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It is important for those who have suffered domestic violence to know their rights when it comes to their tenancy agreement. People can feel they are ‘locked down’ to their rental property, and may use this as a reason for staying with a perpetrator of domestic violence.

Currently, the law stipulates that victims of domestic violence in a fixed-lease situation have to provide 14 days’ notice to their landlord/agent, as well as a final apprehended violence order (AVO), which can take up to 12 months to obtain. The Government has realised the dangers this current system has for victims of domestic violence, and reforms to the Residential Tenancies Act are to be enforced later this year.

Until the reforms are in place you should be aware of your current rights if you face domestic violence whilst living in a rental property.

Changing the locks

If you obtain an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against a person with whom you live with, you have the right to immediately change the locks. This applies whether the AVO is provisional, interim or a final order. These three types of AVOs have different conditions, so it is important to distinguish which one is most suitable for your circumstances. The AVO does not nullify a perpetrator from being named on the tenancy agreement as a tenant, but the AVO prevents them from entering the property for the duration of the AVO terms.

You do not need the landlord or agent’s consent to change the locks if there is an AVO in place. However, you must provide the landlord/agent with a key for the new lock within 7 days of changing the locks, unless they agree not to have a key. The landlord/agent cannot give that key to the perpetrator the AVO is excluding. It is important to note the cost of changing the locks is your own responsibility.

If you are granted a provisional AVO by the court, the order remains in force until midnight 28 days from the date the provisional order is made. If you feel as though your safety is at threat beyond 28 days, it is important to consider if an interim AVO is necessary to protect yourself. Once it has been 28 days since a provisional AVO has been made, if no further extensions have been granted the person will gain back their rights to enter the premises, so do consider whether you need an extended order as early as possible.

Changing the tenancy agreement

If the person you are trying to exclude from the premises was named as a tenant on the agreement, a final order AVO terminates that person’s tenancy, and if you were listed on the agreement as a co-tenant the tenancy simply transfers on to you. If your name is not on the agreement, you can ask the landlord/agent to put the tenancy agreement in your name. If they refuse, you can apply to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to overturn this.

Ending the lease early

If you wish to end your tenancy agreement early, you must provide 14 days’ notice to your landlord/agent, as well as provide them with your final order AVO. There may be a penalty fee payable to your landlord if you do not provide this. The dangers that can arise for people waiting for a final order AVO to be given are glaringly apparent, and Gowland Legal looks forward to the coming changes in legislation that will improve and increase the number of options available to victims of domestic violence.

If you are unsure about the rights you have with your tenancy agreement, or want to know more about how to apply for an AVO, there are many services available to assist you. It is vital to ensure your safety first, however; if you feel you are in immediate danger you should contact the police. If you want to know more about your options, you can contact your local community legal centre or the Domestic Violence Legal Service. If you feel you need legal advice, you can speak to someone at Gowland Legal about how the tenancy laws affect you personally. At Gowland Legal we are experts in the area of Family Law. Our professional team offers an empathetic, personalised service with a focus on time and cost effectiveness. To make an appointment please call 9569 3000 or send us an email at contact@gowlandlegal.com.au.