Amending WA’s Tenancy Laws to Support Victims of Domestic and Family Violence

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Domestic and family violence is the highest cause of homelessness in Australia. In 2016-17, 40 per cent of people seeking homelessness services were subject to such abuse. 48 per cent were single parents with children. 91 per cent were female.[1] Despite having the second highest rate of reported physical and sexual violence perpetrated against women, there is no regulation of early termination of leases in Western Australia.

As the law currently stands, if a victim prematurely terminates her tenancy agreement, she remains liable for compensation to her landlord and is at risk of being listed on private tenancy databases as an unsuitable tenant. The victim faces a cross-road: to flee an abuser or remain in their rented home.

In light of this, Cabinet revealed in December its approved amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 and the Residential Parks (Long-stay Tenants) Act 2006. Commerce and Industrial Relations Minister, Bill Johnston, commented “the McGowan Government wants to make sure that people experiencing violence in the home are well supported and do not suffer further because of inflexible tenancy laws.” To this end, the proposed changes allow the victim to:

  1. deal directly with the landlord or property manager without the perpetrator’s consent;
  2. terminate a tenancy agreement by providing evidence of domestic violence, including a restraining order or letter from a medical professional;
  3. apply to the Court to have the perpetrator’s name removed from the tenancy agreement;
  4. change the locks without permission from the landlord; and
  5. be alleviated of financial burden due to any property damage, unpaid rent or bond issues arising out of domestic violence.[2]

The proposed amendments are aimed at removing tenancy-related concerns and granting the victim more options, including whether to stay in the tenancy or move to safer accommodation. As stated by Simone McGurk, Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence, “the victims, especially if they have children, already face many challenges and are at risk of homelessness and loss of employment – the tenancy laws are designed to lessen these kinds of impacts. Everyone has a right to feel and be safe in their home.”

Whilst the proposed changes will provide victims with greater protection and support to leave abusive relationships, safeguards will also be implemented to ensure the landlord’s interests are protected and unfair practices will not occur.

A Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament this year.

 


[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Specialist homelessness services annual report 2016-17’ available at <https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialist-homelessness-services-2016-17/contents/client-groups-of-interest/clients-who-have-experienced-domestic-and-family-violence>

[2] Government of Western Australia Media Statements, ‘Tenancy law changes to support victims of domestic violence’ (19 December 2017) available at <https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2017/12/Tenancy-law-changes-to-support-victims-of-domestic-violence.aspx>

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