Domestic violence victims can get out of lease, says new law (in Canada)

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Thanks to a new law in the province of Alberta, victims of domestic violence have some recourse to escape their abusers more easily. Under the Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, renters can break a lease before full term without suffering a financial penalty. The only catch is this: They must produce a certificate verifying that they are at risk of abuse. The certificate is available by giving the Ministry of Human Services an emergency protection order or a letter from a medical professional such as a doctor, nurse, psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker that states that the person is in danger

The idea behind the Act is that finances (or lack of finances) should never be a factor in one’s ability to flee an abusive situation. The new law is also aimed at making it easier for victims to get connected with a variety of services for survivors of domestic violence.

Nearly 5,000 women are admitted to Alberta’s 32 emergency shelters and 12 second-stage shelters every year. Half of the women admitted to shelters in the province between 2014 and 2015 were assessed to be in extreme danger, which is an increase from the year before. More than twice the number of women who found themselves in shelters during that time period had to be turned away because of lack of space.

The Alberta NDP government recently announced that they will invest $15 million in combatting domestic violence. A big part of that will go toward second-stage shelters, which are apartment-style housing that offers longer-term support for domestic violence survivors. Second-stage shelters allow victims to stay for up to two years, as compared to the shorter-term shelter offered by emergency shelters.

The new private member’s bill was put forth by Maria Fitzpatrick and was passed unanimously. The bill will effectively amend current tenancy rules so that a woman who can show proof that they are in danger (such as a restraining order) will be able to break their lease without any financial penalties. It is a step toward removing the most common barriers faced by women who are trying to escape domestic violence. At present, financial difficulties and having no place to go are two of the most common barriers women in domestic violence situations face when attempting to leave. By allowing them to escape their lease without threat of financial penalty, at least one of those worries is alleviated. It is the hope that the rest of the province’s investment in helping victims of domestic violence will also address the issue of ensuring that victims have a place they can go.

Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Canada and around the world. Too often, women stay in situations that are dangerous to themselves and their children because they feel trapped and without alternatives. Thanks to laws such as the private member’s bill recently passed in Alberta, we are taking a step in the right direction. Lawmakers are increasingly turning their attention to finding ways to make it easier for victims of domestic violence not only too physically and financially escape, but to feel safe once they leave and start to rebuild their lives. Those are the ingredients necessary to give victims the safety net they need to take the plunge and leave a dangerous domestic violence situation.

August 22, 2016 · Editorial Team · Comments Closed
Posted in: News