VSBC calls on landlords and tenants to do the right thing where tenants can’t pay rent because of COVID-19

Victorian Small Business Commissioner Judy O’Connell is calling on small business owners and landlords to take action now and negotiate rent in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) can help resolve small business disputes, including disputes over a retail lease, through a quick, confidential and low-cost mediation service that works.

Commissioner O’Connell said so many small business owners are losing their customers – their main source of cashflow – or have been forced to shut their doors as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19).

“This is making it increasingly difficult and in some cases impossible for a lot of small business owners to keep paying rent,” Commissioner O’Connell said.

“Tenants who are having trouble paying rent need to first read their lease closely and make sure they understand their rights and obligations and if they’re unsure, they should seek legal advice or call us for help.”

“Above all, we encourage both the landlord or agent and tenant to communicate in person or in writing as early as possible to help make sure they’re aware of and understand each other’s position.”

If a landlord, agent or tenant is unable to get a response from the other party or reach agreement, the VSBC can assist.

The VSBC is also closely monitoring the conduct of landlords to ensure that no tenants are unreasonably penalised during this time.

The National Cabinet has agreed that tenants should not be evicted from their premises during this crisis period for non-payment of rent. This is underpinned by a set of principles to help commercial tenancies, which include:

  • a short-term, temporary moratorium on eviction for non-payment of rent applied across commercial tenancies impacted by severe rental distress due to coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • tenants and landlords encouraged to agree to rent relief or temporary amendments to the lease
  • the reduction or waiver of rental payment for a defined period for tenants who are impacted
  • the ability for tenants to end leases and/or seek mediation or conciliation on the grounds of financial distress.

This moratorium will apply nationally, with states and territories working through its implementation.

For media enquiries, contact Christine Harris on 0436 698 132 or at christine.harris@vsbc.vic.gov.au.

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