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Domestic violence

Rental laws need reform to help domestic violence victims

By January 22, 2018October 25th, 2021No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

In Australia’s continuing efforts to deal with domestic and family violence, political action has seen progress made in some areas, but one area which is seen as lacking in sufficient reform has been the area of housing and rental laws.

While it is well understood that victims of domestic and family violence need access to safe, stable and affordable accommodation if they are to leave abusive relationships, experts say urgent changes to regulation of the housing market are desperately needed.

Rental laws vary around the country but in most states and territories (that is, in Victoria, ACT, NT, Tasmania, SA and Qld) if a victim wishes to leave a rental property and is on a lease, they can’t immediately terminate the lease but have to apply to a court or tribunal for an order.

In Queensland, for example, under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (QLD), it’s mandatory for tribunals to look at whether an applicant seeking to break a lease has applied for or is in possession of a domestic violence protection order, which is not always the case in situations of domestic violence.

Unless someone has obtained such an order from a tribunal or court, they are considered to be breaking a lease with all the consequences of that, such as having to pay out a lease until the contractual end date, and being blacklisted on tenancy databases making it very difficult to find new rental accommodation.  Aside from the problems of breaking a lease, the lack of availability of affordable private rentals and access to public housing causes further difficulties.

Another problem is that even in instances where a breach of a lease is the fault of a perpetrator, not the victim, “there are no protections in the [legislation] to prevent landlords from unjustly listing victims’ details on tenancy databases”.  The listing may be declared unlawful, and its removal can be sought, but “there needs to be tighter regulations of the actual listing of the information, as providing a means for removal is not sufficient.”

NSW rental laws are regarded as offering the “highest level of protection” for DV victims who are tenants, after the introduction of legislation in 2010 allowing a victim to terminate a lease if 14 days’ notice is given to a landlord together with evidence of the existence of an Apprehended Violence Order with an exclusion order.

The worst regulatory situation for victims of domestic violence is in Western Australia where there is no regulation of early termination of leases at all. But those calling for reform of rental laws say that other states simply copying NSW’s policy will not be enough and reform “must go further”.

In dealing with domestic and family violence, a truly comprehensive system is required all around the country, which takes into account not only issues such as police protection, court processes, mental health and financial problems, but also these complex issues around housing, and legislation needs to be reformed to tackle the “cyclical relationship between the inability to terminate a lease effectively, ongoing liability for a rental property and prolonged exposure to violence”.

If we are to help Australians affected by domestic and family violence, prioritising reform of rental laws is imperative, especially given that domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia:

According to the Federal Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 40 per cent of people seeking homelessness services in 2016-17 were experiencing domestic and family violence. Nearly half (48 per cent) of these were single parents with children. Almost all adults were female (91 per cent).

Source: ABC

Information about our services in relation to domestic violence – and support links

If you are in a situation involving family violence, Alliance Family Law can assist you once you have chosen to take a legal course of action, whether this involves separation, divorce, custody arrangements for your children, 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 Cristina Huesch or one of our experienced solicitors on (02) 6223 2400 for a free first conference.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice.  For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance.

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