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Domestic violence survivors can end tenancy without penalty

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

NSW renters fleeing domestic violence will be able to break their home rental agreement without penalty under new rules effective from next month.

The coming reforms are “some of the most significant changes” to tenancy laws for renters suffering violence in rented properties, according to the government consumer affairs department NSW Fair Trading.

“From 28 February 2019, a tenant will be able to end their tenancy immediately and without penalty if they or their dependent child are in circumstances of domestic violence,” the department said in an email.

“For example, a victim will not need to pay a break fee, loss of rent, advertising and re-letting fees or an occupation fee for abandoned goods.”

In order for the penalties to be waived, the applicant must provide one of four forms of evidence: a certificate of conviction, a family law injunction, a domestic violence order — provisional, interim or final — or a declaration from a medical practitioner.

What’s changed?

Previously the only way domestic violence escapees could avoid break-lease penalties was if a final apprehended violence order was provided. This was criticised for being too onerous, as such an order could potentially take a year to be finalised.

“This is an unacceptable and often burdensome process for people living in dangerous situations,” said then-minister for innovation and better regulation Victor Dominello in 2016.

The reforms will also provide assurance to survivors that they would not be prejudiced in future rental applications after breaking a lease this way and that only the perpetrator would be liable for property damage caused by the violence.

NSW Fair Trading said that allowing a victim of violence to break their lease immediately as “essential to enable victims to leave violence and keep themselves and their families safe”.

“It is also important that victims are not penalised financially so they can more easily secure new accommodation and reduce the risk of homelessness.”

The state government first proposed the changes in 2016 but the law was passed last year, with the domestic violence provisions coming into effect next month. Other rental reforms will come into effect later.

“Leaving a violent relationship can be one of the most challenging decisions anyone makes and we are getting rid of the red tape and streamlining the system to support domestic violence victims to leave,” said minister for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault Pru Goward back in 2016.

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