Commissioner's Blog: No place for family violence
With Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
No place for family violence
Did you know WA is second only to the NT when it comes to rates of family and domestic violence (FDV) and there were more than 50,000 reported incidents across the State in 2016-17?
Sadly, family violence is a growing problem in our community and the abuse, whether physical or psychological, often occurs in rental homes. That’s why changes to Western Australia’s tenancy laws have been proposed – the Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill was introduced into Parliament on 15 May 2018.
Housing uncertainty can force people to stay in abusive relationships. At the moment, someone leaving a rental property at short notice because of family violence must pay rent until a new tenant is found or the agreement expires. The cost of breaking lease often results in FDV victims, including children, either staying in a violent home or being homeless until the previous tenancy ends. In fact, FDV is the reason for about 40 per cent of homelessness.
Under the proposed changes, tenants affected by FDV would have new choices and options to:
- end a tenancy directly with a landlord / lessor or property manager by providing evidence, such as a Family Violence Restraining Order or a form signed by an independent third party such as a police officer, doctor, social worker or psychologist;
- stay in the rental home by applying to the Magistrates Court to have a perpetrator removed from a lease (currently there is no avenue to remove the perpetrator from the tenancy);
- deal with disputes around property damage, unpaid rent and bond disbursement to avoid financial burden when leaving a tenancy;
- 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;
- improve security at the rental home at their own cost, for example installing CCTV; and
- have their name removed from a tenancy database if the reason for the blacklisting was caused by FDV – this is so they are not excluded from the rental marketplace in future.
We know people with investment properties may have concerns about the changes and what the cost will be to them. It’s no exaggeration to say landlords have a potentially life-saving role in this space. In some instances it might cost a few weeks rent while a property is vacant and readvertised but we need to balance this with the concept that the family violence victims will be safe from fear, injury or even death.
There will be benefits for landlords …
- Experience tells us rental properties are often abandoned and damaged because of family violence, while financial abuse, where the perpetrator withholds money, results in unpaid rent. Allowing those affected by FDV to end their tenancy by telling the truth, reduces the chances of unexpected abandonment or failure to pay rent.
- Providing options for either party to remain in the tenancy means the property is less likely to be left vacant.
- If a tenant knows they are under threat and cannot contact a landlord, who is up north or overseas for example, their decision to change the locks could prevent a serious crime happening in the rental property.
- Ensuring family violence victims are not listed on tenancy databases as ‘unsuitable’, for reasons a perpetrator is accountable for, means more viable tenants to choose from.
The reality is that family violence affects people from all walks of life and costs this country’s economy billions of dollars a year. We have to see it as everyone’s business and all of us, including investment property owners, need to play a part in preventing it. Keep up-to-date with the Bill’s progress at www.dmirs.wa.gov.au/familyviolence
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