RENTAL advocacy networks have welcomed a High Court decision in favour of renter compensation, as the state government announces measures to help renters facing financial hardship.
Circle Green Community Legal chief executive officer Celia Dufall said the ruling clarifies that renters are entitled to compensation Australia-wide if their existing rights are infringed.
“The tenancy network welcomes the recent High Court decision which clarifies that tenancy agreements are contracts for enjoyment, relaxation and preventing molestation,” she said.
“This reflects the human rights position that people are entitled to adequate housing – and not just the provision of shelter.
“The main practical benefits for renters will be the clarification of the position that where a lessor breaches terms of the residential tenancy agreement, a tenants claim for compensation for losses caused by the breach can include compensation for distress and disappointment.”
The case was bought to the High Court by two tenants from the remote community of Lyentye Apurte (also known as Santa Teresa), about 85km south of Alice Springs.
The High Court heard that Ms Young, the Indigenous appellant who was a tenant of NT Housing, had no backdoor for more than five years.
By having no back door, the court heard that Ms Young was “left vulnerable to proven animal intruders and potentially human intruders.”
In its ruling, the High Court determined that NT Housing breached its obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act, with those obligations being to “provide a tenant with the peace of mind that comes with a secure premises.”
Despite the victory, Ms Young was unable to see her years-long legal battle to its end, as she died in July this year.
Make Renting Fair campaign coordinator Chantal Caruso said the Santa Teresa judgement reinforces the need for strong, uniform and enforceable minimum standards for all rental housing – especially rental housing that the most vulnerable members of the community live in.
“Due to the threat of without grounds evictions and the extremely low vacancy rates in WA, most tenants are too afraid to even ask for basic repairs or maintenance for fear they’ll be evicted or have their rent increased,” she said.
Ms Dufall said landlords have no additional responsibilities as a result of the decision, but said both private and public landlords now have greater incentive to avoid breaching renter rights.
“However, so long as no grounds evictions remain permissible in WA, even with this decision, there remains a heavy power imbalance against renters enforcing their rights,” she said.
A Department of Communities spokesperson said that as of October 31, there are 2426 public housing properties in local government areas of Swan, Kalamunda, York and Northam with 36,536 across the whole state.
A further win for renters at the start of November came in the state government’s $24.4 million program to help financially vulnerable tenants remain in their private rental homes.
“The WA rent relief program will provide one-off payments to support renters who may be at risk of eviction, because they are in rental arrears and experiencing financial hardship,” Premier Roger Cook said.