Help tenants in Newfoundland and Labrador leave abusive and dangerous situations
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Domestic and sexual abuse is something that affects many people in a very negative way. These issues most often affect women and children. People in relationships where this type of behaviour occurs often feel trapped, like there is nowhere to go, or no way out. It must be an awful feeling.
In Newfoundland and Labrador sometimes for people in this situation there really is no way out. At least, no way out of your rental agreement.
The provincial Residential Tenancies Act lists several situations in which a tenant can terminate a rental agreement (lease) early, but unfortunately being the victim of abuse, or your children being the victims of abuse, is not one of them. So you can terminate a rental agreement because your upstairs neighbour has a noisy dog, but not if you are being beaten by a spouse, or your children are being sexually abused. That just doesn't seem right.
As it stands now, there are a number of barriers faced by a tenant attempting to flee a violent situation if they have signed a fixed-term rental agreement, like a year-long lease, which is common:
- If the tenant has signed a rental agreement with their abuser the fleeing tenant could still be liable for any unpaid rent, or damages, even after they leave. This could negatively affect the credit of the person attempting to flee, making it harder for them to find accommodations.
- If the tenant and their abuser do not live together, but the abuser knows where the tenant lives, it could leave them in a dangerous situation.
- If a landlord refuses to let a tenant that's been the victim of abuse terminate their rental agreement early, there is little the tenant can do but wait until their rental agreement expires. We have actually seen some cases where a tenant has asked to be let out of a rental agreement due to abuse, and were refused by the landlord.
- Even for landlords that want to help, it can be a tricky situation. Since a rental agreement is a legal document normally it cannot be changed without the permission of everyone that has signed it. An abusive individual is not likely to agree to this change, and in fact just having the abuser find out that such a request was made could put the victim of abuse in a more dangerous situation.
As one person explained:
"I was in a abusive relationship, living together, under a year lease. A couple of months in I had to leave and seek shelter. The landlord was threatening me to pay the rent, because my ex refused to, and also refused to take his name off the lease. Fortunately he let me break the lease agreement."
When you are trying to flee a situation in which you are being abused, or your children are being abused, these are not the kinds of problems you should encounter.
Ontario, and other provinces, have enacted legislation that allows people to flee a situation in which the tenant, or their children, are being abused or are in danger, and allows them to terminate a rental agreement early as a result. Newfoundland and Labrador needs to do the same. And the sooner we act, the sooner the victims of abuse are able to get out of their situations without any additional worry about a rental agreement, unpaid rent, damages, etc.
Currently the provincial Residential Tenancies Act is under review, with changes hopefully coming not too far down the road. We need to let the government know that we consider this a serious issue, and that we expect changes to the law to help address these problems.
There are a number of ways this could work, including requiring the tenant to provide documentation from a doctor, homeless shelter, transition house, or a court order.
Let's all stand together against violence, and show that we support changes to the law to help protect the victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
I'd like to ask that you sign this petition, and also share it with family, friends, and anyone that follows you on social media. We all need to work together to help end abuse, and your signature and a simple click of the "share" button could make a world of difference!
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