Victims of violence could break leases early under proposed changes

A bill introduced in the legislature on Wednesday would amend the Residential Tenancies Act so victims of violence could terminate their lease early without financial penalty.

The change would mean those with a fixed term or year-long lease could give their landlords one month's notice they're leaving, instead of the current three months. Landlords would not be compensated for any loss in rent.

In order to qualify, a victim of violence would have to provide the landlord with one of the following: an emergency intervention order, a court order or a verification statement. 

A verification statement is a new form the government would introduce that could be filled out by a peace officer, a victim services co-ordinator, a domestic violence outreach worker, a crisis intervener or support worker, or an Indigenous chief or elder. 

Sherry Wilson, the minister responsible for women's equality, said introduction of the bill was an exciting moment for the province.

"I'm going to go so far as to say this new amendment to this legislation could potentially save lives," Wilson said.

Women's council applauds change

It would be ideal if those trying to escape violence could break their lease immediately, but one month is better than waiting three, said Beth Lyons, the executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council.

Lyons said she is glad victims of violence would be able to provide proof through a verification statement and not necessarily have to report the incident to police before being able to flee a violent situation.

Lyons also said she's happy the proposed legislation includes survivors of sexual violence and harassment. 

"We know that often the home is very dangerous for people experiencing violence, so it's important for people to be able to change that home without financial penalty if they need to," Lyons said.

She said victims leaving a violent home may have to move to a new city or province, but that can be difficult to do if they lose their damage deposit by breaking a lease agreement.

"This [amended legislation] is going to provide a mechanism so folks don't have to worry about that." 

Pierre Fournier/CBC News

The proposed bill still has to go through its second and third reading before being voted on.

If passed, the women's council said it will be watching to see how the bill is implemented and making sure victims and landlords are aware of the legislation.

"We have to have resources that are very accessible to victims so they know exactly what's there," Lyons said.

"Also, hopefully landlords are going to be well aware of this so they are not pushing back against it." 

Nine other provinces and territories have similar legislation in place. Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Nunavut are the only jurisdictions that have not amended their legislation to allow victims of violence to terminate leases early.