The Gunner Government has legislated a $78,500 penalty or five years in jail for those found to be taking unfair advantage of new COVID-19 rental reform laws, during a tumultuous morning in Parliament.
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles brought forward the emergency coronavirus-related changes to rental laws Friday morning, in an effort, she said to “protect Territorians from opportunistic behaviour, while ensuring those that really need help are afforded the opportunity”.
However, due to the Northern Territory’s jurisdictional limitations, the government cannot put in place a moratorium on evictions, rent waivers or rent freezes, but some measures would be captured by federal law.
Ms Fyles said that what the NT Government can do is implement emergency rental laws to promote “good faith negotiations” between tenants and landlords of both commercial and residential real estate. She clarified that the emergency rental laws will only be in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the residential space, tenants can go into 60 days of arrears before getting a further 60 days to rectify this with their landlord. Landlords can move to evict tenants only after four months, if negotiations break down, under the normal process of going through NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Ms Fyles reminded Territorians this is not a “rental holiday” and that proof needs to be presented to get covered by the emergency rental reform law.
Under the proposed rental law, bank statements or a letter from an employer will be needed to prove that coronavirus restrictions have caused a resident’s income to be reduced and that more than 30 per cent of their salary is being allocated for rent.
“You come in here with a petition because you don’t like dogs”Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles
Meanwhile, the NT Parliament descended into screaming matches Friday morning, after Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro was barred from tabling a petition from Territorians objecting to changes to the rental legislation to give pet owners the right to keep pets in rental properties.
“We’re passing legislation about the health and welfare of Territorians and you come in here with a petition because you don’t like dogs,” Ms Fyles shouted. “You’re the disgrace. Australia, the world, is facing a coronavirus pandemic, we have had thousands of people die … and those opposite just want to talk about their dislike of pets and try and move silly amendments.”
Ms Finocchiaro shot back that the Gunner Government was politicizing the pandemic.
“This is entirely unparliamentary of the Attorney-General,” she said. “What she is saying is not correct and misleading Parliament. It’s disgusting – the politicization of a global pandemic.”
The government blocked the petition of more than 8300 people from being tabled, thereby turning what would have been a short speech into a more than 20-minute exchange between MLAs objecting and arguing.
Eventually, the government passed the COVID-19 related rental legislation after rejecting the CLP Opposition’s amendment to scrap the controversial pet laws. The government said last week the pet laws would be deferred to a later date.
The new rental laws will mean Territorians who attempt to “misrepresent information” of their situation to take advantage of coronavirus-related laws could face a $31,400 fine (200 penalty units) or two years in prison.
Another proposed $78,500 (500 penalty units) or five years in prison could also be applied for those who “disclose information” without authorisation.