Friday, March 11, 2016

Update on asbestos testing, compensation scheme

Last week, The Brown Couch published a piece outlining a NSW Fair Trading scheme to identify, purchase, and demolish homes containing toxic loose-fill asbestos. Fair Trading's Loose-Fill Asbestos Implementation Taskforce have since clarified some ambiguities about how tenants of affected dwellings may be impacted.

Above: advertisement for 'Mr Fluffy', responsible for installation of the substance 

Most notable is the question of relocation assistance. The fact sheet addressing compensation under the scheme provides that up to $1000 is available per tenant "named on the residential lease". This proviso seemingly excludes those who are considered tenants under the Residential Tenancies Act, but do not have a written agreement between themselves and a landlord. However, relocation assistance will in fact be provided to tenants with oral and/or implied agreements, as well as sub-tenants with written agreements, if they can provide the Asbestos Taskforce with evidence of their status as tenants. Such applications for relocation assistance will be assessed on a case by case basis. 

Also left open was the question of how an owner that had agreed to Government purchase of affected land would go about terminating a tenancy agreement over the property. This is especially pertinent as a landlord cannot terminate a fixed-term tenancy agreement because the property has been sold unless their intention to sell was disclosed before the tenancy agreement was made. The Taskforce has provided  termination will be affected according to the ordinary means available under the Residential Tenancies Act. 

This leaves open the possibility that affected tenants with fixed-term agreements may negotiate the terms of any agreement to end the tenancy early. However, it will of course remain open to landlords to terminate fixed-term tenancies at the conclusion of the term, and to terminate periodic tenancies without grounds

It also appears possible that either tenant or landlord may be able to terminate on the grounds that the agreement has been 'frustrated', because the property is uninhabitable. 

Tenants that suspect their home may be affected should contact their local Tenants' Advice and Advocacy Service for assistance. Contact details for the general services operating in Local Government Areas identified as containing homes with loose-fill asbestos are as follows:

- Illawarra and South Coast Tenants Service: 4274 3475
- Northern Sydney Area Tenants' Service: 8198 8650
- Southern Sydney Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service: 9787 4679
- South Western NSW Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service: 1300 483 786
- Western Sydney Tenants' Service: 8833 0933

Aboriginal tenants may also contact the following services:

- Greater Sydney Aboriginal Tenants Service: 9696 0873
- Southern NSW Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service (Murra Mia): 4472 9363
- Western Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service: 6884 0969

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