Warnings Over Impact of Rental Reforms on Family Violence
9 May 2017 at 5:17 pm
Women and children in Victoria who have experienced family violence could be adversely impacted by pending rental law reforms, the state’s peak tenant body has warned.
Tenants Union of Victoria has raised concerns that changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, which is currently under review by the Victorian government, could make it easier for landlords to evict vulnerable tenants and lead to a rise in homelessness more broadly.
Speaking in the wake of the state budget, Tenants Union CEO Mark O’Brien cautioned that while the Victorian government was focused on protecting women and children from family violence, the measures would be ineffectual unless rental laws were made more secure.
“[The] budget measures around increased investment in family violence support programs are very welcome, but would be undermined by increased housing insecurity if proposals to weaken rental protections go ahead,” O’Brien said.
“Families fleeing family violence need greater safety, security and privacy, which they won’t have in the private rental market without action from government.”
Jasmine*, a family violence survivor who is currently living in transitional housing with her daughter, was renting and was in a fixed-term tenancy agreement when she was forced to flee after experiencing family violence.
She said she understood firsthand the challenges of ending a tenancy due to family violence after her landlord tried to deny her exit from the lease without heavy lease breaking penalties and take a large portion of her bond, despite the fact that she had an intervention order against the perpetrator.
“Basically I was experiencing a lot of gaslighting, it’s emotional and mental abuse, from an ex-partner and I ended up getting an IVO [intervention order] on him so he had to leave the premises and I could not afford to pay $370 a week,” Jasmine* told Pro Bono News.
“They made it very difficult at the start, because obviously I couldn’t pay for the rent and I was waiting for the housing people to pay my month’s rent so I could buy a little bit of time and I was getting messages every day like: ‘Your rent’s due, your rent’s due’.
“They finally paid it but going through the court process, having to go into the city… It was really stressful.”
She said the system did not take into consideration her position.
“They were really unreasonable at the start of it,” she said.
“It is very stressful you know waiting around, not knowing, them going off the last person who was there and how much they paid and ‘blah blah blah’ and not understanding what I’m going through.
“In logical terms I can’t afford that and if I was in a position to pay it, I would. It wasn’t that I was trying to cheat the system of anything I was actually going through a lot.
“They should definitely take into consideration that it is a real thing, that people are going through this. They need to be a lot more lenient.”
With assistance from the Tenants Union, Jasmine* was able to exit her lease without penalty and was refunded the majority of her bond.
She said without help she would have struggled.
“If I didn’t have that help it would be so hard, I would still be there, I wouldn’t be able to pay for storage to get my stuff out or even get help to get my stuff out. They are so strict and that does need to change,” she said.
“It is hard when you have just had a breakup, there is an IVO in place, where he can’t come to your premises, you are still living there up until you have got to leave and all his stuff is in there.
“Honestly I found there was no consideration of ‘okay, how much time [do you need]’, it was just all about the money.
“I was lucky to be put up in a motel, because I didn’t have anywhere to go, but not all of the organisations can do that for everyone.
“It would be very hard [without help] and you [could] become homeless quite easily.”
O’Brien said the latest budget measures for tackling family violence including $2 million allocated for headleasing in the private rental market and $33.2 million for private rental assistance packages relied on a stable rental market.
He called on the government to rule out any reforms that would make evictions easier.
“Consumer Affairs Victoria has released a range of reform options, but we are yet to hear from Premier Daniel Andrews or the Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz. It is time for them to let the community know where they stand on these issues and whether they will back renters or the big end of town,” he said.
“We are asking the Victorian government to immediately rule out options that would make evictions easier. This would lead to more unfair evictions and debts, compounding the trauma and instability already caused by family violence.
“These measures would also be a disaster for homelessness more broadly, with an increase in evictions into homelessness putting even greater strain on our crisis and social housing systems.
“Supporting someone to stay in their home is one of the most critical things we can do to prevent homelessness.”
The TUV is also calling on the government to commit to measures that would allow women to stay in a rental property, if safe to do so, and transfer the tenancy agreement into their name, or to leave if they need to without financial penalty.
“Protecting vulnerable tenants also means allowing reasonable safety modifications and stopping women being blacklisted on tenancy databases due to the actions of others,” O’Brien said.
“Finally, the removal of ‘no reason’ eviction notices would reduce the number of arbitrary evictions, which are often targeted at people at risk of homelessness and tenants in unstable situations. This impacts on our homelessness, family violence and social housing systems and the people who rely on them for support.
“The premier has said that protecting the safety of women and children in Victoria is one of his highest priorities. The current review of our rental laws offers a unique opportunity to act on those words.”
Minister for Consumer Affairs Marlene Kairouz told Pro Bono News it was “a given” that any changes would seek to protect the most vulnerable.
“We are improving Victoria’s tenancy laws so they remain up-to-date and responsive to the needs and rights of both renters and landlords,” Kairouz said.
“It’s a given that any changes will seek to protect our most vulnerable – including families affected by domestic violence.
“We’ve already prioritised access to our Tenancy and Consumer Program so that family violence survivors needing tenancy support get it when and where they need it. That’s on top of the unprecedented $1.9 billion we’re committing to family violence support as outlined in this year’s budget.
“We’ll continue to listen to the community about all the options for reform.”
*Name has been changed to protect Jasmine’s identity