West Coast LEAF has long been advocating for legal changes to break down the barriers that can make it difficult or impossible for women to escape abuse. Today, we are celebrating: in response to a policy submission we made last year, the BC government has proposed legislation that would protect the rights of renters who want to leave their accommodations due to family violence.

In April 2014, West Coast LEAF called on the government to amend provincial tenancy legislation to ensure that the law does not become yet another obstacle to women attempting to flee domestic violence. We recommended a change to BC’s Residential Tenancy Act that would allow victims of violence to break a fixed-term lease without penalty in order to escape an abusive situation.

Under BC’s current tenancy law, breaking a lease early-regardless of the reason-can result in major financial repercussions, including the requirement to pay all remaining rent for the lease period. Often, these costs create insurmountable barriers to fleeing violence at home, especially for women with low incomes.

The Bill introduced this morning closely aligns with many of our recommendations, although it falls short in that it assists only those experiencing family violence and not other forms of gender-based violence. The Bill proposes changes to the Residential Tenancy Act that will allow women to end their fixed-term leases if their safety is at risk because of family violence. If these amendments are passed, women facing violence in their homes will be freed from the burden of owing thousands of dollars in future rent if they decide to seek out safety.

The Bill will also allow women to break leases when entering a long-term care facility-a change that would likely reduce economic hardship for many older women and women with disabilities. Given that these groups of women already face disproportionate poverty, relieving them of the obligation to pay rent for housing that they cannot use is an especially important step towards justice.

West Coast LEAF looks forward to seeing this Bill become law and to working with the Residential Tenancy Branch to develop regulations that will better meet the needs of some of BC’s most vulnerable women. We will work to ensure that the promise of these amendments to the Residential Tenancy Act translate into positive and concrete changes in the lives of women fleeing violence.