Domestic and family violence (DFV) has always had an impact on society, but COVID-19 saw a spike in incidents (according to research by the Australian Criminology Institute) as people faced financial and emotional challenges coupled with lockdowns, quarantining and self-isolation. With the growing number of tenants experiencing abuse, it is important for landlords and agents to understand the laws when it comes to rentals.
Often those who decide to leave an abusive relationship do so with little more than the clothes on their back. And if the survivors are in a rental, they 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.
As a result, landlords and property managers are increasingly having to deal with the impact of DFV at rental properties.
According to a July 2021 survey by the Real Estate Institute of Australia, 57% of property managers have experienced domestic violence in tenancies during the past 12 months. Some 30% of property managers said they dealt with domestic violence in tenancies two to three times a year.
Changes to tenancy legislation
In the wake of the growing threats to the safety of women and children in abusive households, state and territory governments moved to amend tenancy legislation to enable survivors to escape perpetrators and the fall-out from having to flee. It is imperative that landlords and agents understand their obligations when it comes to DFV and rental properties.
Changes to the laws have made it possible for survivors to leave rented accommodation without additional financial and legal imposts. 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 and loss of bond. Ultimately, the process left the survivor tenant in a vulnerable position as they looked to escape and seek new accommodation.
Depending on the jurisdiction (download the state-by-state guide below), 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 is often left with:
- an abandoned property that must be re-let once the legalities are taken care of, or left trying to evict the perpetrator tenant
- responsibility for disposing of the tenant’s abandoned possessions (in accordance with legislative requirements)
- unpaid rent
- 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 perpetrator tenant or the person responsible for causing the damage/loss).
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. EBM RentCover Ultra and Platinum policies provide up to $65,000 to cover malicious damage and up to six weeks’ cover for loss of rent (or 52 weeks for denial of access). Depending on the circumstances, our policy may also cover expenses relating to legal proceedings, changing locks or theft by tenants.
EBM RentCover, in keeping with the General Insurance Code of Practice, takes DFV very seriously. We are here to help landlords and agents with claims resulting from losses incurred through DFV incidents at the rental.
For a state-by-state breakdown of family and domestic violence tenancy legislation, CLICK HERE.
*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 there, contact 1800 661 662 if you have any questions.