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Recognising the impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on a number of South Australians, State Parliament has endorsed a number of initiatives aimed at helping landlords and tenants whose incomes have been affected. These measures apply to residential tenancies, rooming houses and residential parks. 

These initiatives can be expected to be in place until 6 February 2021, or 28 days after all relevant declarations relating to COVID-19 have ceased - whichever comes first. 

The 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, where the tenant is suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19
  • 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

If you still have questions of concerns, you can contact Consumer and Business Services by:
•    Calling 131 882.
•    Asking Claire (our 24/7 virtual assistant for residential tenancies)
•    Completing one of our enquiry forms 

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

What protections are there for tenants if they can’t work because of COVID-19?

Under the measures announced by the Government, a landlord will not be able to evict a tenant if they are unable to pay their rent due to the loss of income or employment as a result of the coronavirus.

In the first instance, tenants should get in touch with their landlord and discuss the situation with them. Tenants should try to resolve the matter with the landlord by setting up a written, signed payment plan. Each party should keep a copy of the signed payment plan.

If an agreement is not reached, and the tenant does not pay their full rent, the landlord may apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for an order about the tenancy. SACAT will assess all relevant information to try and resolve the matter.

The Tenants' Information and Advisory Service (TIAS) may also be able to provide assistance in negotiating with your landlord if your own efforts were unsuccessful. 

Tenants should keep records about their changed circumstances including any information from their employer about loss of hours or loss of a position.

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?

Real estate auctions and open house inspections can proceed, but must: 

  • be limited to 1 person per 2 square metres and with 1.5m physical distancing
  • keep a record of attendees.  

Visit the SA COVID-19 website for more information. 

Landlords and tenants must not breach the reasonable peace, comfort and privacy of their tenants.

For more information see Selling or purchasing a private rental property

Who’s responsible for checking whether a tenant can meet their obligations?

If the tenant is struggling to meet their financial obligations, they should contact the landlord. Concerned landlords can also initiate contact directly with the tenant.

Where possible, landlords and tenants should try to reach an agreement. They can fill out a form for consent orders (i.e. an agreement between the tenant and landlord) on the SACAT website. This can be lodged with SACAT so there is a formal record of the arrangements.

If an agreement cannot be reached, they can apply to SACAT for an order.

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. 

Through the changes endorsed by State Parliament, tenants and landlords now have greater flexibility to arrange for maintenance works to be undertaken by prior agreement.

This could be an agreement regarding the nature of repairs, or the maximum cost of repairs, and does not impact on the landlord’s rights or obligations in respect to the repairs themselves. 

What is the landlord's right of entry?

From July 2, routine house inspections can be undertaken as per normal again, taking into consideration hygiene requirements and social distancing measures.

Previous requirements around using audiovisual technology and time-stamped photos have been wound back.

The landlord or agent must still provide the usual written notice to the tenant before conducting any inspection.

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. 

The real estate agent has told me I should draw on my superannuation to pay my rent.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has advised that giving unlicensed financial advice may be in breach of the Corporations Act.

If you are a tenant who has received advice like this, you should contact ASIC 

What can a landlord do if they suspect a tenant falsely claims they cannot pay rent due to COVID-19?

If a landlord believes that a tenant has the capacity to pay, they can seek conciliation or an order through SACAT.

Will landlord’s insurance cover any shortfall in rental income?

Landlords should check their insurance policy or contact their insurer to discuss what support may be available to them.

What can landlords do if they’re concerned about their ability to make mortgage repayments?

Most banks have indicated their willingness to work with landlords who are impacted by the coronavirus. Landlords should contact their financial institution to discuss what supports are available to them. 

If landlords are unable to resolve the matter with their bank, they can contact CBS for information about other possible options.