Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a $500 million package to assist commercial and residential landlords and tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
The package will include $420 million in land tax relief for landlords who provide tenants with rent discounts, while $80 million will go towards rental assistance for Victorians experiencing rental distress.
During a press conference this morning, Mr Andrews said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had increased by eight since yesterday to 1,299 but the death toll remained at 14.
He said 21 people were in hospital with a further 18 in intensive care.
“All in all these numbers are stable, the strategy is working,” he said, and thanked Victorians who were “following the rules”.
“These numbers are the product of people doing the right thing,” he said.
He said “every single Victorian” would be “touched by tragedy” if the situation unfolded like it has in other countries.
Mr Andrews said landlords would receive a 25 per cent discount on their land tax if they provided tenants impacted by the coronavirus crisis with rent relief, with any remaining land tax able to be deferred until March 2021.
A new Coronavirus Relief Deputy Commissioner will be established at the State Revenue Office to manage claims.
The government is also setting up a fast-tracked dispute resolution process for tenants and landlords, to be mediated by Consumer Affairs Victoria or the Victorian Small Business Commission.
Mr Andrews said the government wanted landlords and tenants to have “good faith” negotiations and he was “very confident there will be agreements”.
“It’s in everyone’s interests,” he said.
But “even with a good faith agreement” there would be many Victorians under rental stress, he added.
The $80 million rental assistance fund will be for renters facing hardship due to the coronavirus crisis. These payments will be capped at $2,000.
To be eligible, renters will need to have registered their revised agreement with Consumer Affairs Victoria or gone through mediation, have less than $5,000 in savings and still be paying at least 30 per cent of their income in rent.
Mr Andrews said the government was also introducing a temporary ban on evictions and pausing rental increases for six months.
The changes required for the measures will be legislated during a special sitting of Parliament next Thursday.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said his expectation was for landlords and tenants to work together
“And what that means is essentially you have to sit down together and go through your arrangements,” Mr Pallas said.
Mr Pallas said he expected more than 10,000 landlords would access the land tax relief.
“You have to have reached an agreement,” Mr Pallas said.
Measures welcomed by tenants’ advocates
Tenants Victoria chief executive Jennifer Beveridge said the land tax relief would be a good incentive for landlords to enter into mediation with renters and the moratorium on evictions and rent increases was urgently needed.
“Tenants Victoria especially welcomes the $80 million identified to provide relief for renters who are in rental stress,” Ms Beveridge said.
“Every day of this crisis we are hearing stories of distress, including in one share house where three of the four renters have lost their jobs.
“This issue has particularly impacted on young people and families who just don’t have the savings to get them through this period.”
Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said the new measures gave renters strong and necessary protections.
However, Ms King said the detail of how negotiations would work was yet to be explained.
“It’s also unclear whether renters who accept a payment deferral will end up saddled with a mountain debt at the end of the pandemic,” Ms King said.
“That would be a tragic and dangerous outcome.”
‘Vast majority’ of people doing the right thing
A statement from Victoria Police earlier said officers had conducted 824 spot checks and issued 52 fines for breaches of coronavirus restrictions in the 24 hours to 11pm on Tuesday
The statement said examples of breaches included:
During the press conference, Mr Andrews said the “vast, vast majority of people” were doing the right thing.
He defended Victoria Police’s handling of fines and said while some mistakes had been made, the force had been doing a good job.
He said fines were not issued for “trifling matters” but were matters of “life and death”.
“You can have tens of thousands of warnings given out, well that just means that you’re telling Victorians you don’t need to follow the rules,” he said.