Victims of domestic violence can end rental agreements under new legislation changes

Victims of domestic violence can break a lease early, and electronic communication is now allowed for official notices.

Electronic communication is also now allowed for official notices

Tenants' advocate Sherwin Flight says landlords in the past have usually let victims of domestic violence break a lease, but not everyone has been accommodating. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

A tenants' advocate says two changes to provincial legislation are good news for property renters in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sherwin Flight, who consulted with the provincial government on changes effective Jan. 1 to the Residential Tenancies Act, told CBC News that there are two major ones that benefit tenants.

Victims of domestic violence can now end a rental agreement. The move is intended to help victims leave a violent situation without fear of being stuck with any financial burden due to the rent.

Flight said landlords tend to be understanding and have allowed people in such situations to break a lease early.

"But there have been some landlords that we've come across that have said, 'Well, you know, it's too bad that you're going through this, but that's your problem, you know, that has nothing to do with me. You signed a lease, so I expect you to uphold your end of things,'" he said.

"It's kind of a bad way to look at things when someone's in a situation where them or their children or someone are facing a dangerous situation. So I'm glad to see that's been sorted out."

Victims of domestic violence can get statements from designated authorities to break a lease — those authorities include doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, police officers and other people who work for agencies or organizations recognized by the provincial director of residential tenancies.

Electronic notices

Another important change, said Flight, is allowing landlords and tenants to send official notices through electronic communications.

"That's not specifically defined, so that could be email, text messages, maybe Facebook, as long as it's a way you've regularly communicated between each other," he said. The change helps people living in rentals owned by absentee landlords, he said.

Picture a tenant who rents from a landlord who lives in Alberta who they've never met face to face — but communicate with through email — but when something needs to be fixed or they need to move out, written notice in the form of a letter is required.

"It sort of brings the act in line with what people are doing already anyway, and sort of what people expect, I think, in 2019 now, to be able to communicate more effectively."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning