Changes to Queensland Tenancy Laws due to COVID-19

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Queensland Government announced new measures to Queensland’s residential tenancy laws to protect tenants and landlords during the current crisis. Here are some of the relevant changes to the tenancy laws.

Ending a Tenancy

Landlords may still elect to end a tenancy agreement for an approved reason that does not relate to a failure to pay rent (e.g. providing notice to leave when the property is being sold or when the landlord intends to occupy the property themselves). A notice to leave without grounds however cannot be given when a tenant is suffering from excessive hardship due to COVID-19.

A tenant can end their interest in a tenancy agreement in circumstances where they believe that they are unsafe due to domestic violence by providing the landlord with notice in the approved form with the approved supported evidence of their situation (e.g. a protection order). Seven days after the vacating tenant’s interest has ended the landlord must inform all remaining tenants that the vacating tenant’s interest has ended. The rental agreement will continue on for all remaining tenants who will be required to also top up by the rental bond. Prior to notifying the remaining tenants the landlord must also advise the vacating tenant of date the remaining tenants will be notified that the vacating tenant’s interest has ended.

During the COVID-19 pandemic tenant break lease costs will be capped at an amount equivalent to one week’s worth of rent where the combined total income of all the tenants has been reduced by 75% or more and the combined savings for all tenants is less than $5,000. Landlords and tenants are encouraged to discuss and reach an agreement on how best to manage the end of lease process. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached the RTA should be contacted to arrange conciliation.

If there was money owing prior to the tenant losing income as a result of COVID-19 the tenant will still be liable for this full amount. For circumstances where a new lease has been signed but the tenant is no longer in a position to move into the property it is at the landlord’s discretion (noting the cap on break lease penalties) whether or not they choose to refund rent paid in advance.

Inspections and Maintenance

  • Landlords and agents are unable to enter property where either the tenant, landlord or agent is subject or a quarantine direction, or where entry contravenes a public health direction.
  • Tenants will have the right to refuse entry to an owner or agent for non-essential reasons, including routine inspections where either the tenant or another person staying the property is a vulnerable person.
  • Where an inspection cannot be carried out in the usual way due to a vulnerable person staying at the property the tenant must allow an inspection to be carried in one of the following ways:
    • virtually;
    • via video conferencing; or
    • by providing photos or videos of sufficient quality to enable the landlord or their agent to judge the condition of the property.
  • In order to keep the property safe repairs and maintenance may still be carried out on the property as required.

Freeze on Evictions

 
The six month freeze on evictions starting on 29 March, 2020 and ending 29 September, 2020 (or earlier if the COVID-19 emergency period is declared at an end earlier to this date) means that in the event that a tenant is suffering excessive hardships due to COVID-19, their landlord will be unable to evict them for non-payment of rent. Notices to leave issued before 29 March, 2020 will still be applicable. The freeze on evictions will not apply to circumstances where the tenant does not meet the requirements of a person suffering excessive hardship due to COVID-19. In the event that rental arrears are unrelated to COVID-19 normal breach procedures for rent arrears can be followed.
 
In the event where a current fixed lease is due to expire on or before 29 September 2020 and the tenant meets the requirements of suffering excessive hardship due to COVID-19 a landlord is required to offer an extension of the rental agreement to 30 September (or an earlier date if requested by the tenant). Extensions to rental agreements do not apply to situations where the tenancy agreement ended prior to 29 March, or where either a valid notice to leave was issued or a successful application for a termination order was made before 29 March, 2020. Landlords are still able to end an extended tenancy for an approved reason unrelated to rental arrears caused by COVID-19.
 

Definition of Excessive Hardship due to Covid-19

 
A tenant will meet the requirements to qualify as a person suffering excessive hardship due to COVID-19 if they suffer a loss of at least 25% of their income or where the rent payable equals 30% or more of their income and they fall into one of the following categories:

 

  1. The tenant or a person under their care suffers from COVID-19;
  2. The tenant is subject to a quarantine direction;
  3. The tenant’s place of employment is closed or the business conducted is restricted because of a public health direction (this includes situations where a place of employment is unable to continue to operate due to loss of trade as a result of a public health direction);
  4. The tenant is self-isolating because they or a person they live with is a vulnerable person, or the tenant is the primary carer for a vulnerable person;
  5. A restriction on travel, imposed under a public health direction or other law, prevents the tenant working or returning home;
  6. The COVID-19 emergency prevents the tenant leaving or returning to Australia
For the excessive hardship rules to apply in situations where there is more than one tenant on a tenancy agreement the total combined loss of income for all tenants must be a minimum of 25%, or alternatively, the rent payable must be 30% or more of the total combined income of all tenants.