or a cancellation are in writing
  • if cancelling the agreement, then arrange for the money paid towards bond or rent to be refunded directly to you. Be aware that the overseas transaction fees and currency rates may apply
  • if the bond is already lodged with CBS and agreement is reached to cancel, then either you or the landlord/agent can apply for a bond refund 

If the landlord/agent does not agree: 

  • if continuing the tenancy would cause you undue hardship, you can lodge an application with SACAT for termination of the tenancy
  • generally 'undue hardship' does not include financial difficulties. See the information on what documents should be provided.

You can contact Tenants' Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) for assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts were unsuccessful. 

State and Federal Governments are urgently considering options to assist with rental relief for commercial and residential tenancies. Further information will be provided as it becomes available.  

I signed a residential tenancy agreement months ago in preparation for attending a university in SA. However, I cannot travel to Australia. What are my rights?

Continuing the agreement

If you want to keep your rental agreement, your usual rights and responsibilities as a tenant will apply. This includes paying rent to the landlord/agent as agreed. Not paying rent is a breach of the tenancy agreement and may result in termination if the rent remains unpaid for 14 days or more. 

You can discuss and negotiate with your landlord/agent to change the agreement, for example: 

  • A rent reduction for your period of absence - make sure you get their agreement in writing
  • Assignment (transferring your lease to someone else) - if you know anyone in Australia that could take over the lease for you, you can request to transfer your lease to that person with the written consent of the landlord. 

If you do not get agreement from your landlord, you have the option of applying to the SACAT

Ending your tenancy

You can also decide to end the agreement by notifying the landlord/agent. 

The notice period required depends on the type of agreement. 

For information on how to end your agreement, visit the SA.GOV.AU website

What will happen to my personal items in my rental property if I am not able to travel back to Australia because of COVID-19?

If you are choosing to end your agreement, your landlord or agent cannot dispose of your belongings without giving you notice. 

You can negotiate with them to store your things until you return. Usually, you will need to pay costs - eg moving and storing. Alternatively, you can arrange for someone you trust to collect your things. 

If you have ended your tenancy agreement but your things are still in the property, contact your landlord or agent. 

I am an international student but can't enter Australia due to COVID-19 restrictions. Should the landlord refund the holding fee/deposit/consideration payment towards the rental property to me?

Your landlord or agent can normally keep the holding deposit if you either decide not to go ahead with the tenancy or don't take the necessary steps to enter into a tenancy agreement by the deadline. 

You can contact Tenants' Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) for assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts were unsuccessful. 

Can I change the start date of my agreement?

If you have already signed the agreement, then the agreement will commence from the date you stated in the agreement. 

You can only change the start date if your landlord or agent agrees. Make sure you get their agreement in writing. Otherwise you will need to pay rent from the start of the agreement.

Not paying rent is a breach of the tenancy agreement and may result in termination. 

If your landlord or agent doesn't agree, you have the option of applying to SACAT. 

You can contact Tenants' Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) for assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts were unsuccessful. 

Are open house inspections impacted?

Open house inspections are prohibited from 11.59pm 25 March 2020. However, private appointments for inspection can still be made. 

Landlords and tenants must not breach the reasonable peace, comfort and privacy of their tenants. At the moment this may also require taking steps to protect the health and safety of people visiting during an inspection. For example: 

  • providing sanitiser or hand wash for the agent and people attending an inspection
  • ensure no one touches anything
  • limit the number of people inside a property at any one time to maintain safe distances. 

For more information see Selling or purchasing a private rental property

What about repairs and maintenance?

A landlord may be breaking the conditions of an agreement if they have been made aware of a problem but don't repair it within a reasonable time. However, landlords or agents may experience difficulty sourcing appropriate tradies at this time and tenants may need to be patient. 

Tenants may be asked to take steps to maintain social distancing due to COVID-19 - eg being asked not to be present when tradies are onsite or to step outside while repair work is carried out. 

If the repair is needed urgently (eg burst water pipe, gas leak etc) tenants should contact the landlord as soon as possible. 

What if I'm self-isolating? What is the right of entry?

The landlord or agent must notify the tenant before entering the rental property. 

If the periodic inspection or maintenance is due while the tenant is self-isolating due to COVID-19, then the landlord or agent can: 

  1. postpone for a later date and send the changed agreed date in writing to the tenant
  2. arrange with the tenant to complete the inspection via video conference
  3. ask the tenant to not be present for the inspection or step outside while the inspection is completed. Please note, this is only if the tenant agrees. 

In case of emergency, such as fire, a notice is not required. 

I am in a shared/co-tenancy agreement and my co-tenant is unable to return to Australia due to COVID-19

All tenants listed on a lease agreement have equal responsibility in a tenancy. This continues, even if someone is unable to return due to the COVID-19 situation. For more information, see Sharing a private rental property

Some other options that may be discussed by the landlord and the tenant are: 

  1. Reassign the lease
    • to reduce the number of people (and the remaining rent obligations are increased amongst the co-tenants), or
    • transferred to someone else, if the tenant knows anyone in Australia who could take over the lease. The lease can be transferred to that person with the written consent of the landlord.
  2. End the lease
    • Tenants can decide to end the agreement by notifying the landlord/agent. The notice period required depends on the type of agreement. For more information on how to end your agreement, see the SA.GOV.AU website.
  3. Rent reduction
    • Ask the landlord to reduce the rent for your period of absence. Make sure you get their agreement in writing. 

Tenants can contact Tenants' Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) for assistance in negotiating with the landlord if their own efforts were unsuccessful. 

If an agreement is not reached with the landlord or agent and rent falls into arrears for 14 days or more, this is a breach of the tenancy agreement and may result in termination. 

For further information see Breach of agreement and eviction

I have a hearing booked at SACAT - should I still go? 

SACAT has announced changes to their procedures. Visit their website for more detailed information. 

Does the COVID-19 crisis change any of my rights or obligations?

No, not currently. 

The Australian and State Governments have the power to announce measures that may impact some of your rights and obligations related to your tenancy. This page will be updated if new measures are introduced. 

For further information regarding your rights and obligations under a rental agreement, see renting and letting