Housing instability and family violence often go hand in hand. Hence our recent submission to Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence.
Our submission included case studies and focussed on the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (RTA) and its impact on people experiencing family violence. We also made a number of recommendations.
In one case study, a client’s relationship had broken down but her abusive partner would not let her leave the lease.
In another case study, our client was $1500 in rental arrears. Her partner’s emotional and financial abuse included his spending much of her money on drugs.
The RTA was changed in 2008 to address family violence. These changes gave tenants the capacity to:
- end a tenancy following an Interim Intervention Order (IVO)
- remove a perpetrator from a lease following a final IVO
- seek costs to be apportioned to the perpetrator for damage that resulted from family violence.
- Department of Housing polices were aligned with the RTA to prioritise the transfer of victims
- VCAT appointed a Family Violence Officer in Melbourne to provide advice in relation to VCAT processes and family violence matters
- Duty lawyers at Magistrates’ courts were skilled up to advise IVO applicants about the tenancy implications of family violence orders and specialist services available to assist them.
Outstanding family violence challenges
Our submission acknowledged these recent improvements but highlighted outstanding challenges. We noted that the separation of jurisdictions meant that family violence and tenancy matters were heard separately, which has implications for the amount of time taken to respond to family violence matters. This time lag can increase costs to the victim or delay a victim’s ability to safety and secure housing.
Our submission also noted that funding to our Social Housing Advocacy and Support Program(SHASP) was cut by 38% in 2012. Since then, our capacity to support public housing tenants to address issues that place their tenancy at risk, including family violence, has been drastically reduced. In particular, we find it increasingly difficult to assist tenants who live in regional areas beyond Bendigo with high levels of family violence, for example Echuca, Swan Hill, Mildura and Maryborough.
Our submission to the Royal Commission argued that the RTA should be changed to allow for the end of a tenancy agreement to be back-dated to the date of an IVO to avoid costs to the victim of family violence. We also suggested that the RTA should allow for costs to be awarded against perpetrators of family violence for damage and rent arrears, back dated to the date of relevant police reports or the granting of an IVO.
We also argued for:
- the provision of brokerage funds that would allow victims to cover their costs related to a lease break or rent arrears
- consideration of VCAT and Magistrates’ court processes to minimise procedural delays
- extended housing advocate or duty lawyer services at IVO hearings to provide legal advice or referral around tenancy issues
- education for real estate agents in relation to the family violence provisions of the RTA
- Continuation of the VCAT Family Violence Officer role.
Image: Shandi-Lee Cox via Creative Commons