Report finds little justice for public housing tenants seeking repairs

Community Law Australia welcomed today’s release of a Victorian report that reveals the barriers faced by public housing tenants in accessing repair rights guaranteed by tenancy legislation.

The new report, by West Heidelberg Legal Service, “Repairing a Broken System”, shows that public housing tenants are severely disadvantaged in accessing their rights. The report documents the work of the Legal Service’s Tenants’ Rights and Law Reform Project providing free legal advice to 120 public housing tenants.

Community Law Australia spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said that it was a sign of a broken system that public housing tenants avoided exercising their rights out of fear of placing their tenancies at risk.

“The West Heidelberg Community Legal Service is working to help public housing tenants access to timely repairs.

“The report shows that the Office of Housing’s Internal Repairs Process actively undercuts fundamental tenancy rights, contributing to misinformation and long delays in securing basic repairs, and creating an environment of non-compliance with legislation.

“Work by community legal centres like the West Heidelberg Community Legal Service is vital.

“Laws aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if they can’t be enforced.

“The work documented in this report is all about helping people exercise their basic rights under legislation to enjoy a decent standard of housing. This is community lawyering at its best.

“Typically, it is high impact work done on a shoestring budget with the clever use of volunteer law students from La Trobe University,” said Mr de Kretser.

The report’s author, West Heidelberg Legal Service lawyer Megan King said that they assisted people to address the failures of the public housing system through a mix of individual case work and strategic law reform advocacy.

“Public housing tenants are extremely vulnerable. They are scared to exercise their rights.

“We saw many cases of heaters not working, broken cooking appliances, cracked and crumbling walls, mould and much more.

“In one case, a resident made numerous verbal requests for repairs to fix a leaking toilet that was rotting his bathroom floor. After eight years of requests, he sought legal help to enforce his rights and the problem was finally fixed.

“It shouldn’t take a lawyer to get a landlord to comply with legislation but sadly, our experience shows that legal help is often required.

“Our report recommends repairs process reforms to better comply with legislation and improve the living conditions of vulnerable tenants.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Many public housing properties are in disrepair and public housing is chronically underfunded.
  • Prospective public housing tenants are reluctant to reject substandard properties for fear of being removed from the waiting list.
  • Tenants are inclined to make informal repair requests rather than in writing because of a belief that this is the “better” way to interact with their landlord.
  • Public housing tenants are misdirected to internal repairs procedures, rather than the statutory procedures that protect their rights.
  • Public housing tenants are sometimes provided with misleading information about their rights.
  • Misinformation causes unnecessary delays and distress for public housing tenants.

Download this media release (PDF)

Download the report (PDF)

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