Tenancy and COVID-19

The Victorian Government has made changes to renting laws as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis. Have a look at these Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about your rights as a renter during this time.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have less income due to COVID-19 and can’t afford to pay the rent. Can I still be evicted?

Yes, it is still possible to be evicted, though there is more protection for tenants due to changes in the law since the start of COVID-19. If you are unable to pay the rent without suffering ‘severe hardship’ due to a COVID-19 reason, for example losing your job due to the lockdown restrictions or unable to work due to being sick or self quarantining, then the new laws will protect you from evictions. You should gather evidence of how COVID-19 has affected your life and your ability to pay the rent as this will help you in case the Landlord tries to evict you.
The Landlord can no longer issue a Notice to Vacate for failure to pay rent. Instead, if the Landlord wants to terminate the tenancy during this time, and you do not agree, they must apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). You would also be entitled to attend VCAT and say your reasons why terminating the tenancy would not be ‘reasonable or proportionate’ taking into account the whole situation including COVID-19. Note, VCAT is currently conducting all of its Hearings by phone.
VCAT will only terminate your tenancy if it finds that you in fact could have paid the rent without suffering severe hardship but chose not to. It is therefore important that even if you cant afford all the rent due, you at least pay as much as you can afford, each week or month the rent is due.

Can I still be evicted for other reasons?

Yes – the Landlord can still apply to VCAT to ‘terminate’ your tenancy and evict you for many other reasons not related to COVID-19.  Examples of these could include; you or a guest cause damage to the property, the property becomes unsafe to live in , or the Landlord is selling the property.
If VCAT makes an Order to terminate your tenancy, they must set a date of when you have to move out by. This is different for each reason – for example if you are causing danger to others it is immediate, while for other reasons it is between 14 to 90 days. If you receive any applications from the Landlord to terminate your tenancy, seek legal advice immediately.

Can I ask for my rent to be reduced due to COVID-19?

Yes – COVID-19 impacted tenants and landlords are required to negotiate ‘rent reduction agreements’ which will reduce the amount of rent you have to pay.  Landlords and tenants are being encouraged to negotiate honestly about how COVID 19 has affected their finances and what they can afford. Consumer Affairs Victoria has issued guidelines that they consider a tenant who is paying more than 30% of their household income is in rental hardship.
The new laws allow Consumer Affairs Victoria to mediate between you and the landlord about what the appropriate amount of rent should be, and even to make binding decisions if you can’t come to an agreement. If this is not successful, you can also apply to VCAT directly for a rent reduction.
The new laws also state that, for all residential tenancies, the rent cannot be increased for 6 months from 29 March 2020.

Should I ask for a rent reduction or a rent deferment?

Consumer Affairs Victoria recommends that COVID-19 impacted tenants negotiate a rent reduction. A rent reduction agreement means that your rent will be reduced  for a temporary period – for example 3 or 6 months. This would mean you do not have to pay back the difference between the old and new rent later on.
A rent deferment is where you agree to put off paying some or all of your rent payments for a period of time– but after that time you will have to pay back that entire amount owed. This will leave you with a large debt later on. Think very carefully before you decide to sign any agreement that will create a large debt.
Consumer Affairs Victoria  have stated that the form of the rent reduction agreement is not important, as long as it has the name of tenant, name of landlord, property address, rent pre-agreement, rent for the period of the agreement and time period the agreement will be in place for.  A template for rent reduction agreement has been published by CAV online.

Can I get government assistance to pay the rent?

Yes – if you’re still struggling to pay your rent even after negotiating with the Landlord, you might be eligible for the COVID-19 Rent Relief Grant which provides rent relief payments of up to $2000 directly to your landlord or agent. You might be eligible if:

  • You have registered your rent reduction agreement or have already been through mediation with Consumer Affairs Victoria;
  • You have less than $5000 in savings;
  • Your household income is less than $1903 per week
  • You have had a loss of income of 20% or more due to COVID-19; and
  • You are currently paying 30% or more of your income towards your rent (even after you have reduced the rent).

Can my landlord or real estate agent ‘blacklist’ me for failure to pay rent?

No – not if your failure to pay rent is due to a ‘COVID-19 reason’. This applies for the period up until 26 September 2020. If you think you have been listed during this period, even if the listing happens afterwards, seek legal advice.

Can I leave my tenancy early if I need to?

Yes – you still have all your usual rights as a tenant including the right to give a Notice of Intention to Vacate with no less than 28 days’ notice before the end of your fixed term tenancy agreement or periodic (month to month) agreement. A Notice of Intention to Vacate is simply a letter or email to the landlord that states the date you will be leaving. The notice must be in writing and must include the date you’ll be moving out.
You also have the right to give only a reduced notice period of no less than 14 days to end your tenancy agreement for these reasons:

  • you need special care
  • you have received and accepted an offer of public housing or housing from a registered housing agency
  • you need to move into temporary crisis accommodation
  • you live in special disability accommodation resident and the landlord’s registration to provide this accommodation has been revoked.

The new laws also add two more reasons that you can give a 14-day Notice of Intention to Vacate:

  • you are suffering severe hardship (for example: financial reasons due to COVID-19) or
  • the landlord has made an application to VCAT to terminate the tenancy.

A landlord cannot claim compensation or ask you to pay lease-break fees if you terminate your lease early by giving a 14 day Notice of Intention to Vacate for these reasons.

Where can I find out more information or get help?

If you are in private rental in the Barwon region and any of the above questions apply to you, call Barwon Community Legal Service on 1300 430 599 for free advice.  The following free services may also be useful:

If you need additional financial support or you’re not eligible for the Rent Relief Grant, you could try:

This site contains legal information not advice. Information is current as at 14 May 2020. As things are changing quickly it is always a good idea to seek legal advice if any of the above information applies to you.