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Domestic violence survivors getting rental exit plan help

Red Deer Advocate - 2/9/2018

Local landlords and property managers will be getting help in helping tenants facing family violence.

Stephanie McLean, Minister of Status of Women, announced in Calgary on Thursday a $50,000 grant to the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta. The money will be used to develop a program to train landlords and property managers to recognize signs of family violence and equip them with resources to help their tenants.

McLean also provided an update on the Safer Spaces certificate program that was rolled out in August 2016. The certificates allow those facing family violence to break their leases without penalty.

Since it began, 379 certificates have been provided to help survivors of family violence leave an unsafe home.

Although family violence can happen to anyone, four out of five survivors are women, she said. "So we know this is a gender issue."

Calgary MLA Deborah Drever introduced the private member's bill that led to the Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act.

"I brought this forward because I strongly believe survivors of family violence shouldn't have to feel trapped in a dangerous situation because they can't afford to get out.

"They should be able to move with dignity and without financial repercussions."

The legislation does not free those fleeing family violence from rent owing obligations but it does ensure they can get out of a lease without facing financial penalties.

When devised, it was expected 60 to 100 people per year would seek a certificate — a number that proved a huge underestimate.

"It's clear now more than ever there's a need for this program."

David McIlveen, with Boardwalk Rental Communities, which has 18,000 rental units in Alberta including 939 in Red Deer, said property owners from large companies to individuals with a single property have long been committed to their renters' safety.

Providing more education on how to respond to domestic violence, which is often a complicated issue will help landlords and property managers.

Many of Boardwalk's managers have already had the experience of reaching out to domestic violence survivors and making it easy for them to leave bad situations, said McIlveen.

As a result, few of Boardwalk's renters have had to go the route of the safety certificates, he said.

"I think that's a testament to that we've already been pretty flexible with people and continue to be," said McIlveen.

"It will build on whatever we're doing now," he said of the education program.

"When I hear about a more organized, systematic approach to educating on a particular issue, then I think it's probably going to be a good thing."

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