Renting Matters: Episode 7: Nothing private about this house
11:15PM Aug 1, 2022
new south wales
Hello everyone. This is Law for Community Workers on the Go, a podcast for community and health workers. My name is Bridget Barker. I work in the Community Legal Education branch at Legal Aid New South Wales. I would like to begin by acknowledging that this recording was made on the country of the Widjabul Wia-bal people of the Bundjalung Nation and on the country of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. I acknowledge that this is Aboriginal land. Always was, always will be.
This is Episode Seven in our series, Renting Matters. In this episode, we look at social housing. We speak to Lehana, a Solicitor, Aboriginal Support at the Tenants' Union of New South Wales. Lehana gives her tips for community workers helping people living in social housing.
So I think the first thing I would say is to ensure that the tenant is aware of their rights and obligations both under their tenancy agreement and the legislation, and that they know how to access a copy of those. But also, that they're aware of their social housing providers policies, because these policies set out important rules and processes such as how to appeal a landlord's decision how to request a transfer. And those policies aren't always available just online.
We also speak to Arthur, a tenant living in social housing. Arthur has lived in social housing for a considerable time, and he shares his experiences living in various social housing properties with us. He also provides suggestions about how his current housing provider could improve their service for tenants.
Well, first off, I'd be very careful with the placement of people. Now if you've got a policy which says that it's for elderly people over 55 or over 60, then you've got that in your policy. It’s specifically for that unless you change your policy. So they should look at that. I think about the elderly people. Um I don't think about money, but that's a totally This is a series called Renting Matters. The series is a joint project between Legal Aid New South Wales and the Tenants Union of New South Wales. different thing. And we all need money, but we all need to be to feel safe where we live.
This is a series called Renting Matters. The series is a joint project between Legal Aid New South Wales and the Tenants Union of New South Wales.
I'd like to welcome Lehana from the Tenants' Union to the podcast this morning. Lehana, could you please tell our audience about your role at the Tenants Union?
Yeah. Hi. My name is Lehana. I'm the solicitor Aboriginal support at the Tenants’ Union of New South Wales. My day to day role mainly involves providing backup advice to the Aboriginal tenants’ advice and advocacy services which are across New South Wales and I also do litigation, mostly in public interest, tenancy cases, and assist with the Tenants’ Union Advice Line, which gives advice to renters across the state.
This episode is about living in social housing, which includes a range of different sorts of housing. Would you please explain what the term social housing covers?
Social housing is an umbrella term for housing that is rented to eligible tenants at subsidised rents. So in New South Wales, it is sometimes owned and managed by the government, which is called public housing. But there are also registered community housing providers which are generally not for profit organisations, that manage the properties that they own. But they also sometimes manage other properties that are owned by the government, or they can even be renting from private landlords with government funding.
There's also Aboriginal Housing, which is specifically for Aboriginal people. And these properties may be provided by the Aboriginal Housing Office, Aboriginal community housing providers, or it may be housing owned and managed by local Aboriginal land councils.
Some tenants do prefer to avoid using the term social housing and instead refer to public and community housing just to acknowledge the differences in ownership and experience. But in saying that, the umbrella term also covers other forms of housing, including cooperative housing. That's where tenants collectively manage their properties through membership of a cooperative housing society. And there's also refuge, crisis and emergency accommodation which supports people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
So Lehana, in your work, do you receive inquiries from that full range of social housing that you've described?
Yeah, from tenants in social housing, all types of social housing, but also private tenants as well.
What are the differences between Public Housing, Community Housing and Aboriginal Housing?
The main difference is there's a difference in providers. So the public housing, as I said, is government housing and the community housing providers are not for profit organisations that have their own policies and procedures around how the tenancies are managed. And Aboriginal Housing is specifically for Aboriginal people, but also, Aboriginal housing providers have their own policies and procedures that are used to manage tenancies. So that's the difference, I guess is that they each have different providers with different policies and how tenancies are managed. But the commonality is that tenants in all of these types of social housing have rights and obligations under their tenancy agreements, and also under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 And the Residential Tenancies regulation 2019. So the Residential Tenancies Act and regulations apply to tenants across New South Wales, whether that be private tenants or social housing tenants.
So I guess from what you're saying, people who live in social housing probably have rules that they need to abide by, in addition to the obligations set out under the Residential Tenancies Act and regulations.
That's right. Yeah, so there are definitely distinctions that can be drawn between the rights and obligations of social housing tenants, as compared to private tenants. So as we've mentioned, individual policies that professional providers might have about a range of things that private tenants wouldn't have. For example, a social housing provider might have policies about how to apply for a transfer or how their subsidised rent might be charged, or things like if pets are allowed. And so those policies set out important rules and processes for tenants and landlords. And so it's good for social housing tenants to be aware of those policies, or to know how to access them or to ask for a copy of them.
But beyond the policies, there are also some distinctions that can be drawn between the rights and obligations of social housing tenants as compared to private housing tenants in the law. And so there are specific provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act that only apply to social housing providers. For example, there are provisions in the legislation which set out when a social housing landlord can seek to terminate a social housing agreement, because for example, the tenant is no longer eligible for social housing. There are also certain provisions of the Act and the regulations that social housing landlords are exempt from. For example, social housing tenancies are exempt from the private tenancy rules about charging for water usage, and about how a person can apply to be recognised as a tenant because social housing providers have their own individual policies about those issues. And so there are definitely distinctions in the rights and obligations in terms of the policies and the legislation.
Who can access social housing?
There are eligibility criteria in order to access social housing. And the criteria can depend on who the housing provider is. So in New South Wales, there is something called “housing pathways”, which is a platform that many social housing landlords have agreed to use, and they use the same applications and allocation procedures. And there are “housing pathways” eligibility criteria. Those include that you have to be an Australian citizen, or permanent resident, live in New South Wales, be able to sustain a successful tenancy, generally be 18 years of age, and meet the income eligibility limits. And also you can't own or part own a home.
And applicants can also be given priority status if they have an urgent housing need. For example, if their current housing circumstances are unstable, or do not meet basic housing requirements, because the tenant needs disability modifications, for example and applicants can also get priority status if the health and safety of themselves or other members of their household are at risk. Housing applicants who are stolen generation survivors or have experienced institutional child sex abuse may also receive priority housing assistance. So there are definitely eligibility criteria and if there is a housing provider that does not participate in “housing pathways”, then they may have their own eligibility criteria as well and so do Aboriginal housing providers. So, for example, to be eligible as a tenant of the Aboriginal Housing office, applicants must establish their identity and Aboriginality in addition to meeting the “housing pathways” criteria just mentioned.
Lehana would it differ if you were applying to rent from an Aboriginal land council?
So Aboriginal land councils have their own policies and guidelines individually about who can be a tenant, but generally you do have to be a member of the Aboriginal land Council.
How do people access social housing as in what process do they have to follow?
So, as I mentioned, “housing pathways” is the most common access point for social housing. And you can either apply online or call the statewide contact phone number. If you apply through, and you are approved, then you go onto a single waiting list called the New South Wales Housing Register. And “housing pathways” providers will then use this register to offer housing when a suitable property becomes available. For individual housing providers that do not participate in “housing pathways” or if applicants are unsure of how to be housed by a specific provider and they want to be housed by them, applicants can approach that provider individually to ask what the application process might be, and what the eligibility criteria involved is.
In your experience, how long does it take from the time a person applies for social housing until they are offered a property?
Social Housing wait times are long because there is a high demand for housing and limited housing available in New South Wales. The wait times do depend on a number of factors, including what the applicant's housing requirements are, housing type, what they're looking for in the area that they want to live in. And wait times also depend on the number of homes becoming available as others move out and the number of people who might have been waiting for longer and also the people who are approved to be of priority status on the waiting list. So generally when you apply for social housing, they will let you know about how long the wait is in the area you've applied. And if it will be a long wait, you may choose to pick another area.
When you are eventually offered a place, how is the rent that you will have to pay calculated?
So market rent is the amount of rent that a real estate agent or landlord would charge in the private market. But social housing tenants receive subsidised rents, meaning the rent payable is reduced from the market rent to an amount that's equal to a percentage of the tenants’ household income. For example, public housing tenants will pay between 25% and 30% of their household income as rent.
But each social housing landlord will have their own individual policies on how they charge rent, based on the tenant income, and they'll have their own method of calculating the subsidised rent. Commonly, the rents depend on factors such as the tenants’ household size, the age of household members, and the type and amount of income. Community housing tenants and Aboriginal Housing office tenants are also able to apply for Commonwealth rent assistance through Centrelink, which is a non-taxable income supplement that is factored into the rent assessment for those tenants.
But really, calculating rent subsidies can be complex, and so that tenants make sure that they're not paying too much rent, they should inform their housing provider when there's been a change of income, or if there is another household change that could affect the amount of rent payable. For example, if there's a new household member or if an existing household member turns 18.
So once you turn 18, you are required to contribute to the rent payable by the household?
That is the policy of public housing, for example. Different housing providers might have a different policy based on their rent charging policies but that is the public housing policy at the moment.
What process do tenants need to follow to ask for repairs to be done when they're living in a social housing property?
Yeah, just like different social housing providers have their own policies on assessing rent charges, a social housing provider will have their own individual policy or process about how tenants should request repairs. For example, some providers have a specific form to use, and for tenants in public housing, and the Aboriginal Housing office, their tenancies are managed by the Department of Communities and Justice or DCJ Housing and DCJ has an online system to request repairs called “E-repairs” or a phone number for tenants to call.
An important thing to note with repairs is that any and all landlords in New South Wales, including public and community housing providers, have an obligation under the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 to provide and maintain residential premises in a reasonable state of repair and an obligation to provide the premises in a reasonable state of cleanliness and fit for habitation by the tenant. And I also think it's important to let tenants know that when they do request repairs, they try to do this in writing. And even if they make a verbal request, that they make a note of the date and the details of the request to make sure that they have their own record to prove that the repair has been requested.
Lehana do you find that the online request for repairs poses an obstacle for any tenants?
Yeah, the online system can pose difficulties where tenants don't actually have access to the internet or are unable to navigate the online system and so that can be a barrier. But there is also the phone number that I mentioned. Requesting repairs is one of the most common issues that we come across in giving advice and assistance to tenants. It's just trying to get the repairs done.
Something unique to social housing is the ability to request a transfer. In what circumstances can a tenant request a transfer?
Yep, so each individual social housing provider will have its own policy on the process and eligibility criteria for obtaining a transfer. Common circumstances that can give rise to a transfer request include if a tenant’s current house no longer meets their housing needs, whether that's because the tenant has a disability and needs modifications or because there is overcrowding in the house. Or for example, if a tenant’s health and safety or that of their household members are at risk in their current premises, they can request a transfer.
A housing provider might also initiate what's called a management transfer, which is a transfer that occurs to fulfill some management purpose of the housing provider. So, if for example, the provider is wanting to redevelop the property. If a management transfer is requested by the provider, and the provider should be offering those tenants alternative housing options
If a tenant requests a transfer, how long might that process take, in your experience?
The transfer process will really depend on the housing provider and the waiting times will depend on the availability of suitable housing based on the applicant's housing needs. Generally, applicants can apply for priority transfers, if there are urgent circumstances, but the waiting times really do vary.
You've mentioned previously the fact that there are policies as well as the Act that applies to tenants in social housing. What sort of rights and obligations do tenants in social housing have that differ from tenants in a private tenancy situation?
There are definitely additional rights and obligations that tenants in social housing do have that differ from tenants in a private tenancy. So beyond the policies that we've mentioned, that do contain individual processes and policies specific to a housing provider, social housing landlords can also use a system of three “strike notices”. These are letters which are issued by the landlord to the tenant when the landlord believes the tenant has breached the tenancy agreement, but the breach is not serious enough to terminate the agreement. So a “strike notice” is only an allegation against the tenant but if a tenant has received two strike notices in a 12 month period, the landlord may seek eviction from the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal instead of issuing a third strike.
So, if tenants receive a “strike notice” and they don't agree with it, then they should respond to the allegation in writing and ask that it be withdrawn. But if a tenant has written to the landlord to dispute a “strike notice” and the landlord has decided not to withdraw it, then tenants may ask for the strike to be reviewed by a separate, independent review panel called the Housing Appeals Committee.
It's really important that tenants respond to the landlord if they disagree with getting a strike, because if tenants have not written to the landlord to dispute strikes one and two and then the landlord takes the tenant to the Tribunal for eviction, then the Tribunal may be forced to accept that breaches one and two actually occurred.
So, this system of strike notices only exists for social housing landlords. In public housing it's mainly used for what they refer to as anti-social behaviour, but it can be used by different housing providers for other types of breaches that aren't considered serious enough to terminate the tenancy agreement.
In terms of termination, on what basis might your tenancy be terminated when you live in social housing?
There are a variety of reasons but regardless of the reason for termination, the process must always follow the relevant provisions in the Residential Tenancies Act. So the landlord still must follow the Act and the process that it sets out in terms of terminating an agreement. One reason for termination of a tenancy may be for breach of a tenancy agreement. In other words, if a tenant fails to meet their obligations under the tenancy agreement, so not paying rent, then the landlord can give a 14 day termination notice to the tenant.
A social housing provider can end a tenancy agreement for more serious breaches of the agreement as well, such as for serious damage to the property or for illegal use of the premises. If that sort of breach happens, then, a landlord can apply directly to the Tribunal for a termination order without giving a termination notice first.
And a social housing provider can also end a tenancy on certain grounds which do not apply to private tenancies. For example, they could terminate a tenancy under the “strike notice” system that we just mentioned, or if the tenant is no longer eligible for social housing, the tenancy can be terminated. Or another example is if the tenant is being transferred for management reasons and the tenant has not accepted any alternative offers for housing, then the tenancy can be terminated. If a tenant is given a termination notice and they have not moved out on the termination date of the notice, then the landlord can't evict the tenant at that point because landlords cannot evict tenants without first obtaining a Tribunal or court order for termination.
If a social housing tenant wishes to dispute a decision made by their housing provider during their tenancy, can they appeal that decision? And where would they appeal the decision to?
Yes, so there are definitely appeal pathways available to social housing tenants before answering the question of where a tenant might appeal to,The first thing that it would be useful to do when assisting a tenant about this is to decide if the decision that has been made is legally based or if the decision relates to one of those individual policies of the social housing provider that we've been talking about. And this is because in making decisions, social housing, staff and officers, they're also administrators who make decisions under the social housing provider's policies. So if a decision is being made by a housing provider based on its own policy, and a tenant disagrees with the decision, then generally the tenant should first discuss their concerns with the housing provider directly. And then the next step if the matter is still not resolved, and if they still believe the provider has made an incorrect decision, is to ask for a formal review of the decision by the housing provider, and they usually be like a specific form and process to follow. And then if a tenant is unhappy with that decision following the formal review, they can usually make a further appeal to the housing appeals committee, which is an independent review panel.
But as I mentioned, a tenant may have a problem with the landlord that is not just about a policy decision, a tenant may have a problem with the actual conduct of the landlord and the landlord has breached its obligations under the law. So where that happens, then the Residential Tenancies Act gives the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal power to hear and settle disputes about Residential Tenancies. And social housing tenants can make an application to the tribunal to seek various orders from their landlords such as an order to repair their property or to pay the tenant compensation for breach of the tenancy agreement.
So Lehana would an example of a decision that might be dealt with internally or through the Housing Appeals Committee be a decision made about a request for transfer?
Yes, if a tenant is denied a transfer request, then they should follow that process of going directly first to the provider, lodging a formal review and then failing that, a Housing Appeals Committee review.
Given the length of time people spend waiting for a social housing property, are there any protections if a social housing tenant is sentenced to a term of imprisonment during their tenancy?
Yes, individual social housing providers will have their own policies that explain the tenancy rights and obligations of their tenants if they go to prison, and when other household members may be able to take over a tenancy. Generally, in all cases, the individual's specific circumstances should be considered to decide whether the tenancy will continue. For example, if a public housing tenant or an Aboriginal Housing Office tenant goes to prison, and the reason for the imprisonment is related to a breach of the tenancy agreement, or if the length of imprisonment is for longer than six months, then the relevant policy says that a tenancy may be terminated. But it really does depend on the individual provider and what its policy says. But even beyond its policy, what it decides based on the individual's circumstances because providers can exercise their discretion on a case by case basis.
Some social housing tenants can apply for their rent to be reduced to as low as $5 per week during their prison term. But again, this depends on what the landlord's policy says about that. There will be other issues to consider for a tenant who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. For example, if the tenancy ends and the tenant's goods or their personal items and documents remain in the house, then there is another Act or legislation called the Uncollected Goods Act, which will apply and that means that the landlord has to give certain notice before disposing of any of the tenant's goods. And the type and amount of notice a landlord has to provide really depends on the value of the goods. Also, there might be other household members living in the house and the landlord might consider whether another household member is able to be considered for recognition as the tenant in the house and the housing provider will usually have a policy about this. Tenants in prison can also apply or reapply for social housing, including through "housing pathways."
What sorts of issues do people seek advice from you about in relation to a social housing tenancy?
So really all aspects of tenancy law including getting repairs done to their house, responding to allegations of breaches and responding to tribunal proceedings brought against them but also making applications to the tribunal. And really everything we've spoken about today.
Lehana are there some circumstances in which a social housing tenant may lose their eligibility to remain in social housing?
There are potential circumstances where eligibility might be last and that is mostly dependent on those income eligibility limits. There are a range of income eligibility limits and thresholds that specify the maximum income, before tax, that a household can earn to stay eligible for social housing. If for example, a household member gains new employment and they exceed that household income limit, then they may no longer be eligible for social housing.
If a social housing tenancy is terminated is the tenant whose tenancy was terminated precluded from reapplying for social housing in the future?
A tenant who has their tenancy terminated may still be eligible for social housing in the future. And whether and when they're eligible depends on the reason that their tenancy was terminated originally.
So for example, where there is a social housing adapt a tenancy debt, rent arrears, then there are certain steps that the tenant has to take or a former tenant has to take before being able to have an active listing or to be actively registered on the social housing waitlist. So with that issue, it depends on how much the debt is and whether or not the tenant has been making repayments towards that debt. And if they can show that they have, then they will be able to go back onto the social housing waitlist. And when your tenancy ends through social housing, generally, you'll be placed in a category of former social housing tenants. So there's different categories with public housing. So, for example, you could be considered to be a unsatisfactory former tenant or a satisfactory former tenant, or even in ineligible tenant if your tenancy was ended for some serious damage or serious breach of the agreement. But unless you're classed in that category of former tenancies, you'll be able to apply for social housing again, if you follow certain steps. The steps that you have to follow will depend on the reason that the tenancy was terminated.
Lehana do you have any tips for community workers helping people who are living in social housing?
Yeah,so I think the first thing I would say is to ensure that the tenant is aware of their rights and obligations both under their own tenancy agreement and the legislation, and that they know how to access a copy of those. But also that they're aware of their social housing providers policies, because these policies set out important rules and processes such as how to appeal a landlord's decision, how to request a transfer and those policies aren't always available just online. So you might need to ask for a copy of those from the landlord.
I would also encourage community workers to tell tenants that if something doesn't sound right to the tenant, like maybe their rent has suddenly increased or they received a letter containing allegations they disagree with, or if they're told that their tenancy is at risk, or will be terminated, for the tenant to just try and address and resolve the issue with the social housing provider directly as soon as possible or to seek advice as soon as possible.
And then following on from that, to the extent possible, I would suggest to try and keep communication with the landlord in writing, and to try and keep a record of all communication, whether it's a request for repairs, or an application for a transfer. And then tenants can also call the Tenants' Union advice line or their local tenants' advice and advocacy services, including specialist Aboriginal tenants' advice, advocacy services, because these services provide free, independent information and advice and advocacy to tenants across New South Wales.
Lehana could community workers make those sorts of calls on behalf of the tenant they're helping?
Community workers can definitely contact these services to seek assistance on behalf of their clients although the service will generally require some sort of consent in order to be able to speak to the community worker about the tenant's matter.
They're all the questions that I had for you today. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
There are in New South Wales four specialist, Aboriginal tenants' advice and advocacy services, which provide specialist tenancy advice to Aboriginal tenants in a culturally responsive way. These services have trained advocates who live in and around local communities and tenants can contact those services directly for assistance.
That's great advice for Aboriginal tenants. Lehana, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Thank you for having me.
The second part of this episode is our interview with Arthur attendant living in social housing.
I would like to welcome Arthur to the podcast today. Arthur lives in community housing and has kindly agreed to speak to us about what it is like being a tenant in a social housing situation. Hi, Arthur would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm indigenous man, I'm basically six generations from this town. And I've seen a lot of stuff growing up within this town, particularly racism and a lot of other stuff. But in saying that I've just as many non Indigenous friends or their indigenous friends.
Arthur, could you tell me how long you've been living in community housing?
Well, the one I'm in now I've been there for about say five years. After my wife passed away, I got a transfer there, to get away.
Before this tenancy situation where you're living now, for the last five years. You've previously lived in social or community housing properties, have you?
Yes, I've had a couple of houses. I've been over the East Nowra side. I've lived there for quite a while. But then I had to move because all this problem what I'm talking about, young people and that.
So you've got long experience of dealing with a social housing provider, because you've lived in different properties over a number of years. Would that be right?
Yes and I’ve always lived in these community housings or the Housing Commission. And I felt that that Housing Commission was a lot better than community housing today. I look at them there to be ignorant, arrogant. Your attitude is you don't care. You can't get a letter from them explaining anything. So you've got to go down there with a bit of a attitude about you to try and ask em about something.
I went down to ask them about getting transferred and I asked, “Look I'm not getting anywhere with it, can I speak to an Aboriginal worker?” Their reaction to that was “Oh you can’t”. I asked “Why?” She said “Oh it’s conflict of interest”. I said “How does that work?” She said “Oh you're related to her.” I said, “Well, all black people aint related. I don't even know the girl”. So that that upset me a bit and um second time around, I said, “Look, can I speak to her?” “Oh no, she's not here, she's been transferred”. So that, that was a lie all along. You know, when I wanted to get assistance or speak to someone that can understand where I'm coming from, I never had that opportunity to do that.
We get put into a house and then we might have someone next door, someone moves in and they're selling ice and doing all this and that and it’s unbearable to live there. Because, like where I am now at seven o'clock this morning I got woken and there's an argument and a fight out the front that woke me up. And again, this is about the placement of people. So the units I’m in, there's about 10 units and apparently their policies, it's for over 55s, but because there’s a shortage I guess, they just push the young families in there in their 20s and that's where all the noise comes from, all the fights. They drink and they this and that, so it's not very good for the elderly people. I always tell them to “keep it down mate. There's a woman down there in the 70s there’s one in her 80s and they shouldn't have to listen to that." But it goes through one ear and out the other. I don’t really feel like they're worried about it as much, but they live in fear.
Can I get you to explain how the houses that you live in are set up?
Well, they're all two storey little units and there's a bit of length between us near someone use the toilet next door we can hear him in the setting and now that the young people and so evens question I said well look, well actually it ain't gonna give me I'm gonna live in the garage and say, oh, you can't do that. It's unsafe and blah blah blah and but yet the mother that moved in next to me supposed to be there man, but she's got her two kids there and there's nothing that arguments fight that is not the dog bark and in the ass and then tell him to shut up this the daughter end with a boyfriend in the garage and doing illegal activities down there. Go into it but get people to come and knock on from 12 o'clock to four Five o'clock in the morning and every time someone knocks on their door, it wakes me up because I think it's someone knocking on my door. So we really can't get to sleep with people. And it is very annoying. And it's not a very pleasant place for us to live. Well, we got young people that were in Rihanna, the some of the abuse, some of the language, and they don't just let the person you're talking to here, they let everyone in the street hear it.
Well, they're all two storey little units and there's about a brick length between us. Now if someone uses the toilet next door, we can hear em in our place. That’s how thin they are. And now that there’re young people and so I even questioned them I said “Well look, well if you ain't gonna give me a house I'm gonna live in the garage, it’s safer” “Oh, you can't do that. it's unsafe and blah, blah, blah”.
And but yet the mother that moved in next to me, she’s supposed to be there on her own but she's got her two kids there and there's nothing but arguments, fights. If it’s not the dog barking in the house and them telling him to "shut up", there’s the daughter here about with her boyfriend in the garage and you know, doing illegal activities down there, I won’t go into it. But you get people to come and knocking from 12 o'clock to five o'clock in the morning. And every time someone knocks on their door it wakes me up because I think it's someone knocking on my door. So, we really can get to sleep. We’re elderly people. And it is very annoying, And it's not a very pleasant place for us to live while we’ve got young people like that swearing around and the some of the abuse, some of the language. And they don’t just let the person they're talking to here it, they let everyone in the street hear it!
So can you tell me why you've applied for a transfer?
Well, basically, both knees have been blown. As a young bloke I've done a cartilage in one leg in rugby league. And then some years back, I've had all my family in the Taekwondo and I blew me leg preparing for a black belt. And then after that, the leg got worse. And I had a big varicose vein, I had a big lump on my leg.
So basically, I was complaining about that. And, "Look, I can't walk up these steps". There's actually 15 steps and they go straight up. So I complained about that. And they said, "Well, look, we've put you down there, but you'll have to go and see your doctor, do this, do that." Well, I've seen a doctor, I've gone and got the varicous..
They wanted medical evidence did they?.
And it didn't matter what I give em. It just didn't seem like they was interested because I've went and had the surgery and my leg that was $4,000, a lot of money for me. And so I’ve had that done, But yeah, it was like prove this prove that. And any medical history, I'd have to sort of prove it to them not once, but twice. I’ve gotten a support letter off two doctors, including a vascular surgeon. They weren’t satisfied with that so I had to go and they wanted another one, so I went and got one off both the doctors again.
Have they given you any idea about when they might have a property available for you to transfer into?
No I don't hear anything. I think when I spoke to Olivia I said “Could you find out something for me?” And she did, she rang up because I said to Olivia I said no I asked em I wanted a transfer out West Nowra. They said “Yeah, well we’re going to transfer you out West. We've got you a place.” and I said “Oh that's good.” “But you’ll like Queanbeyan." I said “What are you talking about I said West Nowra, not west - Queanbeyan!” I'm sixth generation here I’ve got 20 Grandkids, one great granddaughter. Why do I want to move out Yass or that way, to Queanbeyan ,where I know nobody and all my family's here. It doesn't make sense
So would would it be fair to say that you feel like they keep putting obstacles in front of you?
It's either that or it's a discriminatory feeling that I get. Well you didn't want to let me see your black worker, you didn't want me to do this. You want me to do this, do that. I've done all that. But to no avail. And even though I've had the operation and that my leg’s, not getting any better, it still gets weak. Because I've got to walk up the steps all the time. And I can't see how a 70 or 80 year old woman, non Indigenous ladies can walk up them steps. I mean, what do you expect them to do?
You know when one of them said "Why don’t you lay in the lounge?" I said “Excuse me? I don’t pay rent for a two bedroom unit to sleep in the lounge, thank you very much.
Arthur would you feel safer if your son were able to live with you as an occupant in your place?
I definitely would.
And have you asked the housing provider about that?
I've talked to him about that better. So we can't do this. And we can't do that. No, you always question and I said, Well, you must have apology for this. And all of a sudden you've changed your policies or said I don't get it with you people. So question him, I say, well, when did you change your policy for this to happen. And so I've just gotta go with what I say in the I get a bit stressed out and get sick and live in there. And I like me a little out. But I would feel safe if my son was there because they can really have much time with these two children. And so weekends when he comes over, they stay with me and they sort of look at me that way. And when he's a real Cook, you're in closer and aligned for him and this and that and you're really beneficial for him being with me.
I've talked to them about that but it’s all “Oh we can't do this and we can't do that.” And I always question them I said “Oh well you must have a policy for this and now all of a sudden you've changed your policies?” I said “I don't get it with you people.” So I'll question them I’ll say “Well, when did you change your policy for this to happen?” And so I've just gotta go with what they say and um yeah I get a bit stressed out and getting sick of living there. and I like me little house.
But I would feel safer if my son was there because he can’t really have much time with his two children. And so weekends when he comes over, they stay with me and they sort of look after me that way. And when he's over he’ll cook, he’ll hang clothes out on the line for me and this and that so yeah it is beneficial for him being with me.
Arthur, I was just asking you about your experience with asking your housing provider to do repairs on your property.
Yeah, I'd say there's a long wait to get anything done. Really is.
So you said that you waited 12 months for a fence to be repaired and six months for a tap to be fixed. Is that right?
Yes, exactly. And that was annoying.
What about when you apply for repairs? What process do you have to go through to do that?
Well, they have someone in maintenance that you can ring up but when I rang up about the fifth year made it unapproved, bah, bah, bah are six months they're in a checker during them again or neither cancel that might sound Basilar to wait 12 months, I get a little bit cautious about, you know, we pay the bond money and you don't want to fix anything. But I feel that when things are broken and they left the 19 repair, they'll get worse. So are you going to put that on my bill? And make me pay for stuff that was broke? Because of wear and tear? Or because of weather? Am I to pay for that? I don't think so. Because weather blew the fence down, wear and tear is what's damaged other things, the washer and other parts of the fence miat water system is rusted almost right around down the bottom, I think another month or two and that'll give layup will fall over or something. But I've told them all that. And I also question that I really don't like I'm taking photos inside of my own. This is private Mazzini. And she said I noticed it's just anything that's bright. And I said well, okay, now if you've taken photos of something that's damaged or needs repair, and you've got that evidence on your phone, Ave or should lift a window and complain about it, could you take advantage of it for your own record? No one I jacked on upon them. So I look, we gotta fight it with this brag. We taken a photo that wound down. That's your own evidence with the photos.
Well they have someone in maintenance that you can ring up, but then when I rang up about the fence they said “Yeah mate it's been approved Blah blah blah.” Well six months down the track I had to ring him again “ Oh no they’ve cancelled that mate.” So basically I had to wait 12 months.
I get a little bit cautious about you know, we pay the bond money and youse don't want to fix anything, but I feel that when things are broken and they’re left and aint been repaired they'll get worse. So are you going to put that on my bill and make me pay for stuff that was broke because of wear and tear or because of weather? Am I to pay for that? I don't think so. Because the weather blew the fence down. Wear and tear’s what's damaged other things - the washer and other parts of the fence. Me hot water system is rusted almost right around, down the bottom. I think another month or two and that'll give out. That will fall over or something. But I've told em all that. and I also questioned em “I really don't like you taking photos inside of my home. This is private, what’s in here.” And she said “Oh no, it's just anything that's broken. I said well “Okay now if you've taken photos of something that's damaged or needs repairing, you've got that evidence on your phone haven’t you? I shouldn’t have to whinge and complain about it, cause you’ve taken photos of it, for your own record. Now why don’t you act upon that and say “Look we've got a photo here where this is broke. We’ve taken a photo of that’s worn down.” That's your own evidence with the photos!
So if they notice when they're doing an inspection, that there are things that are broken, they're not then making a request for repairs? Is that what you're saying?
Can I ask you, how do you find communicating with your housing provider?
Um, well there’s really no communication. The only letters I get is to say you owe money or where your rent’s been pushed up an extra $40. So, you're taking more money out. I'm paying more rent, but I'm really getting nothing fixed around the house? I can’t work that out. I know we’re having hard times, but if you’re going to start charging me an extra $40, then what am I getting for that extra $40?
That's a big rent increase in one go, isn't it?
Well, it certainly is. I'm on age, pension now. I was on disability. Um and um you know with me back and legs like that on a disability for years, I've still gotta walk up these steps and they don’t listen to what I'm saying it’s like, I've gotta prove everything to em. And so I get that, way I say “Do you come from Nowra?” I said, Then how do you know? You know, you're just speculating on things. And you're just assuming this and assuming that. Do your job, that's what you're getting paid for. And if you can't do it, move out and let someone else take over. Have a bit of respect for elderly people, because if you ain't got no respect for elderly people, you’ve really got none.
So would you say that the housing provider delivers a culturally appropriate service?
No, I don't believe so.
You mentioned to me earlier that when you asked to speak with an Aboriginal officer, that you weren't able to do that?
No because of their reaction That's Oh no. It's a conflict of interest.” I just couldn't get over it. Well, I'm entitled to speak to indigenous worker and whether I'm related to her or not, it’s not gonna stop her from being professional in doing her job, because that's what she was there for. You can’t have an indigenous worker working in a department like that and then say it’s a a conflict of interest every time a black person comes in here to talk to her. That's ridiculous.
I don't know how they think. I mean you've got to look after people and you can't be racist or discriminatory anything like that. They have protocols and you should be professional in doing your job otherwise get out and let someone else in that will do it. So, I've always had a bit of a problem and I don't think they wanted an indigenous man asking questions, standing up for his rights. Yeah, and you just try to, you knoe gun me down, but I just come back and say “Well, that's okay. There's other people that you know that I can speak to if youse don't want to speak to me.”
Do you find it easy to access or understand what their policies are in relation to things like repairs or transfers or other issues that you've had, asking for your son to be made an occupant?
Well I don't see why they’d have any problem with letting me son live there, because the woman that's 80, she's got a son living with her and no doubt he’d be there caring for her. And this is what I'd like my son, to be able to live in my home and care for me as well. So as far as their policies go, I don't know whether to believe them or what. And it was only recently I asked em this because I went and done a search for business governance, so I could sort of understand a little bit about the policies and constitutions and all that. So I questioned em, but I didn't really get a positive answer from em. It was like the whole run around and as far as correspondence, well I don't get a phone call, I don't get a letter and I can keep going down there and question em about it but I'll probably get the same old run about and keep waiting and waiting and waiting. I don’t know.
So you basically have to follow up on everything with them, because they don't get back to you.
Yes, exactly. And um, yeah I can understand a young person going down and firing up and having a go all the time, but you know I’m 67. I shouldn’t have to be doing that. You know, I think that you do have an obligation to be checking on people and their welfare. Not so much checking on them, but, you know, considering their welfare in as much as steps and different things like that, because I said to one woman. I said “You got a grandmother? “Yeah.” I said “If she was 80 would you let her live up in that thing with the possibility of falling or slipping and breaking her neck or whatever?” “Oh, no, no no.” I said “Well fine. Now you know what we’re going through.”
Arthur, if you could give suggestions to the housing provider about how they could improve their service for tenants, what would you say to them?
Well, first off, I'd be very careful with the placement of people. Now if you've got a policy, which says that it's for elderly people over 55 or over 60, then you've got that in your policy, specifically for that unless you change your policy. It's potentially a death trap for anyone over the age of 55 to be living in them units with them steps straight up on them, because you can trip, misjudge your step at that age and you're not strong enough to hold on. Your weight'll take you down those steps and the elderly person is going to hurt themselves. So they should look at that. I think about the elderly people. I don't think about money but that's a totally different thing. And we all need money, but we all need to feel safe where we live.
I'd like to thank Lehana and Arthur, our guests for this episode and for sharing their experiences with us.
Please join us for our next and final episode in this series of Renting Matters which will be focusing on tenants who experience additional barriers when they try and enter and maintain a tenancy in the renting market. We look forward to you joining us then.