Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tenancy culture studies: gnomes

Today, 21 June, is International Gnome Day (as if you didn't know). So it's the perfect occasion for considering the tenurial significance of these horticultural homunculi.

It is customary in some social circles for a tenant to receive from their friends a gnome as a housing-warming gift. This is, on one level, a bit of kitschy fun – but there's a deeper significance. The gnome is a symbol of the ambiguous position tenants occupy in relation to their gardens.

The ambiguity comes from the law. There's no specific mention of gardens in the Residential Tenancies Act 2010; 'grounds/gardens', along with 'lawns/edges' do get a mention in the standard form condition report, which uncomfortably shoehorns them into the 'clean/undamaged/working' matrix. Instead of anything specific, the relevant obligations are the usual ones – the landlord must provide and maintain the premises in a reasonable state of repair; the tenant must keep the premises reasonably clean, not cause or permit any damage, and vacate the premises in as nearly as possible the same condition save fair wear and tear – but it can be difficult to apply them to the terrain of the garden.

For example, the Tribunal has determined that the 'pruning' of trees falls under the tenant's obligation to keep clean, while the 'lopping' of trees falls under the landlord's obligation to repair and maintain. But at what point does pruning become lopping?

And is a garden to be considered a single, organic entity, parts of which may grow and die over time, such that the whole may change, as opposed to being a collection of discrete elements, each of which must be maintained and replaced?

The issue is made even more thorny by landlords' expectations. Your correspondent once represented in the Tribunal a tenant who had been bombarded by furious accusations from his landlord of dereliction in his duty to clean the little silver trails left by snails on the bricks (and never mind that the poor bloke had MS). But then, at the other end of the range, are those landlords who assume that tenants are entirely insensitive to the gentle rhythms of the earth, and themselves obliterate every bit of greenery and concrete over every spot of soil.

The gnome – a nature spirit that is never actually found in nature, and a garden ornament that is actually a gaudy lump of concrete or plaster – symbolises these tensions and ambivalences perfectly.


We should stress that the above applies to mainstream tenancies. In relation to tenancies on residential parks, gnomes have a very different significance. Here the gnome is a symbol of solidarity and resistance.

There's a story to this. Once upon a time, up the coast of New South Wales, lived a park operator, who was concerned that his residential park should have a certain tone. To that end he issued a decree – that is, a park rule – that no resident should keep on their residential site any garden gnome (a 'statue', on the other hand, was sufficiently classy and therefore permissible).

One day, an elderly resident of the park fell foul of the park operator and his sense of taste when she repaired her carport with materials that were not to his liking (she used hardiplank; 'no no NO!' shrieked the park operator, 'it must be vinyl!'). The resident sought advice from her local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service, who noticed amongst numerous other oppressive park rules the ban on gnomes. The matter of the carport proceeded to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal, which decided that it would conduct a view of the structure in question, and similar structures on the park. On the day of the view, other residents made a silent show of support for their neighbour, and a protest against the park operator's high-handed ways, by each exhibiting, in their windows and gardens, a gnome. With the park operator cowering beneath the baleful glare of dozens of gnomes, the Tribunal determined that the resident's carport works were entirely satisfactory, and that the park operator should back off.

And ever since, park residents and their advocates in the Park and Village Service and Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services have held aloft the gnome as a symbol of their struggle for a better deal for residents. In fact, look closely and you just might catch of glimpse of a gnome hidden deeply in any of PAVS's publications.

Whether you're an ambivalent gardener or defiant park resident, happy International Gnome Day.

1 comment:

  1. “gnome” infiltration at Mid Coast.

    This is about the dedication of the TAAP Network as well as gnomes being a symbol of resistance.

    An elderly resident (R ) of a Caravan Park approached our service about a problem regarding the erection of shade screens to her carport.
    The park manger (PM) gave verbal permission but after it was erected the bully PM threatened to pull it down. The builder had used hardiplank instead of vinyl.

    Reviewing a copy of the park rules we noticed some dodgy clauses including “gnomes are not permitted on residents sites” “statues are permitted”

    We lodged a Tribunal application on behalf of the R based on the premise that the manager had unreasonably refused permission for the carport alteration.

    We asked R whether she wished to challenge the rule about gnomes.
    In the meantime we asked the TAAP network what evidence we could produce in regard to the Gnomes rule.
    Great discussion ensued about whether or not a gnome was statue, whether or not the rule was fair and what sort of gnome would be good evidence in the CTTT.
    TAAP workers thought many gnomes should go to tribunal.

    Our service started to be flooded with gnomes in little boxes sent from other TAAP services with comments such as:
    “for your CTTT gnome case” ,
    “This one is beautiful “.
    “One from us with boobs”
    “Please take this farting gnome to the Tribunal.”
    “This one sings”
    Our client was too embarrassed to take any of them.
    At the first hearing, exchange orders were made and we asked the CTTT member to conduct the next hearing on the site to view the evidence. She agreed
    Our evidence exchange highlighted the gnome rule.

    We displayed the gnomes around the park for the day of the Tribunal hearing.
    Some scared residents would only put the gnomes in their windows others needed a guarantee that they could give them back.

    The CTTT member arrived, looked at the Rs dwelling carefully before asking to be shown similar structures around the park. There were gnomes everywhere. The look on the PM s face was priceless, all these little gnomes looking out from windows and gardens. He spent about ten seconds looking closely at one, his face twisted. Not a word was spoken
    The member went back to the Rs site and declared the PMs refusal was unreasonable.
    The builders work was of a high standard and the material used was suitable.
    The resident was ecstatic. YAY we won!!!!!!!!

    I congratulated the residents and argued that the power of gnomes had helped.
    I told them they could keep the gnomes/ statues to test out the rules.
    We would be happy to assist with a Gnome CTTT case if the PM issued breach notices
    Sadly, after that statement, the residents rushed to my car and threw all of the gnomes in the boot.
    They have moved to the office and are patiently waiting.
    Let us know if ever you need to borrow any.


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