Domestic Violence in Rental Properties & Property Managers

Domestic Violence in Rental Properties & Property Managers

Unfortunately, this is one of the challenges that we property managers often face and need to address in the day-to-day activities of our role. This article will discuss domestic violence in rental properties and the role that we property managers play in relation to domestic or familial abuse cases under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (Queensland).

The RTRAA was updated on October 20, 2021, to offer better safety protections for tenants and residents who are victims of domestic and familial violence, including the option to leave the rental property right away or, if they so choose, to stay there safely.

Whether or not they are named on the lease agreement, anyone who suffers from domestic or family abuse in a rental property is entitled to the same protections under the RTRAA.

These provisions-related disputes are arbitrated by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT). 

WHAT IS DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE?

Domestic and family violence occurs when one person behaves in a way that the other feels threatened for their safety, well-being, or that of another person. This behavior can take the form of coercion, threats, economic abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse, or it can take any other form that is controlling or domineering.

[1] The term “domestic and family violence” refers to a variety of behaviors, such as threatening or actually inflicting bodily harm on another person, coercing someone into having sex, robbing them of their property, depriving them of their freedom, or threatening to do any of these things to them, their children, or others. Even threatening to hurt or kill oneself is a form of self-harm.

[2] If you are a victim of domestic or familial abuse, you have the right to end your lease or roommate agreement with at least seven days’ notice using the appropriate form, and you can do it right away:

If a tenant, the property manager, or lessor shall be served with a Notice of Termination of Tenancy (Domestic and Family Violence) (Form 20) I;

If an occupant is, a notification ending residence interest (domestic and family abuse) (Form R20) must be given to the rooming housing provider.

As proof of domestic or family violence, the following can be used, but they must be submitted with the right form: 

An RTA Form Domestic and Family Violence Report that has been completed and signed by an authorized professional who has been designated, such as a doctor, social worker, or lawyer, or a protection order or temporary protection order; a police protection notice; an interstate order; or an injunction for personal protection under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

During this process, property managers and lessors are required to respect an individual’s privacy. This includes keeping any paperwork or evidence private and refraining from disclosing any information to third parties unless specifically authorized (such as to obtain legal counsel or as required by law).

A fine of up to 100 penalty units, or at the moment $14,375, may be imposed on property managers who breach their duty of confidentiality in relation to a victim of domestic and family abuse.

The property manager/lessor is required to confirm in writing, within seven days of receiving a Notice that a tenant intends to vacate a rental home due to domestic and family violence, whether:

If the landlord wants QCAT to throw out the Notice, the property manager or lessor must tell the tenant who is leaving: the date on which the tenant’s interest in the tenancy or residence ends, as long as the tenant has actually left by that date; if the tenancy or rooming accommodation agreement continues for any remaining tenants or occupants; and, if necessary, the date on which the remaining tenants or occupants must leave.

LOSS OF INTEREST

No further action is required if the tenant vacating is the only one residing there. In order to protect their right to privacy as a victim of domestic and family violence, the departing tenant is not required to provide their forwarding address to their property manager or lessor. Property managers/lessors are required to give tenants (or occupants) a Continuing Interest Notice no earlier than seven days and no later than fourteen days after the vacating party’s interest in the rental property expires. The following information must be included in the Continuing Interest Notice: the ending of the vacating person’s interest in the rental property (without disclosing why); the continuation of the tenancy or rooming accommodation agreement on the same terms; and, if necessary, the specifics of a top-up to the rental bond. 

It is crucial that property managers and lessors remember throughout this process that they must not disclose that the vacating person has been experiencing domestic and family violence or any other details that may allude to that fact.

APPLICATION TO QCAT

Property managers and lessors should be aware that they can only dispute whether a Notice and the supporting evidence of domestic and family violence met the requirements of the RTRAA by applying to QCAT. For instance, if someone hasn’t offered any proof of domestic or family violence.

The following things won’t be looked into by QCAT: the individual’s history of domestic and family violence; the property manager’s/lessor’s assessment of whether the individual could safely remain at the rental property.

If QCAT does not throw out the Notice, the property manager/lessor will be responsible for fulfilling the obligations for ending that person’s interest in the rental property as described above.

If QCAT rejects the notice, it will no longer be valid, and the terms of the tenancy or rooming agreement will remain the same. 

Property managers should follow the standard abandonment procedures if the person is a tenant but still vacates the rental property because that could be considered an abandoned tenancy.

REMAINING IN THE RENTAL PROPERTY

If the victim of domestic and family violence decides to stay at the rental property, they are allowed to change the locks without the property manager’s or lessor’s consent as long as they comply with all applicable body code requirements, use a licensed locksmith, and provide the manager/lessor with a copy of the key or access code (unless they agree it is not necessary or the QCAT orders that the keys not be provided).

Alternatively, the landlord or property manager must act quickly on a request to change the locks made by a victim of domestic or family violence. There are penalties for sharing new keys and access codes without permission or a valid reason, and they must never be done so. 

If a tenant or co-tenant does something that is considered domestic or family violence, that person can ask QCAT to recognize them as the tenant or co-tenant instead. The property manager or lessor can attend and be heard at the hearing.

CONCLUSION

Property managers or lessors must strictly adhere to the RTRAA’s privacy and timeframe requirements in cases where a tenant or occupant is a victim of domestic or family violence.

Given the consequences for failing to fulfill their obligations, it would be best for property management companies and individual property managers to adhere to the Residential Tenancies Authority’s recommended policies and procedures for handling domestic and family violence. 

To reduce the risk of RTRAA violations, principals should make sure that property management staff members receive induction and ongoing training.

Property managers are urged to seek legal counsel and as soon as they learn that a tenant or occupant is a victim of domestic or family violence. This will help them manage a very sensitive but important situation and ensure that they are fulfilling their obligations to both the tenant or occupant and their lessor client.

[1] Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) s. 8(1).

[2] Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) s. 8(2).

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I’m Suzana Wade, the Principal of Locate Property, For more insights into Property Management or the overall Real Estate industry, follow me at locate.net.au/blog