State and territory governments are aware of the complex issues surrounding domestic violence and have amended tenancy legislation to address the needs of survivors. Find out what you need to know and how it affects your rental property.
Sadly, family and domestic violence is an issue that remains in the spotlight. On average, one woman dies every week at the hands of her current or former intimate partner. Thousands more are injured and traumatised.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare notes that family and domestic violence can have a serious impact on individuals, families and communities, and inflict physical injury, psychological trauma and emotional suffering.
It can also lead to housing insecurity. Often those who find the courage to leave their abuser do so with little more than the clothes on their back. Consequently, each year, tens of thousands of women, children and men who have fled family and domestic violence seek support from homelessness services.
With around 30 per cent of the population living in rented accommodation, it stands to reason that a number of those survivors would have been tenants. To escape from their abusers, many often have little choice but to break the lease and abandon the property, accrue rent arrears and damage bills, and often leave behind all of their possessions.
Most state and territory governments have recognised the challenges facing tenants experiencing domestic violence and have moved to legislate to make it possible for them to leave rented accommodation without additional financial and legal ramifications.
Previously, if a lease was terminated early, all tenants were held equally responsible for break-lease expenses and any damage to the property. In addition, the lease could not be broken without first applying to a tribunal or court for an order. The penalties for not following the process and fulfilling contractual obligations could be harsh, and included blacklisting (being added to a tenancy database) and loss of bond. Ultimately, the process left the tenant experiencing violence in a vulnerable position as they looked to escape the perpetrator and seek new accommodation.
Depending on the jurisdiction (download our state-by-state guide here), changes to tenancy legislation have provided added protections and generally made it possible for the survivor tenant to immediately break their lease without penalty, not be held liable for rent arrears or damage caused by the perpetrator, and not be blacklisted on a tenancy database.
These safeguards are essential to help protect the survivor of abuse. But the financial impacts then fall to the landlord who may be left with:
an abandoned property that must be re-let once the legalities are taken care of, or left trying to evict the (alleged) perpetrator tenant if there have been rent payment issues or damage to the property;
responsibility for disposing of the tenant’s abandoned possessions (in accordance with legislative requirements);
unpaid utility charges; and
the costs of repairing malicious damage to the property (the rental often bears the brunt of aggression too).
In the end, the landlord can be left thousands of dollars out-of-pocket and often with no recourse to recoup their losses (though they may be able to take legal action against the alleged perpetrator tenant or the person responsible for causing damage).
Luckily, property owners with landlord insurance will often have their losses covered by their insurer, making landlord insurance an important financial safeguard.
Landlords and agents should check with the insurance provider to see if their property is covered for incidents relating to family and domestic violence including rent default and damage caused by malicious acts.
Our RentCover Ultra and Platinum policies provide:
up to $70,000 cover for malicious damage,
up to six weeks’ cover for loss of rent (to cover rent default or when a tenant leaves the property unexpectedly), or
up to 52 weeks cover for denial of access (which is when a tenant refuses to leave the property and a court order is required for possession).
Depending on the circumstances, our policy may also cover expenses relating to legal proceedings (to evict a tenant over loss of rent), changing locks (if ordered by the court) or theft by tenants.
While family and domestic violence is traumatic and often tragic for those directly involved, landlords and property managers may need to deal with the potential impact of violence at the rental property. If your rental has been impacted by a family and domestic violence situation, get in touch with a member of our Expert Care team for guidance and support – 1800 661 662. Or download our state-by-state guide which outlines family and domestic violence tenancy legislation.
*While we have taken care to ensure the information above is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances and legislation after the displayed date may impact the accuracy of this article. If you need us we are here, contact 1800 661 662 if you have any questions.