Friday, September 12, 2014

Boarding House Residents Stories: Tony

Welcome to our series of Boarding House Residents Stories exploring a range of residents experiences in boarding houses. The stories have been collected and written by Sally Chalmers, Resources & Development, Boarding House Services, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.

Within minutes of talking to Tony for the first time, he has painted you a clear picture of how he came to be in Newtown renting a single room in a boarding house for $172/week. This is the first boarding house he has ever lived in and he has now been there for around 12 months. There are 13 rooms in this house.

Serving in (and surviving) Vietnam may have contributed to his ability to battle on despite what comes his way. Now 63, his life’s ups include two marriages, having children and a successful career, but these positives have been punctuated by very difficult times such as caring for his ill wife, being widowed, surviving cancer, and his more recent separation from his second wife and young child.

Tony’s relationship breakdown, separation and his subsequent poor financial position meant that boarding house accommodation was the only real option for him at this point in his life. He currently receives a government Newstart allowance, more than half which he spends on rent. While his rental history would have given him access to the private market, the bond plus the setting-up costs of private, unfurnished accommodation was well beyond his means.

When he first arrived he was shocked at the condition of the house. He felt it was unclean, had a ‘fierce’ odour, and there was much disrepair in the communal living areas – particularly the bathrooms and kitchen which he still won’t enter due to the horrific state they are in.

The manager (an elderly male resident) does not engage in any regular cleaning or arranging repairs so many areas are damaged, rundown and dirty. Appliances, the water heater and gas stoves are often broken. Loose power cords and over-filled power points are a common sight.

Tony himself cleaned the top bathroom for almost a month just to get it up to a standard where he felt he could shower there. Tony regularly washes his bedding and uses two cans of insecticide per fortnight to keep the bed bugs at bay.

He still gets bitten.

When asked about the other residents in the house, Tony shakes his head. He advises that when entering a boarding house, people need to be prepared for dysfunction and residents regularly using medications or drugs and alcohol. He believes that 80% or moreof the residents have absolutely no idea about respect for others (or themselves). Most of them don’t work, and spend little time outside of the premises.

Since living here he has experienced antisocial behaviour, violence and unreasonable levels of noise. The police are called to the house regularly to settle disputes between residents. The manager is nowhere to be found when this occurs.

This Newtown boarding house was easy to access, affordable, close to amenities and gives him his independence while he sorts out his other priorities. He feels that his current position is only temporary, making him able to accept the not-so-acceptable living standards. He feels that the duty of care of the operator is ‘next to nothing’.

Tony is keen to take legal action regarding the unacceptable conditions in the house, and knows what he needs to do. However, Tony has chosen to do this when he is ready to leave, because of his fear of being evicted instantly for standing up to the landlord. He has seen this happen to several residents since he arrived. He is optimistic that his current housing status is not forever so is staying positive and making the best of his situation.

Tony's story originally appeared in the Tenant News #107. For more information on boarding houses, why not subscribe to Onboard, our new e-bulletin all about Boarding Houses? For individual advice about issues in a boarding house, or any tenancy issues, contact your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service.

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