Early lease termination for victims of violence ‘could potentially save lives’

Telegraph-Journal | Savannah Awde

November 28, 2019

The government is proposing that victims of domestic violence should be allowed to leave their rental leases with one month’s notice rather than the standard requirement of three months. 

Currently, anyone with a fixed term or year-to-year lease must provide three months’ notice to landlords, but the change would allow anyone fleeing domestic violence to give early termination if they obtain an emergency intervention order, court order, or a verification statement. 

Sherry Wilson, Minister responsible for Women’s Equality and Service New Brunswick, said that if the changes pass in the house the province would join nine provinces and territories that have similarly changed their residential tenancies legislation.

“I will go so far as to say this new amendment to this legislation could potentially save lives,” Wilson told reporters after introducing the bill. 

Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women’s Council — an independent body that provides advice on equality to the government — said the council will be paying close attention to the implementation.

“So how are landlords informed about this? How are folks made aware of their rights to do this? When you’re in a crisis situation and you’re vulnerable, it’s not the moment where you’re going to be at your best to sort through a government website,” she said. 

“We have to have resources that are very accessible to victims so that they know exactly what’s there that they can ask for and hopefully landlords are going to be well aware of this so that they understand that and are not pushing back.”

Early lease termination for tenants fleeing violence has been raised in the house before in a private members’ bill from Green Party Leader David Coon in December 2018, but faced opposition from the New Brunswick Apartment Owners Association over added costs for landlords. 

Wilson said letters have been sent out to notify landlords, and “most of them” are in favour of the amendments. She added that she believes “word will get out soon” to victims that this is an option for them as centres working with victims of domestic violence across the province have been made aware of the legislation.

Lyons also said the council is pleased to see a wide variety of people will be able to provide proof of violence, through the verification statement option.

“The police is an option but there are going to be other mechanisms as well like having gone to a domestic violence outreach worker and other services in the community.” 

The verification statement must be submitted on a new form that the minister said would be created “momentarily,” and can be submitted by any system officials in contact with the victim such as peace officers, victims services co-ordinators, domestic violence outreach workers, crisis intervener or support worker, or Indigenous chief or elder.

To access the other two required forms of proof, victims will have to submit a complaint to police, but the minister said they will “not necessarily” have to press charges to get a court or emergency intervention order.

Lyons said that this legislation is an example of addressing barriers for victims who are often overlooked. 

“We know that often the home is very dangerous for people experiencing violence, so it’s important that people are able to change that home without financial penalty if they need to,” she said. “This is to provide a mechanism so folks don’t have to worry about that.”

Although Lyons said the reduction from three to one month’s notice is the ideal outcome, she recognized one month is a long time to remain in an abusive situation, and suggested victims seek out domestic violence shelters in the interim and engage in safety planning. 

Those experiencing violence at home can visit https://www.domesticshelters.org/help/nb.new-brunswick for more information on services in each area of the province. 

— With files from John Chilibeck