Changes to domestic, family and tenancy laws in recent times have been rolled out by state and territory governments to provide Australians who are victims of domestic violence with support and alternative options. By these positive amendments to the law, the country now boasts a modern legal framework that intends to place the wellbeing and safety of victims of domestic violence first. Although the amendments are geared towards victims of domestic violence, landlords and property managers who manage rentals may be impacted by the new legislation.

Old Laws Were Restrictive

Under the previous legislation, tenants who are a victim of domestic violence were largely restricted from terminating their tenancy agreement. If a tenant wanted to end their lease prior to their lease ending, all tenants who were a part of the lease were held equally accountable for the break-of-lease expenses, and any damages to the property during their tenancy. Furthermore, a victim of domestic violence was not able to quickly terminate their lease until they could obtain a favorable ruling from a tribunal or court. And if a tenant failed to fulfil their contractual obligations or follow due process, the penalties couldn't of been harsher – they could have been blacklisted as tenants and lose their existing bond.

 

Unfortunately, victims of domestic violence are often forced to remain residing in the same environment with their perpetrator. Contributing to this, is that often, the victim of domestic violence feels as though they have nowhere else to go and they are worried about their name being attached to their lease agreement, and the ramifications of this. This is because previous legislation has prevented victims from seeking assistance to immediately end their tenancy, with no consequences. The new reform, however, is a step forward in the right direction. It will assist with positively supporting survivors of domestic violence to feel as though they can leave their circumstance without tenancy consequences.

 

The New Reforms

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Regulation 2018 (NSW) (the Amendment Regulation) came into effect on 28 February 2019 and offers improved protection for victims of domestic and family violence living in a rental property.

Under the new legislation, victims of domestic violence are greater protected and obtain greater flexibility when leasing a property. In some states, victims of domestic violence can now immediately end their tenancy without being penalised with a payment for defaulting on their contract. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, such tenants who are seen as victims of domestic violence cannot be held liable for the damages caused to the property by a violent partner or co-tenant.

 

Declaring Domestic Violence

To immediately end a residential tenancy agreement, a tenant or co-tenant must make available a termination notice along with sufficient evidence if the tenant, co-tenant(s) or dependent child is a victim of violence, in a violent relationship or in a violent environment.

 

Currently, supporting evidence to that effect include a certificate of conviction for the domestic violence offence, a family law injunction, a provisional or final Domestic Violence Order and a Declaration of competent Person – which is a form that is to be completed by a competent professional. Therefore, a medical practitioner such as a physician, psychiatrist or pediatrician must make the declaration and complete the prescribed form after they must have consulted with the tenant, co-tenant or dependent child in a professional capacity.

 

No Penalty Tenancy Termination

Under the new laws, a tenant or co-tenant cannot be held responsible to pay compensation or fees for the premature termination of their tenancy contract, including break fee, loss of rent, advertising fees, or cost relating to repairs due to damages by a violent partner or co-tenant.

 

In addition to the financial respite, the Amended Regulations ensures victims of domestic violence who decide to end their tenancy prematurely will not be discriminated against when seeking a rental property in future.

 

Rights of Co-tenant

If a victim of domestic violence terminates their lease, a co-tenant can also apply to a tribunal to end their tenancy.

 

If the co-tenant continues to reside at the residential property after the termination notice is served, they are to pay only the share of their rent for two weeks, provided the said co-tenant is not the perpetrator of the domestic violence. Also, the co-tenant (the victim) is not held responsible for the damages to property caused by the domestic violence offender.

 

Finally, a co-tenant still reserves the right to challenge the validity of a domestic violence termination of tenancy.

 

What This Means

These laws provide the necessary protection for those residents in Australia that are victims of domestic violence. By the power of the amendments, victims have a practical option to support them to leave their perpetrators, without fearing financial repercussions.

 

As for landlords and property managers, they may have to contend with added financial burdens due to broken leases or damages resulting from domestic violence. In such circumstances, landlords and property managers will have to turn to their insurance to cover any rental loss and damages carried out maliciously.

 

In any case, the benefits of these new amendments far outweigh any monetary loss that a party may suffer in these situations. A welcome development for all Australians who believe in a fair and robust justice system.