Thursday, May 12, 2016

New laws on domestic violence and your rental property

New domestic violence legislation was passed in December 2015. Tenants are now able to leave violent relationships without facing financial penalties previously incurred under a break lease situation under the Residential Tenancies Act (1995) (The Act).

This week Toop&Toop attended our first Domestic Violence hearing at the South Australian Civil Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) on behalf of our landlord. This was the first hearing our team had attended since the new clause, section 89A, was inserted into the Act. We saw first hand how these changes are helping remove some of the barriers men, women and families may face when trying to access a safe living environment.

According to a police spokesman, on average more than 480 domestic violence matters in South Australia are reported to police each week. Where these men, women or families are living is integral to their safety, and if they are tenants, they previously faced financial obligations stemming from a break lease situation. This included paying a portion of the re-letting costs and re-advertising costs, as well as being responsible for rental payments until a new tenant was found. This only created further adversity for those attempting to leave an abusive relationship.

Now under The Act, tenants who are in an abusive relationship, and can provide evidence to this effect, now have options available to them. They are able to apply to stay at their rented property and have the perpetrator leave, elect to leave the home and be removed from the rental agreement, or terminate the lease altogether.

This is a situation that we hope we will rarely face, but when we do, we need to do our part as the managing agent. It is key that we fully understand the legislation and the process that’s involved so we can best support our tenants and also ensure we are taking steps to protect our clients’ investments.

One critical step for investors is determining whether an order for Domestic Violence is covered under the traditional break lease, or hardship clause in your landlord insurance policy. We’ve made enquiries with one of the leading landlord insurance providers, Terri Sheer. They have confirmed that if you have an order from the Tribunal for an early release of the tenancy agreement, you will be covered under the ‘hardship’ definition of their policy (with cover for up to four weeks loss of rent).

We do recommend that you make your own investigations, as whilst we expect the leading providers to have taken a similar approach to Terri Sheer, some insurers may not be aware of the new clause under the Act.

Evolution in residential tenancy legislation is happening right across the country, and South Australia is leading the way with some of the strongest protections for victims of domestic violence who are renting their homes.

This is a progressive step forward and we are here to keep property investors informed.

Suzannah Toop

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