When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, state and federal governments moved quickly to soften the social and economic blow across the community.
Among the Victorian legislative measures passed was a moratorium on evictions for tenants who can no longer meet their rental payments.
As originally drafted, the moratorium was scheduled to expire on 29 September 2020. However, Victorian tenants and landlords will be pleased to learn that a new extension has just been announced.
Victoria entered a second lockdown in July, with strict Stage 4 restrictions imposed on 2 August 2020 and expected to last until mid-late September. The restriction means that retail and hospitality premises, which had only recently reopened, have had to close for a second time.
For many businesses, this has meant financial disaster.
Accordingly, on 20 August 2020, the Victorian government announced an extension of the rental moratorium. This applies to both residential and commercial tenants until at least 31 December 2020. The Commercial Tenancy Relief Scheme, which is regulated under the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020, provides the following relief for commercial tenants and landlords:
- A moratorium on commercial tenancy evictions from 29 March 2020. The moratorium applies to small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) who have:
- An annual turnover under $50 million; and
- Experienced a 30% or greater reduction in turnover due to COVID-19.
- A freeze on rental increases for commercial tenants during the moratorium period.
- Rental payment waivers or deferrals to be negotiated between the tenant and landlord, taking into account the circumstances and income reduction suffered by the tenant due to COVID-19.
- A free mediation service for commercial tenants and landlords through the Victorian Small Business Commission.
Separately, the Victorian government has also offered a 50% discount on land tax for landlords who offer the required amount of rent relief to their tenants.
In related news, the banking sector has agreed to extend its pause on mortgage repayments for property owners who have been hit by the second Stage 4 lockdown, which might in turn take some pressure off commercial landlords and allow them to negotiate with their tenants. However, it does not address the other outgoing obligations faced by commercial landlords, such as rates and taxes, utilities, insurance and management fees.