New law supports victims who need to break their rental lease
Government of Alberta
For victims of domestic violence, survival can mean getting through a day. With little thought to the luxury of long-term planning, those who are in an unsafe environment may not have the ability to plan ahead. In those circumstances, a fixed tenancy, lease agreement, can be a hindrance.
In the fall of 2015, MLA for Calgary-Bow, Deborah Drever, proposed a private members’ bill that would add an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act. On August 8, 2016, the amendment was signed into law.
What does that mean?
Any of the many victims of domestic violence in Alberta, as well as their children or dependent adults also living in the home, now have the freedom to break their lease without financial penalty. Instead of staying in an unsafe environment because the possible costs associated with breaking a lease, a tenant can now contact a “certified professional”, who will assist them in confirming they are at risk should they stay in the home. The certified professional is someone who is listed on the certificate, which is available online at saferspaces.alberta.ca. They include health-care professionals, law enforcement and authorized employees who work in shelters or victims support centres.
The certified professional will confirm the tenant has reported this risk and a Designated Authority within the Ministry of Human Services will then issue a certificate to the tenant that they can give to their landlord. That certificate will allow the tenant to break their lease with 28-days’ notice. This does not mean the tenant must remain in the home during that period – rather it means the tenancy will officially end once the 28 days is complete. Those who are at risk need to be safe and should leave an unsafe situation immediately and access the supports available in the community such as a family violence shelter or other program.
Once the landlord is presented with the completed certificate, they will then inform any other tenants on the same lease that the lease is ending. The landlord and other tenants can enter into a new agreement if they choose, or the landlord can then advertise the property.
“I brought this bill forward because finances should never be a barrier to fleeing violence,” said MLA for Calgary-Bow Deborah Drever. “These changes will make a real difference for survivors of domestic abuse. I am honoured it passed unanimously and that it is now law.”
“Today, we stand up for Albertans by making it easier for them to leave an unsafe home and maintain their independence,” says Stephanie McLean, minister of Service Alberta, which is responsible for the Residential Tenancies Act. “Safety, not financial expense, can now be the first consideration in leaving and breaking the cycle of domestic violence.”
As a landlord, Dale Baggs supports this new law. As a woman, she wonders why this law is necessary.
“When I was informed of this new law and how it could impact landlords, I couldn’t help questioning why this law even needs to be in place,” she said. “I didn’t realize, though, that the possible cost of breaking a lease could mean the difference between a victim staying with their abuser versus being able to leave.
“As a landlord, the potential cost and risk to me is minimal. To a victim of domestic violence, the potential benefit is huge.”