Landmark decision for tenants living in squalid housing

Landmark decision for tenants living in squalid housing

Thursday, 8 September 2016

A Supreme Court decision will mean that more than 250,000 low-income Victorians in the private rental market are not forced to accept sub-standard, poor quality and sometimes dangerous housing.

The judgment has set new ground in clarifying tenants’ rights to expect that a rented home is maintained in ‘good repair’. The ruling means that even where a home is initially rented out in poor condition, landlords still have an obligation to address its defects to ensure that it is fit for occupation.

The decision also clarifies that this obligation still exists even where a property is rented at a low or discounted rate because of its condition.

The case challenged a 2014 decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) that if a home was rented out in poor condition from the outset, a landlord then had no obligation to bring it up to ‘good repair’.

That decision was successfully appealed at the Supreme Court by Victoria Legal Aid, acting on behalf of Ms Vikki Shields, a disability support pensioner. She had been struggling with mental illness and was living in her car before she took up tenancy in the dilapidated home.

Dan Nicholson Executive Director Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid said: ‘Like many low-income people Ms Shields had little bargaining power in the market and was desperate to put a roof over her head.

‘The property was in an appalling state. It had holes in walls and floors and water damage, was prone to flood damage and was sinking into one corner. Mould was so prevalent that it affected Ms Shields’ clothing and blankets.

‘It was rented out in filthy condition, was infested with rats, and at one point a window fell out due to rotting in its frame.’

Ms Shields said: ‘When you’ve been homeless, and there’s no housing that’s affordable, you reach rock bottom and would accept anything. I’d have slept in a cowshed at that point.

‘You feel like a second-class citizen. I kept trying to be grateful that I had anywhere to live at all, but I was embarrassed at the state of the house and afraid of being evicted if I asked for repairs.’

Mr Nicholson said: ‘This decision means that just because a person is on a low income, they do not have to put up with dreadful housing conditions and forego the right to a decent home. Adequate housing is a basic human right, and no one in Victoria should live in the conditions that Vikki Shields did for five years.’

He said the decision also highlights the need for minimum standards for rental properties to be clearly articulated in legislation so everyone clearly understands their rights and obligations.

‘The current review of the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act provides the opportunity for the government to do this, following the lead of places like Tasmania, Canada and the United Kingdom,’ Mr Nicholson said.

Dan Nicholson is available for interview.

Read the full judgment and media

Read the full judgment of the Supreme Court

Read Miki Perkins' article in The Age: '"We have to be treated like humans" Court's landmark ruling on rental rights' 8 September 2016.

Read our submissions to the review

Read our submissions to the Residential Tenancies Act Review.

Media contact

If you have a media enquiry email Senior Communications Advisor Kerrie Soraghan or phone (03) 9269 0660 or 0422 966 513.

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