WA Government flags six-month ban on evictions


WA plans to introduce a six-month moratorium on evicting residential tenants among a raft of measures aimed at limiting the financial upheaval caused by coronavirus.

The reforms include a moratorium on evictions for six months, banning rent increases, no interest charged on rent arrears, extending fixed-term leases, allowing tenants to end their tenancy early and suspending landlords' repair obligations.

The bill, to be introduced into State Parliament this week, will also include a moratorium on evictions for small commercial tenancies.

"The aim of this legislation is to preserve these tenancies over the next six months or so, so that people can stay at home and businesses can continue to survive," WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

Mr McGowan said he was trying to avoid people being made homeless during the pandemic and ensure they were protected by law.

"This legislation is designed to prevent tenants suffering severe financial difficulty from being forced to move out or made homeless," Mr McGowan said.

"We must put a stop to this.

"I don't want to see someone who has lost their job because of COVID-19 then forced out onto the street by their landlord."

There will be exemptions – for example, if a tenant causes serious damage to a property.

Mr McGowan said the legislation would include other measures that had already been flagged.

"This includes the introduction of a code of conduct, for landlords and tenants, to help small and medium-size businesses survive," he said.

'Rent must still be paid', Premier warns

But Mr McGowan was quick to point out this was not a moratorium on rent.

"We are encouraging people to pay their rent. If they don't, well, they can be sued," Mr McGowan said.

"[That] can obviously have a dramatic impact on their credit rating. Their prospects of getting another tenancy will be limited.

"If a tenant can't pay their rent, they will still have to pay it later."

Mr McGowan said anyone facing financial distress should contact their landlord or property manager.

"This could include a reduction to the amount paid for a period of time, for example," Mr McGowan said.

"What we're introducing are sensible amendments to help landlords and tenants to work together during these challenging and uncertain times."

"If disputes arise during this period, a new fast and free dispute resolution service will be available through Consumer Protection."

Mr McGowan encouraged landlords facing financial difficulty – for example, if their tenant cannot pay rent – to access bank assistance.

"Banks have offered a freeze on mortgage payments and other assistance is available to those who are experiencing difficulty making repayments," he said.

Landlords, tenants urged to negotiate in good faith

The Government said the laws would apply equally to tenants in public and private housing, park homes, boarders and lodgers.

Mr McGowan said given the changes, it would be important for landlords and tenants to negotiate in good faith towards a "shared beneficial outcome".

"The new laws create a framework for those discussions and hopefully provide some security and certainty to get through these difficult times," Mr McGowan said.

Commerce Minister John Quigley said the Government expected there would be a spike in disputes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As a result of these concerns, the legislation will provide a mandatory conciliation step in the dispute resolution process," Mr Quigley said.

"This will act as a buffer between complainants and the Magistrates Court and the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT), protecting the Magistrates Court and SAT from being flooded by residential tenancy dispute applications."

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Jason Gwerder
Saturday, 25 April 2020

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