WA Introduces Residential Tenancies Legislation Directed at Family Violence

Monday 21 May 2018 @ 8.22 a.m. | Crime | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

On Tuesday (15 May 2018) the Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2018 ("the Bill") was introduced into the Western Australian Legislative Assembly by Minister for Child Protection, Ms S McGurk. The Bill proposes to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1987 (RT Act) and the Residential Parks(Long-stay Tenants) Act 2007 (RPLST Act) for the purpose of implementing a framework that will provide better outcomes for the victims of family violence in relation to their residential tenancy agreement, or their on-site residential parks agreement.

Background

According to an ABC News report of 6 January 2018, in most Australian states and territories (namely, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Northern Territory South Australia and Queensland), a victim is not currently able to immediately terminate their lease. Rather, they must apply to a tribunal or court for an order. Prior to this Bill there was no regulation dealing with the early termination of leases by victims of family violence in Western Australia.

In Australia as a whole domestic/family violence is a widespread issue and it is reported that "... more than a third of women who've had an intimate partner have experienced at least one act of violence in their life". Further, according to the federal Department of Social Services, more than one million women experienced stalking, emotional abuse and violence in 2016 with the cost of domestic and family violence on the wider community being calculated as an annual cost of $22 billion in Australia.

Introducing the WA Bill into the Assembly the Minister referred to "family violence" as a fundamental violation of human rights and unacceptable in any form, saying that the clear intent of the Bill was to empower the court and others, including the
victim, to do what is in the best interests of a victim of family violence and of any children that are ordinarily resident at the premises.

Matters Addressed by the Proposed WA Legislation

The provisions included in the Bill are intended by the WA government to prevent or reduce as much as possible, the consequences of family violence while at the same time seeking to ensure that the perpetrators of family violence accept responsibility for their behaviour and the effect it has on others.

The Bill's explanatory materials list the following as the reforms to be made - the Bill will:

  • enable a victim to end their interest in a tenancy agreement upon giving a lessor a notice of termination on the grounds of family violence along with the required documentary evidence;
  • enable the courts to terminate the interest of the perpetrator of the family violence in a tenancy agreement where the perpetrator is excluded from the premises by way of a court order, or where the court is satisfied that the perpetrator has committed family violence against the protected tenant during the tenancy period;
  • enable the court to assign liability for injuries other than personal injury; for example, damages and unpaid rent, to the perpetrator if the damages and unpaid rent arise as a result of family violence during the tenancy agreement;
  • enable the court to apportion the disposal of a rental security bond to the victim tenant if it is appropriate in the circumstances to do so;
  • enable the victim tenant to change the locks on the premises without first having to obtain the permission of the lessor;
  • enable the tenant to affix any prescribed fixture, or make any prescribed renovation, alteration or addition to the premises to prevent the perpetrator’s entry onto the premises or to prevent the commission of family violence; and
  • make clear that a court may order that a person’s name and personal details be removed from a tenancy database if the circumstances giving rise to the listing result from family violence.

Essentially, the Bill recognises that the perpetrators of family violence may sometimes attempt to misuse the protections offered to tenants and lessors under the RT Act  and RPLST Act to further their violence - the proposed Bill attempts to prevent that misuse.

Domestic Violence Causes Homelessness

According to the Australian Government's Institute of Health and Welfare ("AIHW")

". . . Domestic and family violence is the highest cause of homelessness in Australia . . . and is the main reason women and children leave their homes in Australia and is consistently one of the most common reasons clients have sought assistance from specialist homelessness agencies."


AIHW states that 40 percent of people seeking homelessness services in 2016-17 were experiencing domestic and family violence and that nearly half (48 percent) of these were single parents with children. Almost all adults in this number were female (91 percent).

The introduction of the Bill and its eventual implementation will bring WA into line with most other jurisdictions and will reduce the problems victims experience with affordable private rentals and the compounded difficulties of breaking a lease.

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