Besides the physical (and psychological) challenges of life and business in lockdown, meeting your rental payments in this time of uncertain income can feel impossible.

But relief is here - taking the form of new laws passed in late March 2020.

Find out what they are, how they can benefit you, and new obligations if you're a landlord.

Emergency measures for commercial tenants

First it was arts, events and entertainment; festivals, libraries, gigs and cinemas closing their doors. Then came personal services like massage and beauty, gyms, yoga studios and most definitely barre - even if the PM struggled to pronounce it. Strict new regulations govern eateries, supermarkets and hairdressers, and weddings have been whittled down to five people.

Few businesses are safe from the effects of COVID-19. So many businesses will struggle to make rent.

On the 25th of March, NSW passed the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 into law allowing changes to existing laws including those concerning commercial leases. Soon after, the PM released a media statement indicating that the National Cabinet agreed on the need for a short-term tenancy intervention, cutting business owners a break.

Get to know the Emergency Measures Act

The COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (NSW) has specific provisions that change the Retail Leases Act 1994 (NSW) in response to the difficult position many tenants and landlords find themselves in. Specifically, new regulations can be imposed which:

(a) prohibit the recovery of possession of premises or the termination of a lease by a lessor or owner of premises

(b) prevent the exercise or enforcement of another right of a lessor or owner of premises or land under the relevant act or an agreement relating to the premises or land in particular circumstances

(c) exempt a tenant from the operation of a provision of the relevant act or any agreement relating to the leasing or licensing of premises or land.

The language used indicates that the Emergency Act relating to the leasing or licensing of premises not just retail leases captured by the Retail Leases Act.

What does it mean for tenants affected by COVID-19?

The National Cabinet has agreed to a moratorium on evictions for both commercial tenants in financial distress, unable to meet their commitments.

This means:

  • You can't be evicted for failing to pay rent due to COVID-19.
  • You should start negotiations with your landlord now if you foresee issues. Together you can workshop rent relief through either waiving or reducing your payments for a set period.
  • You should consider the bigger picture, planning for a future in which you might need to seek alternative premises.

Not affected by COVID-19? You're expected to honour your existing lease.

Are you a landlord? Know your obligations

The National Cabinet is poised to make more recommendations this month.

For now, the Federal Government asks that any benefits you as a landlord receive in respect to your properties are passed on to your tenants.

This means sharing the costs or deferring the losses - which is not only a kind thing to do, but part of a common set of principles agreed upon by the National Cabinet.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.