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In-Depth: Family violence protections

Thanks to the work of passionate advocates like the late Fiona Richardson and those working with the Royal Commission for Family Violence, most people are aware of the challenges faced by the one in four women and one in 12 men in Australia that have experienced violence by an intimate partner.  Many positive changes are being made to various parts of legislation to protect those affected by family violence.  While Victoria’s tenancy laws already provide a certain level of protection, more can be done to give vulnerable tenants the best possible chance at a new life.

Data collected by the Council to Homeless Persons indicates that women are more likely to experience violence in the home.  Many women who escape family violence experience financial hardship and poverty.  In fact, family violence is the biggest cause of homelessness in Victoria, and more than one-third of women accessing homelessness services do so because they are fleeing family violence.  The number of women who accessed these services increased when they had dependent children.

Make Renting Fair supports recommendations made by the Royal Commission for Family Violence to allow VCAT to consider a broader scope of evidence when ruling on cases where tenants are victims of family violence.

Under current tenancy laws, VCAT can only take family violence into consideration when ruling on cases where a tenant wishes to end a lease or terminate a co-tenancy if a final intervention order is in place.  However, many victims of family violence never obtain an intervention order out of fear of repercussions.  Tenants from certain cultural groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are also more likely to avoid formal pathways such as obtaining intervention or safety orders.

Other evidence can sufficiently prove that a tenant has been impacted by family violence including statutory declarations or reports from police, specialist family violence services, general practitioners, psychologists/counsellors, or maternal and child health nurses or workers.  Allowing a broader scope of evidence to prove family violence as a factor in VCAT cases will give tenants the support and strength they need to escape a bad situation and make a fresh start.

Make Renting Fair is also calling on the Victorian Government to implement additional changes that would make renting safer and more secure for tenants affected by family violence including:

  • Preventing landlords from unreasonably denying requests to make security modifications to a rental property by a tenant affected by family violence.  For example, a landlord shouldn’t be able to unreasonably reject a tenant’s request to install a security enhancement to the rental property such as CCTV if it will help a tenant escape a violent family member.
  • Requiring the landlord to seek permission from a tenant if they wish to photograph their personal possessions for the purpose of advertising the sale of the rental property.  Displaying a tenant’s personal possessions on billboards and websites when they are trying to escape a violent family member compromises their security and puts them at risk.
  • Abolishing ‘no reason’ evictions.  Safety and security is vital to tenants affected by family violence, but there is simply no way they can feel safe and secure in their home when they can be evicted for no reason.  It can also be difficult for them to secure rental properties due to financial struggles.
  • Allow tenants affected by family violence to prevent their personal details from being listed on residential tenancy databases, and give them the ability to remove existing listings where the breach of duty was committed in the context of family violence.  Being ‘blacklisted’ on a tenancy database essentially guarantees that a tenant will not be able to find a rental property through a real estate agent, putting them at direct risk of homelessness.  Victims of family violence should never be punished for the actions of their abusers.

 

Escaping a violent situation at home takes a tremendous amount of courage.  Victoria’s tenancy laws should encourage tenants to remove themselves from these situations by making it easier to do so.

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Make Renting Fair would like to express our gratitude to the late Minister Fiona Richardson, whose tireless work and advocacy has left behind a legacy of better protections for all those affected by family violence.

 

GET INVOLVED! You can help us spread the word about making rent safe and secure for all Victorian tenants by signing the petition and emailing your local MP in support of the Make Renting Fair campaign.

References:

  1. Fact sheet: Family violence and homelessness, Council to Homeless Persons
  2. Heading for Home: Residential Tenancies Act Review Options Discussion Paper, Consumer Affairs Victoria, January 2017
  3. Fact sheet 7: Family violence statistics, The Lookout, October 2016