How does COVID-19 affect Victorian renters?

Many Victorian renters are impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which will in turn affect many tenancies.

We’ve provided an overview of what happens if you fall behind in rent, are facing eviction or want to end your rental agreement during this challenging time, and where you can get financial and legal help.

This page is up to date as of 19 May 2020 and applies only to residential tenants in Victoria, Australia.

Can I be evicted?

The Victorian Government has temporarily banned most evictions until Tuesday 29 September 2020.

For this period, you cannot be issued with a Notice to Vacate or evicted if you are behind in rent due to COVID-19.

Victoria’s new COVID-19 laws were passed on Thursday 23 April 2020. You can still be evicted under the new laws in certain circumstances.

For example, you can be evicted if:

  • The landlord is selling or moving into the property.
  • A renter sub-lets the property without the landlord’s consent.
  • A renter does not pay their ordinary rent, and they are not financially affected by COVID-19.
  • A renter does not comply with their obligations under their rental agreement or the rental laws, and it is not because of COVID-19.

You should get legal help if:

  • You received a Notice to Vacate (before or after 29 March 2020).
  • You have a VCAT hearing coming up.
  • VCAT has made a possession order against you, but your landlord or real estate agent hasn’t yet purchased a possession warrant from VCAT.
  • A possession warrant has been purchased, but it hasn’t yet been executed by police (for example, by changing the locks at your rental property).
  • You have a mediation or dispute resolution coming up about your tenancy.
  • You have been threatened with eviction.
  • Your tenancy has been affected by family violence.

For more about legal help, see Who can help me? below.

The residential tenancies list at VCAT is still hearing eviction matters by telephone. We encourage you to get legal advice before attending your hearing by telephone (see Who can help me? below).

Do I have to pay rent?

Renters are still required to pay their ordinary rent unless you or your household have been financially affected by COVID-19.

Rent increases

Due to COVID-19 your landlord cannot increase your rent for six months until 29 September 2020.

Get legal help if your rent increased on or after 29 March 2020 or is due to increase.

What if I can’t afford to pay rent due to COVID-19?

The Victorian Government has announced a new package to support renters facing COVID-19-related financial hardship.

Ask for a rent reduction

Your first step should be to speak with your landlord or real estate agent to arrange a rent reduction. Justice Connect recommends offering to pay no more than 30% of your current income towards the rent.

Some real estate agencies have created COVID-19 Financial Hardship Rental Reduction application forms specifically for this purpose.

It is important to make sure that you get any agreement in writing and that you register your agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria.

Some landlords or real estate agents may ask that you access your superannuation before they consider any rent relief, but the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) have advised that unlicensed financial advice is illegal. You can get financial advice if you are in this position (see Who can help me? below).

Mediation to reach an agreement

If you can’t come to an agreement with your landlord or real estate agent, you will have access to a dispute resolution service. Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria (DSCV) will help mediate these disputes to ensure fair agreements are reached. You can register for mediation by filling out this form.

What if my landlord refuses to participate or negotiate in mediation?

If your landlord refuses to negotiate through mediation or you can’t come to an agreement through mediation, the Chief Dispute Resolution Officer for Residential Tenancies can issue a binding order in relation to rent. You can register for mediation by filling out this form.

Accessing financial assistance to pay my rent

COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant

If you’re still struggling to pay your reduced rent, you might be eligible for the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant. The COVID-19 Grant provides rent relief payments of up to $2000 directly to your landlord or agent.

You are eligible if:

  1. You have registered your rent reduction agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria, or have already been through mediation with Consumer Affairs Victoria;
  2. You have less than $5000 in savings;
  3. Your household income is less than $1903 per week; and
  4. You are currently paying 30% or more of your income towards your rent.

Find out more about the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant. If you’re eligible for the COVID-19 Grant, you’re still eligible for other financial assistance outlined below.

Other financial assistance

If you need additional financial support or you’re not eligible for the COVID-19 Grant, you can also apply for other financial assistance to help cover your rent and rent arrears.

This is funded by the Victorian Government and distributed through the Housing Establishment Fund (HEF) and the Private Rental Assistance Program (PRAP) at your local housing access point. Call Opening Doors on 1800 825 955 or find your suburb for your closest housing access point.

This type of financial aid is not generally available for renters in public or community housing. Please check with your housing access point regarding your eligibility for financial assistance.

Can I end my rental agreement if I can’t pay my rent or I want to move out?

You can still end your rental agreement in certain circumstances. Get legal help if you want to take this step.

What if I have I have fallen behind in rent but can keep paying my ordinary rent?

If you fall behind in rent but you can afford to keep paying your ordinary rent, you can propose a payment plan to your landlord or real estate agent.

Our Dear Landlord online self-help resources can help you to understand what to do if this happens. Our letter writer will help you explain your situation to your landlord or real estate agent.

If you are in this position, you may want to access financial assistance to pay your rent and rent arrears (see Who can help me? below).

Who can help me?

Financial help

Check to see if you are eligible for the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant (see Accessing financial assistance to pay my rent above). Find out more about the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant.

If you need more financial support or you’re not eligible for the COVID-19 Grant, we strongly encourage you to apply for financial assistance to cover the cost of rent and rent arrears. Call Opening Doors on 1800 825 955 or find your suburb for your closest housing access point. This is not generally available for renters in public or community housing.

If you’re struggling to pay rent or you have debts and need financial advice, you can speak to a free financial counsellor through the National Debt Helpline by calling 1800 007 007.

The Federal Government has also committed to increasing income support for people without employment or those underemployed during this time. New Centrelink applicants are encouraged to claim online through MyGov, or claim over the phone. If you already receive Centrelink, you can read more about how COVID-19 affects your specific payments.

Legal help

Justice Connect Homeless Law

Justice Connect’s Homeless Law service can provide legal representation if you receive a Notice to Vacate from your landlord, if you have a VCAT hearing coming up, or you missed a VCAT hearing.

Our Homeless Law service can also offer specialist help with tenancies affected by family violence, and with housing debts.

You can apply for our help online or call 1800 606 313 (freecall from landlines). We are experiencing high demand so our services may be limited.

Victoria Legal Aid

Victoria Legal Aid’s Legal Help telephone information and advice line is operating, and renters can call 1300 792 387 for assistance. There will be a surge in demand and delays, so it is recommended that only renters with current legal proceedings call that number for assistance.

Tenants Victoria and Consumer Affairs Victoria

Due to overwhelming demand, the Tenants Victoria and Consumer Affairs Victoria telephone advice line for renters are both temporarily closed. Tenants Victoria are providing basic advice via email and have COVID-19 resources for tenants. Consumer Affairs Victoria will be updating their COVID-19 dedicated page regularly.

Your local community legal service

Your local community legal centre may also be able to offer you tenancy legal help. The Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) has information on the best way to contact these centres.

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

If you are a Victorian renter who identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, you may want to contact the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service for legal help.

This page will be updated regularly to reflect any changes that impact on the housing security of renters in Victoria.

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