Bill allowing sex assault survivors to end leases early would empower victims: Minister

Proposed changes to Manitoba tenancy laws would allow victims of sexual violence to end leases early if their safety is at risk.

Proposed changes would also scrap ability to appeal Tenancies Commission decisions in court

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says the changes proposed in the proposed bill would make it easier for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to end leases early for safety reasons. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Proposed changes to Manitoba's tenancy laws would allow victims of sexual violence to end leases early if their safety is at risk.

The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act, a two-pronged bill proposed Wednesday by Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, would also make the province's Residential Tenancies Commission the final decision-maker on appeals in residential disputes.

Current Manitoba law allows victims of domestic violence and stalking to end leases with one month's notice if they believe remaining in the home puts them or their children at risk. The changes would add sexual assault survivors to that list.

"This is a tool that will help empower survivors at a time of their greatest need," Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said of the bill on Wednesday.

The new rules covered in the proposed act would do away with a requirement that victims make police reports and get no-contact court orders before ending their leases. Instead, victims would be able to speak with other professionals including doctors, nurses and social workers to verify the incident occurred and confirm they're eligible.

After that, Manitoba Justice's victim services branch would review the case and relevant documentation to issue a certificate for early lease termination. The survivor would also be put given information and referrals to other services.

Appeals would be scrapped

The new bill would also scrap the ability to appeal Residential Tenancies Commission decisions in court.

Currently, parties in residential disputes can appeal decisions of the Residential Tenancies Branch with the Residential Tenancies Commission, Cullen says. If they're not happy with the decision of the commission, they can appeal it again with Manitoba's Court of Appeal — provided the appeal centres on a question of law or jurisdiction.

"So, very fine parameters around that," Cullen said. "We're finding it wasn't used very often."

Cullen wasn't able to provide the exact number of appeals made in court. He said it wasn't many, and the ones that are made are often thrown out.


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