Family violence prevention
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There are plans to change WA’s tenancy and residential parks laws to support victims of family and domestic violence (FDV) and help them to leave abusive relationships.
Key changes, which could be law by the end of 2018, would enable victims of FDV to: exit a tenancy with 7 days’ notice without going to court, remove a perpetrator from a lease by applying to the courts, change locks or increase security, handle disputes about property damage or unpaid rent, and have their name removed from a tenancy database blacklist.
What laws are changing
These important proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act and the Residential Parks (Long-stay Tenants) Act are due to come into effect in late 2018.
The Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2018 was introduced into Parliament on 15 May 2018 and passed the Legislative Assembly (Lower House) on 27 June 2018. The next step is for it to be debated in the Legislative Council (Upper House) in August 2018.
It comes after the Government announced in December 2017 that State Cabinet had approved the drafting of these amendments. See the Ministerial media statement "Tenancy law changes to support victims of domestic violence" or watch this video.
How are tenancy laws being changed?
Subject to Parliamentary approval, the key changes include:
- a new process to enable victims of FDV to terminate a tenancy, legally, directly with a landlord / lessor or property manager by providing required evidence, such as a Family Violence Restraining Order or a form signed by a medical professional, for example a doctor or psychologist, or signed by another independent third party such as a police officer or social worker;
- enabling FDV victims to remove a perpetrator from a tenancy agreement and stay in the rental home if they choose, through an application to the Magistrates Court;
- ways to deal with disputes around property damage, unpaid rent and bond disbursement to ensure the FDV victim is not facing financial burden when leaving a tenancy;
- allowing tenants affected by FDV to change locks without a landlord’s permission, to prevent a perpetrator regaining access, as long as a copy of the keys are given to the landlord;
- giving tenants affected by FDV the right to improve security at the rental home at their own cost, for example installing CCTV;
- a pathway for tenants who find themselves on a tenancy database to have their name removed from that blacklist if the reason for the listing was caused by FDV.
Why are the laws changing?
Incidents of family violence are increasing in Western Australia. In 2015-16, reports of family violence to WA Police exceeded 34,000. In 2016-17, there were more than 50,000 reported FDV incidents investigated by WA Police and more than 4,500 calls to the State’s domestic violence helplines. WA is second to the NT for rates of family violence in Australia and in WA nearly 40% of homelessness is related to FDV.
It is hoped the planned law changes will remove tenancy-related barriers to leaving a violent relationship. The proposed amendments aim to give FDV victims better choices, including whether to stay in a rental home by excluding the perpetrator or moving to safer accommodation by removing themselves from the tenancy agreement.
Example: Currently a FDV victim leaving a rental property at short notice usually has to pay rent until a new tenant is found or the agreement expires. This financial burden of breaking lease often results in FDV victims, including children, either staying in the violent home or being homeless until the previous tenancy ends.
Other complaints or enquiries can relate to:
- no current avenue through the courts to stay in a rental home but have the perpetrator taken off the tenancy agreement;
- needing to change the locks or improve security for family violence reasons; or
- damage to a rental property caused by an ex-partner resulting in the FDV victim owing compensation to the landlord and/or being listed on a tenancy database as an unsuitable tenant.
Who needs to know?
The tenancy law changes will be relevant to a lot of people including (but not limited to):
- tenants, their relatives and friends;
- landlords / lessors, real estate agents and property managers;
- the law enforcement / legal sector (police, magistrates, lawyers, court registrars);
- medical professionals such as doctors and psychologists;
- social and community housing providers;
- residential park operators;
- tenant advocates;
- shelter, refuge or homelessness service workers; and
- financial counsellors.
Case studies have been shared by tenant advocates from a community legal centre.
Megan and her partner James rented their home together and were both listed on the lease. After a series of violent life-threatening incidents Megan applied for a restraining order and sought support and advice from the local women’s refuge. Megan contacted Tenancy WA because she really wanted to stay in her home and have James removed from the lease. James was fighting the restraining order and wouldn’t reply to any requests about changing the lease into Megan’s name. In addition he was not paying any rent. Tenancy WA advised Megan about her options and supported her in negotiations with the landlord of the property. Due to Western Australia having no specific provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act to deal with family and domestic violence situations, there is no power for the Court to transfer a lease into one name.
Sarah and her partner rented their home together. Sarah was hospitalised after her partner beat her, when she was pregnant. Sarah took the decision to leave the relationship, which included leaving the rented home. Sarah tried to negotiate with the real estate agent to terminate the tenancy, as it wasn’t safe for her to return there. The landlord didn’t agree to terminate the tenancy. Sarah left hospital and went to live with her family. The landlord then pursued Sarah for the costs of the rent arrears and the damage her partner had caused at the house.
Under these new laws, Sarah would have the option to terminate her own interest in the tenancy without having to ask her violent partner to agree, so she would not have been liable for the ongoing rent. If the landlord took action to claim back money for damage to the property, the Courts would be able to assign liability to Sarah’s partner. This would not change how much the landlord could claim but would prevent Sarah from being penalised for something she didn’t do. The new laws would also mean Sarah would not be named on a residential tenancy database for any of the damage or unpaid rent.
Where can I get more information?
This page will be updated as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
Any materials developed as part of the campaign to communicate the changes to Western Australians will be linked to from this section of the Consumer Protection website.
- Commissioner's Blog: No place for family violence
- Indian Ocean Territories - translation to Malay and Simplified Chinese
- Radio interview with Senior Policy Officer
- $50,000 grant key to Tenancy WA program
- Help and advice from the Department of Communities
- Find a tenant advocate in WA
- Directory of WA’s Community Legal Centres
- Keeping yourself safe online (Women's Council)
- Reporting Family and Domestic Violence (Resource for Journalists)
- Family Violence Restraining Orders explained by Legal Aid WA
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