North

N.W.T. domestic violence victims can soon break lease to escape

Changes to the N.W.T.'s Residential Tenancy Act will soon allow victims of domestic violence to more easily break their lease - and find a safer space to live.

Changes to Residential Tenancy Act expected in July, will allow victims to more easily break their lease

Lorraine Phaneuf, of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, says the changes to the Residential Tenancy Act are 'a step in the right direction.' (CBC)

Victims of domestic violence in the N.W.T. will soon be able to more easily flee an abusive relationship thanks to a change in the territory's Residential Tenancy Act.

The changes to the Act will allow a victim of violence to ask the territory's rental officer to terminate their tenancy. It's designed to allow them to extricate themselves from a lease agreement in order to get to their own, safer home.

"When women feel that their own home is no longer safe with their children or by themselves, there's that anxiety, that worry that the perpetrator will come back," says Lorraine Phaneuf, executive director of the Status of Women Council of the NWT, who proposed the idea. "They'll come into your space, they can further violate you.

"So that their home would be a safe haven, where there would be peace, tranquility, so that after the violence they would not have to worry about someone coming back into their space, someone further traumatizing them."

Legislation expected by July

Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister for the Department of Justice, says that the changes to the Act came as a result of consultation from the territory's rental officer and the public.

"We took all the submissions we received in the course of consultation very seriously," says Aitken. "This was one that we felt that there was a problem, and there had been a remedy that was suggested, and it seemed reasonable to enact these provisions."

Assistant Deputy Minister Mark Aitken says the changes to the Act should be in place by July. (CBC)

Aitken says similar legislation already exists in Nova Scotia and Manitoba. Victims of domestic violence will be required to provide proof in the form of an emergency protection order, peace bond, or court order.

They will then have a confidential hearing with the territory's rental officer, who can terminate the lease without hearing from the landlord or any other parties in the relationship. 

"The rental officer will issue the decision," says Aitken. "It will be provided to the applicant, it will not be published. We have an excellent rental officer here in the NWT with a lot of experience."

Aitken anticipates the changes in legislation to come into effect in July of this year.

'A step in the right direction'

Though Phaneuf says far more work is needed to end family violence in the territory, she is pleased with the changes to the Act.

"Family violence cannot be deterred or ended by one policy," she says. "It's something that all levels of government — all of us — have together to work on as a territory to eradicate violence at its root. 

"Having a place where you are the sole owner or sole lessee is just an important factor in starting your life over, in offering a healthy and vital life for you and your children for the future.

"This I see as a step in the right direction. A positive and strength based way of looking at addressing violence in the territories."

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