Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Congratulations, NSW tenants

Thanks to a small amount of the interest earned by the government's investment of your bond money, Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services will continue to operate in New South Wales.

The loss of the Parks and Village Service and the Older Persons Tenants Service will hurt these services, as it will hurt the tenants and park residents who have directly or indirectly relied upon their expertise over the years. But the continuation of Fair Trading's Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program - and the TAASs that it funds - gives cause for a momentary cheer.

There's been no increase in the funds available to the program, so TAASs will still be delivering their services at a cost of just three cents a day to each tenant household in NSW. It's money well spent. Despite the tight budgets within which they operate, TAASs do great work. They are local, they're on the ground, and they make a difference in the communities they serve.

Not long ago we held our annual TAAPstar awards ceremony, where we acknowledge the good work that the TAASs do. These awards are hotly contested. The many nominations always inspire us, and remind us of the ever present need for the work that Tenants' Advocates do. Here are some examples:

- New England and Western TAAS assisted a tenant who had arrears in the thousands - the tenant’s mother had been diagnosed with leukaemia and hospitalised in Newcastle. The tenant’s regular trips to Newcastle had left her unable to afford the rent. She was issued with a termination notice, and the landlord had applied to the Tribunal to enforce it. The tenant agreed to vacate the property, but she couldn't afford to pay the arrears in a lump sum. With the support of an Advocate in conciliation, the tenant negotiated with the real estate agent who agreed to a repayment plan of $30 per week.

- South Western NSW TAAS heard from a number of tenants who were being charged by the local Community Housing Provider (CHP) for repairs at the end of their tenancy, including costs that they did not believe they were responsible for. The CHP was adding an 'admin fee' to the bill, which was based on a percentage of the costs claimed. An Advocate represented these tenants at the Tribunal, and the Tribunal did not allow this admin fee at any of the hearings attended. The Advocate wrote to the CHP explaining why they should not charge this fee. The CHP’s solicitor wrote to the TAAS, stating why they believed they could charge this fee. Then with assistance from the Tenants' Union, the Advocate wrote to the Registrar of Community Housing, who engaged with the CHP about whether it was valid to claim this admin fee. As a result of these enquiries, the CHP is no longer adding an admin fee to claims for costs of end-of-tenancy repairs.

- Inner West TAAS was approached by two tenants who had been living in their property for over twenty years. They had recently made a complaint to the landlord about ongoing building works in the unit block. In reply, the landlord issued a hefty rent increase and a no grounds notice of termination. With assistance from the TAAS, they applied to the Tribunal for an order that the termination notice was 'retaliatory'. The landlord withdrew the termination notice, but pressed on with the rent increase. The TAAS assisted in obtaining summonses for the tenancy agreements of every other unit in the block. Those agreements showed what the tenants had suspected – that they were being singled out for a grossly excessive rent increase. The matter went to final hearing and the Tribunal did not allow the rent increase.

The ongoing funding of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services means that examples like these will continue every day, in every part of New South Wales, for years to come. Congratulations, tenants. It's money well spent.

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