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Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to protect victims/survivors of family violence

15 October 2020.

Why and when were changes made to the Act?

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act (RTAA) 2020 came into force on 12 August 2020. A range of changes were made to modernise and clarify the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) 1986, to:

  • Improve security of tenure for tenants
  • Support good faith relationships in the renting environment
  • Improve tenants’ ability to assert their legal rights.

At the select committee public submissions stage, people raised concerns about the lack of protection for tenants who are victims/survivors of family violence. Through a Supplementary Order Paper, changes to the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill were made to enable a victim of family violence to leave a tenancy at short notice if they provide their landlord with a family violence withdrawal notice.

Before the changes, there were no provisions either in the RTA or the Family Violence Act that specifically addressed a situation where a victim needs to exit a tenancy at short notice to remove themselves from harm. In this situation, a victim of family violence remains liable for rental payments, plus any break lease fees, to recompense the landlord for having to find other tenants.

What family violence changes were made?

The RTAA now includes some changes that will ensure tenants experiencing family violence are able to leave tenancies if they need to.

These changes make it possible for a victim of family violence to leave a tenancy quickly by providing their landlord with a family violence withdrawal notice. The definition of family violence is the same as that in the Family Violence Act 2018, and includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse.

The minimum notice period for a victim leaving a tenancy is two days, and after the withdrawal date the tenant will not be liable for any further rent.

The victim will not be liable to the landlord for any compensation or any additional rent after the withdrawal date, though liabilities incurred previously would stand. The tenancy will end in its entirety if the victim is the sole tenant. The tenancy will continue for any remaining co-tenants.

When does the law change take effect?

This law change will become operational once regulations are made which prescribe, among other things, who can make a declaration as evidence of the family violence for the purposes of the withdrawal notice. It is expected that regulations will be in place by August 2021.

Regulation development

Along with the family violence withdrawal notice, the tenant will need to provide accompanying evidence to their landlord. This and other matters, such as what other information will need to be included in the withdrawal notice, will be prescribed in regulations, which are still to be developed.

How will changes affect victims/survivors of family violence?

Under the RTAA, family violence victims/survivors who are tenants under a fixed-term or periodic tenancy will be able to withdraw from the tenancy by giving at least two days’ notice to the landlord. Their notice must come with evidence that the tenant has been a victim of family violence while a tenant of the premises.

Any victim/survivor who withdraws from their tenancy will no longer be responsible for obligations under their tenancy agreement and under the RTA, unless they were liable under the tenancy for anything which happened prior to the withdrawal notice date.

The withdrawing victim/survivor or their agent must also give each remaining tenant at their premises notice of their withdrawal, no later than two days after the date of their withdrawal. They will not, however, need to provide any supporting evidence of violence to any remaining tenants. Nor will they need to inform their remaining tenants they are leaving because of violence.

The following changes have also been made to protect the privacy and safety of tenants who serve family violence withdrawal notices:

  • for any application to the Tenancy Tribunal concerning a family violence withdrawal notice, hearings must be held in private, evidence may be given remotely, and the names and identifying details of the parties must be suppressed by the Tenancy Tribunal; and
  • the disclosure of a family violence withdrawal notice or supporting evidence without authorisation is an unlawful act subject to maximum exemplary damages of $3,000.

More information

The Government’s media release is on the Beehive website

The Supplementary Order Paper can be found on the Legislation website

Questions and Answers on the RTA changes can be found on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development website. Information on the family violence provisions starts page 42.

Further information about what the RTA changes mean will be published on the Housing and Urban Development website once the regulations are developed and before the changes come into force.

If you have any questions, please email us:

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