The Property Council has welcomed the ACT government's commercial rate relief scheme, but says support for owners and businesses struck down by the COVID-19 crisis will need to extend beyond the end of the six-month program.
The ACT government has finally started accepting applications from landlords seeking rate reprieves amid the economic downturn, more than five weeks after Chief Minister Andrew Barr unveiled the scheme.
The government will offer property owners a rebate on their rates bills if they agree to reduce their tenant's rent.
The extent of government assistance will depend on how severely their tenant has been affected by the crisis. In cases where a tenant has been forced to shut its doors, landlords will be able eligible for a rebate equal to 50 per cent of the rent reduction, up to a maximum of $8000 per quarter.
We would be kidding ourselves if we thought that by September businesses were going to have fully recovered from what they have experienced during this crisisACT Property Council executive director Adina Cirson
ACT Property Council executive director Adina Cirson said while the process to finalise and start rolling out the scheme had "taken a little longer than perhaps we had thought", her members were pleased with the outcome.
Ms Cirson said many landlords had already granted rent reductions to their tenants, with the confidence that the rebates would arrive in the near future.
'We've got the certainty now," she said.
"It's important that we did get it right. We wanted to make sure that there was a proportionate access to rates relief depending on how badly impacted the business had been."
While acknowledging the need for the government to set a time frame for the program, Ms Cirson said landlords and tenants would need support long after the scheme wound up in September.
She said the economic crisis presented a fresh opportunity to look at rates reform in the ACT.
"We would be kidding ourselves if we thought that by September businesses were going to have fully recovered from what they have experienced during this crisis," she said.
"There is going to be a need for a watching brief on this. The support provided by government is going to have to extend well beyond this period - that's the reality of it."
Ms Cirson will sit on a government-convened committee which will provide independent advice on the implementation of the new commercial tenancy code of conduct, which sets the rules for negotiations between landlords and tenants during the period.
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said the government should be open to extending the commercial rate scheme beyond September.
Mr Coe was supportive of the scheme, but was again critical of the government for dragging its feet in rolling it out.
He said the government should have dealt with simple cases straight away, rather than force those landlords to wait until the entire scheme had been nailed down before they could apply for support.
Mr Coe, speaking early on Tuesday afternoon, claimed that some landlords would have to wait until July before any rebates started flowing through. That was because their applications relied on details of their business activity through to the end of the June quarter, he said.
Mr Barr dismissed Mr Coe's claim, saying applications did not rely on business activity statements.
In a statement, Mr Barr reiterated that scheme wasn't about handing out money to landlords, but rather reducing the size of the bills they paid to government.
"The government has not implemented a system where we provide financial grants one month, only to take those grants back again in taxes the next month," he said.
Mr Barr said the government had delayed sending out new rates notices, which meant that most premises would not have any outstanding bills to the territory.
For the owner of a commercial property valued below $2 million - about 94 per cent of all premises in Canberra - those delayed bills will include a $2260 rebate, he said.