What to do when your tenant is a victim of family violence

What to do when your tenant is a victim of family violence

There has been a growing awareness of the presence and impact of family violence in our community. In keeping with this, several states have amended their tenancy legislation to cater for the needs of victims caught in a violent situation. These changes also help to clarify the rights and responsibilities of the landlord.

Though not standardised across the nation, after all that would be the sensible thing to do, most state legislation is very similar.  This article will speak in general terms.  Links to information specific to your state can be found at the end of this blog.

As the landlord, your response to a situation of family violence in your rental property will depend on the situation that is presented to you and the details of the lease. Here are some typical scenarios.

One of the tenants has left the property because it was unsafe to remain.

If you are aware that this has happened due to family violence, you can redraft the lease to remove the affected person’s name.  If they are a signatory to the bond, the Bond Authority will need to be notified.  It is up to the tenants to reconcile the reimbursement of funds between themselves.

The affected tenant has left, but the perpetrator remains.

You may decide to continue with the lease. Alternatively, if you are concerned about things such as damage to the property, you can seek a Tribunal/Court order to terminate the lease on the grounds of objectionable behaviour of the tenant and to get a ruling on the bond.

Both the affected tenant and the perpetrator are leaving the property.

You cannot treat this as a ‘break lease’ situation. This means that you cannot hold the affected tenant responsible for the rent until you find a replacement tenant. You have 3 options here:

1. If you can get in contact with the tenants, try to get their agreement that the lease is terminated. Confirm this with them in writing via email.

2. If you cannot communicate with the tenants you can work through the process as if the tenants have abandoned the property.

3. Apply to Tribunal/Court for a ruling to terminate the lease and disburse the bond.

Can you ask for proof?

Yes.  You are entitled to see documentary evidence that a situation of family violence is at play.  This  can be a Court or Police issued statement, or in some states, a statement from a medical professional.  Even if you are willing to accept the situation at face value, the affected tenant may well need such an order if any tenancy related issue needs to go to Tribunal/Court.

What can the legal system do?

States that have Family Violence provisions in their residential tenancy legislation tend to have specific provision for renters who are victims of family violence to seek an order from the Tribunal/Court for the following:

• be recognised as the tenant – if they weren’t on the lease but need to be as they are remaining in the property and the perpetrator has left

• remove the name of the person who has committed an act of family violence from the tenancy agreement

• restrain the person who has committed an act of family violence from causing further damage or injury, or

• end the tenancy agreement altogether.

Importantly, in some states, if the tenant is applying to the Magistrates Court for a family violence order, they can also ask the Court to rule on the tenancy issues at the same time. This will save the tenant having to work through and wait for two Court processes.

Changing the locks

If the affected tenant is remaining in the property, they can change the locks without prior consent from the landlord as long as they have a Court issued intervention order. This is at the expense of the tenant. The landlord must receive a copy of the new keys as soon as possible.

The role of tenancy black lists

Provided the necessary documentation is in place, the affected tenant cannot be listed on a tenancy database for unpaid rent or property damage that occurred as the result of family violence.

State specific information

Click the name of your state to open a link to information about these laws.  Note, as the Northern Territory has very limited legislative protections surrounding family violence and residential tenancies, they have not been included.

Queensland          NSW         ACT          Victoria          Tas          SA          WA 

Diane Bukowski

When I first started my company eezirent I wrote a small online newsletter for private landlords in Australia. It explored the common problems landlords encounter when self-managing. This simple publication has now grown into Honest Broker.

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