Commissioner's Blog: New tenancy laws to support those affected by family violence
With Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
WA has the worst rates of family and domestic violence in Australia and the number of incidents is unfortunately increasing. Family violence affects people from all walks of life making it everyone’s business and all of us have a part to play in preventing it.
Changes to WA’s tenancy laws have now come into effect removing tenancy-related barriers for those trying to escape abusive relationships.
Uncertainty about housing can often force people to stay in abusive relationships. Previously someone leaving a rental property at short notice because of family violence would have to pay rent until a new tenant is found or until the agreement expires.
The cost of breaking a lease often results in victims, including children, choosing to either stay in a violent home or facing potential homelessness.
Previously there was no avenue for a victim of family violence, who wants to stay in a rental home, to have the perpetrator removed from the tenancy agreement and victims were prevented from changing the locks or improving security at the premises.
Damage to a rental property caused by an ex-partner would also result in the victim owing compensation to a landlord and/or being listed on a tenancy database as an unsuitable tenant.
Tenants affected by family violence will now have new choices and options, including:
- ending a tenancy legally without involving the perpetrator, by providing evidence of their situation;
- staying in the rental home by applying to the Magistrates Court to have a perpetrator removed from a lease;
- dealing with disputes around property damage, unpaid rent and bond disbursement to avoid financial burden when leaving a tenancy;
- changing locks, without a landlord’s permission, to prevent a perpetrator regaining access although a copy of the keys must be given to the landlord within 7 days;
- improving security at the rental home at their own cost, for example installing CCTV; and
- removal of their name from a tenancy database if the blacklisting was due to family violence – so as to ensure they are not excluded from the rental marketplace in future.
Some people with investment properties may have concerns about the changes and what it may cost them but it is no exaggeration to say landlords have a potentially life-saving role here.
In some instances, the cost of a few weeks’ rent – while a property is vacant and re-advertised – will enable family violence victims to be safe from fear, injury or even death.
But there are also potential benefits for landlords as helping people affected by these crimes may reduce property abandonment, damage and unpaid rent.
Ensuring family violence victims are not listed on tenancy databases as ‘unsuitable’, when the reasons for the listing are down to what a perpetrator is accountable for, means that landlords and property managers have more viable tenants to choose from.
If people would like more information, we have a web page with useful info like helpline numbers: www.dmirs.wa.gov.au/familyviolence
NOTE: The new laws came into effect on Monday 15 April 2019.
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