In response to COVID-19, new laws affecting residential tenancies have been introduced in South Australia.
The laws are effective from 30 March 2020 and have been extended until 28 March 2021.
See all the details in this Fact Sheet – Amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act
(This document still lists the original October date for the new laws to end.)
Neither a landlord or SACAT are able to end a tenancy or order an eviction if you can’t pay due to financial hardship resulting from COVID-19.
You might be asked to supply evidence that financial hardship is linked to COVID-19.
In the event that a tenant is unable to pay their rent, or are in rent arrears, it is critical that they maintain consistent communication with the agent/landlord/housing provider by either text or email so they have a record of correspondence should the matter proceed to the South Australian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) in the future.
Tenants are strongly encouraged to maintain a ‘rent first’ approach and pay any amount they can towards their rent obligations to the owner. Tenants may choose to request to enter into a payment plan for their utility bills (electricity, gas, telephone) and/or seek assistance for food from community/charitable organisations.
There is a legal process that an agent/landlord or housing provider must follow when a tenant falls behind with rental payments:
- Once a tenant falls behind more than 14 days in rent, they must be served with a Form 2 by their agent/landlord/housing provider. The Form 2 looks like an eviction notice and is serious – it is a warning to the tenant that they owe rent and that they need to pay the rent owing within seven days or leave the property. The Form 2 cannot be served before a tenant is 14 days late with their rent.
- If a tenant does not pay all of the money they owe or chooses not to vacate the property, the agent/landlord/housing provider can apply to SACAT for a hearing. This could take 1-4 weeks (maybe longer) to list the matter for a hearing.
- The tenant will receive a notice from SACAT to attend that hearing and it is in the tenant’s best interest to participate. During the hearing, the tenant will be given an opportunity to explain their personal circumstances.
- The tenant’s record of contact with their housing provider becomes a critical record of communication that can demonstrate to SACAT and the agent/landlord/housing provider that the tenant has kept the owner informed of their circumstances.
- A tenant should also bring any record of recent payments and evidence of financial hardship due to COVID-19.
Remember that only SACAT has the legal authority to order an eviction from a rental property. Attending a SACAT hearing does not mean that the tenant will be automatically evicted from their rental property. The specific circumstances of the individual tenant will be taken into account at the hearing.
RentRight SA Tenancy Advisors can support you over the phone before and during SACAT hearings. We can provide advice and support to talk to your landlord or agent.
On 5 June 2020, the South Australian Government announcement that some landlords will be eligible for a once-off grant of up to $1,000.
The payment is available for residential landlords who reduce the rent of a tenant experiencing rental hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To be considered as being in rental hardship, a residential tenant will need to have lost employment, have reduced hours or a reduced wage due to the pandemic. They also need to have less than $5,000 in savings and pay more than 30% of their current income in rent.
The tenant and landlord need to demonstrate that a revised rental agreement has been negotiated as part of the application process.
More information and an online application form for landlords can be found on the Department of Treasury and Finance Website.
A tenant can not currently be recorded on the residential tenancies database if they cannot pay their rent due to COVID-19.
During this time, a landlord can not increase the rent of a residential tenancy.
If you know that it might be hard for you to pay your rent, you should talk to your agent or landlord about your situation.
You can request a modification to your current rental amount. However, neither party has to agree to this.
We have prepared a Rent Relief Request Template that you can fill in and email to your landlord or agent. It is a good idea to communicate via email to make sure you have details of any changes that you agree to in writing.
Routine inspections can now go ahead as normal, taking into consideration hygiene requirements and social distancing measures where possible.
Talk to your agent if you or someone in your household is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or self-isolating for any reason.
From May 11, auctions and open house inspections can resume, as long as they follow physical distancing restrictions set out in the Auctions and open inspections – Step 1 Fact Sheet. Appointments for private inspections can also be made if hygiene and distancing guidelines can be followed.
A landlord is obliged to carry out repairs within a reasonable time frame but it may take some time for tradespeople etc to be secured. Always report urgent repairs immediately eg; burst water pipe. If the repairs are not carried out in a timely manner, after the landlord has been made aware of them, then there is a formal path to go down.
Please call RentRight SA for further information.
Evictions can still happen, but the following initiatives have been put in place:
These initiatives can be expected to be in place until 6 February 2021.
(or 28 days after all relevant declarations/restrictions 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.
Talk to your agent, in the first instance, if you have concerns about paying your rent or being evicted for any other reason. You can ask to make alternative payment arrangements.
If you can’t reach an agreement, the landlord may apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) to try to resolve the matter.
The Tribunal will take into consideration the effects that COVID-19 has had on a tenant’s ability to pay the rent when making a decision.
RentRight SA Tenancy Advisors can support you over the phone at SACAT hearings. We can provide advice and support about how to talk to your landlord or agent.
Government advice is that tenants should try to negotiate their rent with the landlord. 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 COVID-19.
Any rent debt will still need to be repaid in the future unless you have an agreement with your landlord that says otherwise.
We encourage tenants to keep a diary.
- List the dates when your rent is ordinarily due, and how much it is.
- List any rent money you have paid towards this amount.
- Keep any receipts or statements to show payment has been made.
- Keep a written record of conversations you have with your agent or landlord, and keep all email records.
For advice on your situation, please call our tenancy advisors on 1800 060 462 or use the contact form below.
Please see advice on the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) website: www.sacat.sa.gov.au/about-sacat/public-health-at-sacat
Our tenancy advisors are still able to support tenants at SACAT hearings via phone, while face-to-face hearings are not taking place.
Sharing your experience can help inform future changes and policy decisions.
3 minute survey – Moving On
This survey is for all South Australian rentals covered by the Residential Tenancies Act including privately owned properties, community housing and public housing. Shelter SA has developed this survey to study why tenants move out and why more than half of all tenancy bonds are claimed.