It's Never Okay (Part 4): Escaping Domestic Abuse
This article is part of a series on the changes brought in by the Ontario government's Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (aka Bill 132). Learn about the other new protections and resources created by this important new legislation: Overview - It's Never Okay.
The statistics surrounding domestic violence in Ontario are alarming: more then 6% of women report experiencing physical or sexual assault at the hands of their partners, and spousal violence is one of the most common forms of violence against women. The problem crosses socio-economic lines, and is equally prevalent regardless of income or education level.
For those experiencing domestic violence, it is not always easy to escape the situation. Of particular concern, more than two thirds of incidents take place in the home, with almost 60% being witnessed by children. To escape the violence, many people must therefore escape their home, but this is often not practically possible if they are trapped in a long-term residential lease agreement. For most people, if they are only 3 months into a 1-year lease, paying to break the lease and to find a new place to stay will simply not be an option. But at the same time, remaining in the the home until the lease is up may be dangerous and damaging. Faced with this dilemma, many women end up resorting to women's shelters, but this is not a viable long-term solution.
Recognizing this challenge, a new change to Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act aims to make it a little bit easier for survivors of domestic violence to escape such dangerous situations. The changes, introduced with the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (sometimes called Bill 132) give residential tenants the right to break their lease early if either they or their children have experienced violence or abuse.
The changes give residential tenants the right to break their lease early if either they or their children have experienced violence or abuse.
Instead of complying with the ordinary notice requirements, a tenant who qualifies under the new provisions need only provide 28 days notice before terminating the lease to get out of it without any penalty.
There are two situations when a tenant can take advantage of these provisions:
- when the abuser is under a peace bond or a restraining order that relates to the tenant, the child, or the rental unit and that was issued within the past 90 days; or,
- when the tenant makes a statement alleging that the abuser:
- caused bodily harm to the tenant or child, or damage to property;
- caused the tenant or the child to fear for his or her safety, including by following, contacting, communicating with, observing or recording them;
- forcibly confined the tenant or the child; or,
- committed sexual violence against the tenant or the child. The term "sexual violence" is defined very broadly in the act and includes "any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation."
In most cases, to be able to take advantage of the new provisions, the abuser must be a current or former spouse of the tenant (loosely defined), be in a dating relationship with him or her, or be living with the tenant and be related to him or her (by blood, marriage or adoption). This requirement means it may not be possible to end a lease early if the abuser is merely a roommate or an unrelated third party. However, it's notable that in the case of sexual violence, there is no restriction on who may take advantage of the new provisions: anyone who experiences sexual violence according to the broad definition in the Act now has the ability to end the lease early.
If making a statement to justify ending the lease early, it must be done using a form that is provided by the Landlord & Tenant Board which you can find here . The statement is generic, and the privacy rights of the person making the statement are protected as much as possible, since no specifics have to be provided. The statement simply says:
One of these people:
- my spouse or my former spouse
- someone I live with, or lived with in a conjugal relationship
- a person that I am dating or I used to date
- someone who lives in my unit that is related to me or the child by blood, marriage or adoption
- to suffer bodily harm or damage to our property by intentional or reckless behaviour or actions. to fear for our safety because of their behaviour and actions or threatened actions.
- to be held by force against our will.
- to fear for our safety because of a series of actions, including following, contacting, communicating with, watching, or recording us.
If a landlord receives such a statement, he or she is required to keep it confidential and in most cases may not even acknowledge that the notice was given. To protect the tenant during the notice period, the landlord may not identify the unit in any advertisements until the notice period has expired or the tenant has successfully moved out, and may not show the unit to prospective new tenants. The helps ensure the abuser is not alerted to the fact that notice was given and that the abused person intends to leave.
The option to end residential leases early removes one of the large hurdles faced by renters who want to escape an abusive relationship and is an important change to protect and empower survivors of domestic violence.
These amendments came into force on September 8, 2016.
BURLINGTON SEXUAL ASSAULT LAWYERS
The lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates advise and represent survivors of sexual assault and abuse in civil litigation claims. You can find out more information about civil sexual assault claims and the services we provide here.
Our lawyers offer free in-person or telephone consultations with individuals who are looking for information about their legal options. Our consultations take place in a supportive, judgment-free and entirely confidential environment. If you would like to speak with one of our lawyers or find out more about our consultation process, please visit our online consultation page, or give us a call.
About the Author
Kennedy is a Burlington lawyer who practises plaintiff civil litigation with the personal injury lawyers at Martin & Hillyer Associates. His focus is on advising and representing people in insurance disputes, personal injury litigation and civil sexual assault claims.