As the world looks to the other side of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are all sorely aware that the economic consequences of lockdown and the associated disruptions will be felt for some time to come.
Both landlords and tenants are among the hardest hit, and while most state governments have introduced measures to assist, alongside federal actions, this period of financial uncertainty has raised many questions, including how the landlord insurance sector will work through the consequences.
We have worked to provide you with answers to the most commonly asked questions to have arisen, and we’ve attempted to offer this information to you in a practical and straightforward manner. If your question hasn’t been answered below, please feel free to get in touch with the Eagle Protect team for further information.
Can I still take out landlord insurance for my rental property?
Yes. Though the cover that is available has been restricted from that previously available. From now and for the foreseeable future Landlords Insurance will not be offered with the extension to include Rental Default. Policies that are issued will continue to provide cover in relation to loss or damage to Landlord’s contents as well as cover in relation to Public Liability and loss of rent. Once the situation in relation to the impact of COVID-19 has been determined it is envisaged that cover about Rent Default will be reintroduced to the policy and will be available to be purchased and added to existing policies.
I am a real estate partner of Eagle Protect – Can I take out cover for my landlords through Eagle Protect?
Cover is still available and new policies can indeed be placed during this period. The only restriction at this point in time is in relation to the removal of Rent Default. For the time being, we are in a position where we are able to offer renewal of existing policies with Rent Default included in the cover, however, this opportunity is currently under review, and we cannot confirm whether a policy renewal, including Rent Default, will be available beyond June 30, 2020.
How long until the Eagle Protect Rent Default extension is available?
Unfortunately, we’re not able to answer this. The uncertainty across all aspects of life at the moment means we can’t provide an exact date for when business, as usual, will resume. Just like you, we want business (and life) to go back to normal, and we hope that the current limitations will only be short-lived. We will update you as the situation changes.
How does the Federal Government ban on evictions impact my insurance?
Each state and territory government will interpret the requirements differently, and each jurisdiction has different processes to be followed. If you have suffered a loss, all reasonable steps must be taken, and rules followed before insurance will step in and a claim can be made. Please know that when it comes time to make a claim, your policy will cover you for what it is designed to cover you for.
I need to speak to the Eagle Protect team about my policy, what do I do?
We are still working to provide you with the best possible service. As with many businesses at the moment, it may seem a little different from usual. The key differences are:
- There are restrictions in the covers that can be provided.
• We have received a higher number of enquiries recently, so it may take us a little longer than usual to respond to you.
• Many of us are working from home, but you can still get in touch by emailing email@example.com
My tenant needs help. Can I avoid sending late notices? What is acceptable, and what will impact my coverage?
We recognise that this is a tough time for everyone and that people are looking to support each other. If landlords choose to put in place financial measures to help tenants at this time, that is the landlord’s choice. However, it is worth noting that some changes may impact your insurances. Note that these circumstances relate to existing Policies, which include Rent Default coverage:
Reducing rent: if a landlord and tenant agree to a reduced rate of rent, the difference between the original cost of rent and the new cost of rent cannot be claimed. If the tenant defaults on the new rate that has been agreed upon, you may be able to claim.
Rent on Hold: If a landlord wishes to suspend rental payments to help a tenant in financial difficulty, this would not be covered because it is a mutually-agreed outcome, not an insured event. If the tenant does not meet their rental payments in full, standard insurance protocols kick in, and the situation would then be considered loss of rent, and the policy will respond.
Not issuing late notices: without further advice from the Government, we are unable to offer advice as to whether landlords should or should not follow standard procedures regarding late notices.
Are claims impacted by the closure of tribunals?
We would like to remind you that the government moratorium on rental evictions only applies to those tenants that have been financially impacted (inclusive of any government assistance by an income reduction of 25% or more) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If your tenant has not been financially impacted, then the moratorium does not apply to them.
The Eagle Protect policy requires that the following steps be taken prior to lodging a claim for financial loss:
- Obtain or hold the bond from the tenant
- Proceed with the tribunal hearing process where appropriate and make an application for loss of rent, bond monies and compensation for any damages and/or expenses
- Take steps to minimise the loss of rent by re-letting the property as soon as possible
What does this mean to a landlord? Simply put, it means if your tenant has been financially impacted by COVID-19, you may not be able to submit a claim until the matter goes to tribunal. It does not mean you cannot claim, just that the policy requires you to go through the process prior to claiming. It will also mean that you will be limited to the cover provided by the policy being up to $1,000 per week for a maximum of 18 weeks (unless a higher amount is shown on your schedule), regardless of how long it takes to have the matter reviewed by the relevant tribunal.
We are working with the insurer to review their position on tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 and will provide a further update when available.
Will landlord insurance protect my properties during the pandemic?
Your landlord insurance should be business as usual. The pandemic situation does not alter the terms and conditions in your landlord insurance policy, and all losses will are treated with the usual care and consideration. For example, if you need to make a claim for fire damage, we will review and respond as usual. Despite the global pandemic, your insurance policy will still cover what it is designed to cover. This is because your policy is governed by the Product Disclosure Statement, which determines what is covered, and what isn’t. You can find a copy of our PDS here.
There’s a ban on inspections due to the risks, how does this impact my insurance?
The ban on inspections should not alter the outcome of a claim, but in the event of a claim, you will need to prove loss or damage with photos and other supporting documentation. Maintaining premises is a standard clause in almost all landlord insurance policies. Ongoing property inspections assist in ensuring that you’re in-line with policy terms and conditions. Video can be an excellent way to conduct inspections from a distance.
Is this process to make a claim still the same?
Yes. Our claims claim submission process has not changed. You can tell us what has happened, provide the quotes and invoices, provide relevant documents and submit a claim as usual through the firstname.lastname@example.org email portal. If we have everything we need, we can work to process and settle your claim as soon as possible. If we require any additional information we will contact you.
If my tenant is no longer employed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cannot pay rent, can I recoup costs?
This would be treated as a loss of rent claim and covered for up to 18 weeks by rent default, provided it meets the standard terms and conditions outlined by the policy. Note that Rent Default cover is not available for new policies taken out at this time.
My tenant has COVID-19 and cannot work or pay rent. Am I covered?
If a tenant is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is unable to work and cannot pay rent, these losses are unlikely to be covered by Eagle Protect policies.
The World Health Organisation has advised that patients with mild cases of COVID-19 recover in two to three weeks, and severe cases in six weeks, meaning the loss of rent can be recouped through communication and support between tenant and landlord or property manager.
My tenant has been caught overseas by the travel ban, or has to self-isolate, and doesn’t want to pay rent. Am I covered?
Each claim is assessed on its facts and without all the information, and taking into account personal circumstances and reasons for the loss, we cannot answer without more details.
Is cleaning or decontamination covered if my tenant has COVID-19?
No. Eagle Protect policies will not cover general cleaning. We provide cover for specific circumstances, like drug lab clean up. General cleanliness is the tenant’s responsibility, although you may be able to claim cleaning expenses from the bond.
If my tenant vacates and I cannot secure another tenant due to low property demand, will the losses be covered?
No. Eagle Protect does not offer protection for changed market conditions or vacancies between tenancies. The policy does not cover properties that cannot be used for a residential tenancy.
My tenant has moved back overseas, and there are rent arrears, how do I claim to get the money back?
All standard regulations and processes should be followed as usual. You need to take the same steps as usual to gain possession of the property. This type of loss is likely to be covered as a typical loss of rent situation, as per the terms and conditions of the policy.
My tenant has stopped paying rent, but we cannot evict them. How does my policy respond?
The Eagle Protect policy offers the following:
• Rent default – up to 18 weeks
• Tenant hardship – up to 18 weeks
Governments are encouraging tenants and landlords to work together to find solutions that are amenable for both parties in situations like this. If you are unable to come to a solution, you can make a claim but need to be able to show that the loss is proven and that steps were taken to minimise that loss. Please note that the landlord needs to work with the tenant to find a solution – your claim may be void if you do not follow government advice.
I have been told not to serve arrears and breach and termination notices. Does this void the policy or impact the ability to make a claim?
Our advice is to take reasonable steps available to you to reduce any losses. Work with your tenant to find a solution and follow the information provided by the relevant state government. Remember that insurance won’t cover the difference of a rent reduction, and it is good practice to keep records of all dealings with your tenant so that if you do need to make a claim, you have supporting documentation of attempts to minimise loss.
My tenant wants to break their lease because they have lost their job. Can I make a claim?
This depends on the legislation in your state and if the laws passed negate the lease terms. If your property is in a state that has passed laws that allow tenants to break the lease without ongoing responsibility for the tenancy agreement, it is unlikely you can make a claim. The tenant needs to owe something to the landlord for the policy to respond.
What are the Government initiatives for landlords impacted by COVID-19?
On March 29, the Australian Government announced a moratorium on evicting tenants who are under financial stress due to the COVID-19 situation. The finer details of the eviction freeze were up to each state and territory to legislate, alongside their own relief packages. Please note, the information below is correct at time of publishing, but the nature of the situation means that the information may change. As such, we recommend keeping up to date with the Australian Government and various state sites, as per the links.
On April 9, the Queensland Government announced that it had implemented a freeze on evictions due to rent in arrears, for tenants impacted by COVID-19. It was retrospectively applied from March 29 and means tenants can seek a rent reduction if they meet the hardship criteria.
Tenants can end their leases early with limited fees if they can prove a 75% loss in income due to the COVID-19 situation. However, landlords or property managers can issue a notice to vacate due to rent arrears outside of those impacted by COVID-19 related financial hardship.
The situation is developing, and the changes have not been legislated, but the Queensland Government has developed a framework to encourage landlords and tenants to reach amicable solutions. If an agreement cannot be reached, mandatory conciliation applies. All parties are reminded to ensure that any changes to rent or the tenancy agreement is made in writing. There is no indication that tenants struggling or unable to pay rent will be blacklisted.
On April 19, a Residential Tenancies Practice Guide COVID-19 for property owners and tenants was released, and the measures within that guide were introduced to parliament. Those changes and a more detailed explanation of the measures can be found via the links below.
New South Wales
The NSW Government has placed a six-month ban on new, forced evictions if the tenant is in rental arrears due to financial hardship stemming from COVID-19, effective from March 29. The tenant must have suffered a loss of income of greater than 25%, and the landlord or property manager and tenant need to negotiate a rental reduction in good faith. This moratorium is only applicable to tenants suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19 and doesn’t apply to evictions based on rent arrears for other reasons.
New termination notices and termination applications to NCAT due to rental arrears are on hold for 60 days. Tenants who cannot meet their obligations after this period may have the tenancy terminated on the grounds of rental arrears if the landlord has attempted to negotiate a reduced rate for rent, but the negotiations have failed. All parties will have access to NCAT and Fair Trading to resolve the dispute.
It is worth noting that unpaid rent will still accrue as arrears, although tenants won’t be evicted or blacklisted. Notice periods for other lease termination reasons have been extended to 90 days, while notice periods for other lease termination reasons are also being extended to 90 days.
The NSW Government has released details of a relief package for residential renters and landlords and offers subsidies for tenants who have lost 25% or more of their income. Landlords are eligible for land tax waivers or rebates up to 25% if the saving is passed on to tenants who are in financial distress.
The legislation was introduced to parliament on April 23, which outlines reforms for residential and commercial tenancy laws. In line with federal recommendations, there is a six-month ban on evictions (with some exclusions), and tenants will be able to apply to leave their tenancy if they wish to, due to financial hardship, without penalty. They are also able to negotiate a rent reduction with the landlord or property manager.
There is a freeze on rising rents, meaning landlords cannot increase rents before September 26. The Victorian Government has also set up a fast-tracked dispute resolution process. The legislation package allows for financial relief to come into effect, including land tax relief and financial hardship relief for tenants. Access to the relief is subject to landlords and tenants communicating and working to find a solution.
Under the package, landlords can access land tax relief up to 25% if they pass on the discount to their tenants. Remaining land tax payments can be deferred until March 2021. For residential tenants, payments of up to $2,000 are available to those who have registered their revised agreement with Consumer Affairs or completed mediation, have less than $5,000 in savings and still be paying at least 30 per cent of their income in rent.
As of April 16, the WA Government has passed legislation to address the hardships for residential tenants impacted by COVID-19. The legislation ensures a moratorium on evictions for six months, with some exemptions (including but not limited to: if a tenant is causing damage to the property; the landlord or tenant is experiencing undue hardship; the tenant abandons the property; a tenant is experiencing domestic violence, and the perpetrator should be evicted.)
The WA Government made note that the moratorium applied to evictions, not the payment of rent. Arrears will still accrue, and tenants must pay rent, and if rent remains unpaid at the end of the rental tenancy, landlords can pursue payment collection as usual, while interest cannot be charged on unpaid rent. Evictions can still take place outside of the new financial hardship legislation.
The moratorium period is in effect for six months from March 30. During this period, rent increases are also prohibited, alongside an easing of non-urgent repair obligations for landlords if they are experiencing financial hardship or cannot access the property due to travel restrictions. Fixed-term leases due to expire in the next six months will continue as periodic agreements and tenants can end fixed-term tenancies before the nominated end date without fees if COVID-19 financially impacts them.
From April 8, the South Australian Government has passed into legislations new protections for landlords and tenants. Under the laws, a residential tenancy cannot be terminated due to failure to pay rent if the tenant is under financial hardship, and rent increases are prohibited for the next six months. Tenants can not be blacklisted on databases under the laws, which are designed to provide “general protection for tenants who breach their agreement as a result of complying with a direction under the law relating to COVID-19”.
As with many other states, SA tenants and landlords are encouraged to work together to reach an agreement if the tenant cannot pay rent. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, then they can go before the SACAT. Measures to allow tenants to use video services to replace routine inspections have been passed into law.
Relief measures for investors and landlords in South Australia precede the COVID-19 situation: in November of 2019, they announced land tax cuts from July this year. Property owners will be able to defer payment of their third and fourth quarter instalments for up to six months. In March, an additional $13 million in relief was announced.
- Consumer and Business Services
- South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
- Fact Sheet on Temporary Changes to the RTA in Response to COVID-19
On April 3, the Tasmanian Government introduced a 120-day emergency period into its Residential Tenancy Act (ending July 25), meaning that during the period, tenants cannot be evicted for falling into rental arrears. During this period, the landlord or property manager cannot issue a notice to vacate due to rent arrears, and any notice to vacate that was given before April 3 will not have any effect (provided the tenant has not yet vacated). Evictions due to rent arrears, including those in the courts, are suspended.
Also, any notice to vacate is immediately halted and has no effect until June 30, with the legislation likely to be reviewed before this point. Leases can be terminated during this period if tenants agree; if it is a non-fixed term tenancy and notice to vacate was issued before April 3 due to the sale of the property; tenants have been served with a notice to vacate due to unlawful behaviour by the tenant; if the tenant or landlord has made a successful hardship application. There is also space for rental agreements to be terminated on the grounds of violence or damage by wilful behaviour.
As per the Federal Government advice, owners and tenants are encouraged to come to an agreement if the tenant is suffering financial hardship. The agreement to reduce the rent should put any changes in writing, and both parties must sign. This amendment will form part of the residential tenancy agreement. Tenants and landlords can apply to break a lease if the term of the lease is likely to cause further or greater financial hardship.
General repairs and maintenance are not required during the emergency period, but urgent or emergency repairs are necessary and need to continue for the health and safety of the tenants. Property inspections are only permitted in certain circumstances.
The Northern Territory (NT)
The Northern Territory Government (at the date of publishing) had not announced any details on how it would move to introduce the moratorium into legislation. It has advised that the state’s Residential Tenancies Act from February of 2019 is being deferred so that further changes that might be necessary are included. The Labor Government has indicated that these could include longer negotiation periods between landlords and tenants, and fairer terms for leases for those affected by Covid-19.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
The ACT has introduced measures that include the six-month moratorium on evictions due to rental arrears and a temporary freeze on rental increases, as well as preventing blacklisting for tenants who cannot pay rent. During this period, landlords or property managers cannot evict tenants if they are unable to pay rent and any outstanding rent during the period will be owed, but cannot attract interest.
Evictions are still possible if they do not relate to COVID-19 financial distress. Tenants who are not impacted by the financial distress caused by COVID-19 must continue to pay rent, or they will face eviction, as per standard procedures.
Landlords and tenants are encouraged to discuss alternative payment arrangements if the tenant has had their income significantly affected, including measures such as a rental payment freeze or rent reduction. In the event of a rent freeze, rent not collected becomes a debt owed to the landlord and can be paid once the tenant has access to income.
Landlords have been offered an incentive to reduce rent payments, but if they choose to do so, tenants cannot be asked to re-pay the rent reduction difference in future.
For landlords who do choose to reduce the rent rates of tenants, they will be eligible for rebates on land tax bills. If a landlord reduces their tenant’s rent by at least 25 per cent for a period of up to six months, the ACT Government will match half of the rent reduction to a maximum of $2,600 over six months. The Government’s share of the rent reduction will be provided to landlords via a rebate on their 2019-20 quarter four and 2020-21 quarter one land tax bills.