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The State and Commonwealth Governments are in the process of enacting legislation to provide relief to commercial tenants affected by Covid-19.
The West Australian State Government has recently passed legislation that limits the ability of a landlord to take certain action against tenants under a "small commercial lease" during the "emergency period" (the Commercial Tenancies (COVID-19 Responses) Act 2020).
The emergency period roughly aligns with the Commonwealth Government's Jobkeeper payment period, being 30 March – 29 September 2020, unless another end date is specified. This new State legislation is not yet in force, but it should be very soon.
The relief provided by the new Act operates in favour of tenants under "small commercial leases". A small commercial lease means:
During the emergency period protections in the new Act include:
The West Australian Government will soon pass Regulations to operate in conjunction with the new Act. These Regulations will deal with specific points not set out in the Act. For example, the Regulations might exclude certain small businesses from the protection that is given by the Act.
The Regulations will also set out a new Code of Conduct equivalent to the National Cabinet Mandatory Code of Conduct – Small to Medium (SME) Commercial Leasing Principles during COVID. This is the Code of Conduct developed by the Commonwealth Government and released on 7 April 2020 to regulate how a landlord must negotiate with tenants who have suffered Covid-19 related downturns.
Of note, the Code of Conduct requires that landlords must offer tenants proportionate reductions in rent payable in the form of waivers (i.e. a reduction in rent that will not be recovered by the landlord) and deferrals (i.e. a delay in payment of part of the rent which will be recovered) of up to 100% of the amount ordinarily payable, on a case-by-case basis, based on the reduction in the tenant’s trade during the Covid-19 pandemic period and a subsequent reasonable recovery period.
So, if a tenant's turnover is affected by Covid-19, it may be able to rely on the new Act and the Code of Conduct to negotiate a rent reduction and waiver with their landlord.
The Regulations may impact on the matters outlined above. Specific advice is needed on a case by case basis. However, many small businesses should take some comfort that if they suffer a Covid-19 related decline in turnover, protection from adverse action by their landlord may be available.
Other legislation is also currently before the West Australian Parliament which, if passed, is expected to allow tenants to request a termination of their lease if their business will not recover from a Covid-19 related decline in turnover. If passed, this legislation may limit a tenant's liability if they have to terminate their lease early for that reason.
Please contact Amy Knight for further advice.