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How can PMs stay safe when managing domestic violence tenancies?

By Orana Durney-Benson
04 July 2024 | 13 minute read
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One in four Australian women have experienced violence from a cohabiting partner. For property managers handling these situations, how can they keep themselves and their tenants safe?

It’s no secret that property managers have one of the hardest jobs out there.

As the middlemen of the rental sector, these workers – who are overwhelmingly women – often bear the brunt of the anger and stress felt by tenants and owners navigating a tough housing market.

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“We are the meat in the sandwich,” property manager Brooke Willis recently observed.

For property managers overseeing a home where domestic violence is taking place, the danger is even higher.

Recently, NSW network Laing+Simmons ran a training course to equip property managers with strategies to keep themselves and their tenants safe in contexts of violence.

“Domestic violence is one of the major issues affecting Australian communities and the nature of property management means our people have a higher-than-average chance or encountering domestic violence involving their customers in the course of their work,” said head of property management Michael Anania.

“We need to make sure they are prepared with proven best practice skills and strategies to best support known, suspected or potential victims.”

The training, which was delivered by hapkido martial artist Mel Thomas, included communication tips, de-escalation tactics, escape strategies, boundary-setting, and practical self-defence for situations involving physical violence.

They also noted the importance of creating agency-wide strategies for building safety, such as confidential alert systems to warn colleagues of potential danger during property inspections, and workplace policies to support staff members who are victim-survivors of violence.

The Laing+Simmons training session comes in the wake of growing public awareness about Australia’s crisis of gender-based violence.

This year alone, 38 Australian women have been killed by a known male perpetrator – equal to one death every five days.

Women who leave violent partners also face acute difficulties securing housing. As First National Maitland director and domestic violence educator Alexandra Haggarty noted, tenants who escape intimate partner violence have “a really rough time between leaving that relationship and finding rental accommodation”.

Those who disclose their domestic violence history often face stigma that leads to landlords discounting their rental application. On the other hand, those who attempt to hide this history are left with gaps in their rental application – it’s a lose-lose situation.

For property managers overseeing a tenancy where domestic violence is present, it’s important to stay on top of legal obligations and processes.

In NSW, any property damage done to a rental property during an incident of domestic violence is the financial responsibility of the offender, not the tenant, regardless of whether or not they are on the lease. Tenants who are victim-survivors of domestic violence may change the locks without prior permission, as long as the offender is not a co-tenant.

If a victim-survivor of domestic violence chooses to leave a rental property, they are allowed to end the tenancy instantly as long as they have served a Domestic Violence Termination Notice (DVTN) to the property manager or landlord either before or after they vacate the property.

They must also serve this DVTN to all other co-tenants named on the lease, including those who are perpetrators of domestic violence.

Tenants who provide a DVTN are not liable for any break lease fees, and cannot be blacklisted for ending the tenancy.

Lachlan Malloch, director of the Office of Property Services Commissioner with the NSW government, stressed that confidentiality is crucial, including when providing rental references.

“When a property manager is asked to provide a reference, they can’t divulge any information related to domestic violence,” he said. “You might say ‘the reason for the tenant leaving is confidential, but I can tell you about my experience of them as a tenant and how they preformed during their tenancy’.”

“I understand how difficult this is, but we don’t want a history of experiencing domestic violence to stigmatise an applicant and place them at a disadvantage when trying to seek a new home,” said Malloch.

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