A newly released report authored by the University of South Australia has found inconsistent tenancy laws across the country are making it difficult for women and children experiencing family violence to leave unsafe domestic environments and find new housing.
An estimated 41 per cent of people accessing homelessness services in Australia are victims of family domestic violence (FDV), according to the report, and ensuring they have a safe roof over the heads can be problematic.
Only New South Wales and Western Australia have permanent procedures in place that allow FDV victims and survivors to break a tenancy at short notice without involving the police or court system.
The Impact of Tenancy Laws on Women and Children Escaping Family Violence report, commissioned by the Federal Government, identified ongoing issues that FDV victims experience with current tenancy laws, and recommended a national approach to ensure that women and children in these situations are better protected.
The report’s lead author Professor Eileen Webb said, while changes to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) allow FDV victims to more easily break a lease without penalties, most states still require tenants to go through a court or tribunal.
“This can deter domestic violence victims from seeking relief because they are reluctant to engage with the judicial system and face the perpetrator in court proceedings,” UniSA’s Professor of Law and Ageing said.
Laura Valenti, the Director of Solutions Property Management in Queensland, Board Director with the REIQ and passionate anti-domestic-violence campaigner, told Elite Agent that Queensland currently has emergency COVID tenancy laws in place that are protecting FDV victims, allowing them to break their leases with only seven days’ notice “as long as they provide proof”.
“That was brought in last year quite hastily as part of the COVID-19 Emergency Response tenancy laws,“ Ms Valenti said.
“So at the moment, they’re covered but before then, they had to basically go to QCAT (Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal) and present their evidence and ask for an early termination without penalty.”
Ms Valenti said those temporary laws were currently due to remain in place until April 30.
“What that looks like then moving forward, I don’t know,” she said.
Ms Valenti said the REIQ was currently in discussions with the Queensland Government about implementing a more permanent solution and “nutting out a bit more detail because it was put through quite rushed”.
“I’m hoping, for one, that these laws do stay in one form or another and become permanent law in that the tenants – provided they can provide the right proof, of course, it can’t be anyone just claiming it – can terminate their lease with seven days’ notice or 14 days’ or whatever it happens to be.
“I think it’s a good idea to not hold them to their lease because that’s an added burden that it’s just not fair to give to them.”
WA and NSW have introduced a procedure where a landlord can be served with a termination notice that is supported by a certificate or declaration by a ‘competent person’, who can verify the tenant is experiencing domestic violence in the house.
“Most states release FDV tenants from outstanding rental payments, repairs and returns of a security deposit, but in some jurisdictions the processes are complex and lengthy,” Prof Webb said.
“More services should be made available online, including restraining orders.”
The lack of housing stock in general, and safe and decent accommodation at short notice for women and children experiencing family domestic violence, remains a key challenge, the report finds.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2.2 million Australians (one in six women) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner. The impacts to health, jobs and housing cost the economy an estimated $26 billion each year.
The AIHW estimates that family domestic violence results in more than 100,000 women and children seeking homelessness services each year.
“Women in violent relationships are more likely to cycle in and out of homelessness, often living in a car or on the streets. It’s a perilous journey finding safe, alternative accommodation and so many invariably return to the perpetrator. Those who try to leave can be even more at risk, including being murdered,” Prof Webb said.
The report also identified that survivors of domestic violence often have trouble obtaining a new lease because landlords discriminate against them, and because of the difficulties of renting with a pet.
“One in three women experiencing domestic violence don’t leave because they have a pet,” Prof Webb said.
“It is hard enough to find accommodation for themselves and their children and it’s almost impossible to find a refuge which will take a pet.
“Women are staying in many cases, even when they have an opportunity to go, because they are frightened of what will happen to their pet.”
If you or someone you know is experience domestic or family violence, visit respect.gov.au/services/ from a private browsing window to find help in your state.