Western Australia has become the latest state to introduce new tenancy reforms aimed at helping victims of family violence to leave unsafe home situations, with the introduction this week of new tenancy laws as part of the Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill, to come into effect this April.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that NSW passed similar tenancy reforms last year with the Residential Tenancies Amendment (Review) Bill, due to come into effect on 28 February 2019.
Helping women escape violence in the home is a high priority around the country as the nation grapples with the problem of family violence. Tenancy reforms are all about removing barriers to escaping violent home situations, including financial barriers which often leave victims feeling helpless and trapped.
Previously, victims of family violence have often felt unable to leave rental accommodation due to the penalties involved in breaking a lease, or having to cover rental debts or property damage and loss of bond. As a result, women have remained trapped in violent home situations, or if they have escaped despite hardship, have been thrust into poverty and homelessness—with family violence remaining one of the leading causes of homelessness in Australia.
One of the most important tenancy reforms is that victims can now quickly leave unsafe situations without fear of legal repercussions or financial penalties. Victims of family violence whose name is on a tenancy agreement will be able to break their lease quickly without penalties when they have been issued a provisional AVO or a statutory declaration from a doctor, even when criminal charges have not been filed.
There are also provisions for dealing with property damage, rent arrears and bond claims so victims are not unfairly bearing the burdens.
Tenants suffering family violence, or co-tenants who are not the perpetrator, will also not be held accountable for property damage which occurred due to domestic violence. Previously, if a lease was in a victim’s name as well as their abusive partner’s, they would be liable for damage to the property as well, or could end up on the rental blacklist databases making it difficult to obtain alternative rental accommodation.
Where a victim of family violence shares a lease with a perpetrator, instead of being forced to leave the home themselves, they will be also able to apply to a court to instead remove the abuser’s name from the lease.
The tenancy reforms also enable renters to install security features in their home, such as being able to change locks immediately or install CCTV security (at their own cost) without requiring a landlord’s permission.
All of these tenancy reforms are designed to help victims of abuse to leave dangerous home situations and alleviate the experience of entrapment and isolation that so many suffer. But the reforms to residential tenancy laws have been drafted to balance the rights of landlords and tenants, with preventative measures incorporated in the new legislation to avoid the new laws being misused, and penalties to apply for false claims.
Do you need assistance with a family law matter involving family violence? If you are in a situation involving family violence, Alliance Legal Services can assist you once you have chosen to take a legal course of action, whether this involves separation, divorce, parenting arrangements or property settlements, as well as supporting you with any related criminal law or other legal matters through our network of referral companies. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400 for a free, no-obligation first conference.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.