by Older Persons Tenants' Service
OLDER PERSONS Tenants Service is an activity of CPSA. Recently it was funded for a further three years under the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program.
Tenants services existed as early as 1910 when the NSW Rent Payers Association acted as advocates for tenants in early cases before the Fair Rents Court.
Contemporary tenants’ services only appeared in the 1970s after the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty.
It recognised that landlord and tenant legislation was in many respects unfair to tenants, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.
The Tenants’ Union of NSW emerged in 1976 and has played a crucial role in lobbying for tenants.
From its establishment it built up a network of tenants’ services, initially relying on volunteers.
In 1986 the NSW Department of Housing funded a Housing Information and Tenancy Services (HITS) Program.
Under this program CPSA received funding for a Tenancy & Housing Information Unit.
This program has become the Tenants Advice and Advocacy Program (TAAP), now administered through the NSW Office of Fair Trading.
The Tenancy & Housing Information Unit is now called the ‘Older Persons Tenants' Service’.
The need for tenants’ services is as great now as it was in 1910, as tenants get pushed from pillar to post, with a shrinking private rental market and landlords extracting very high rents.
‘Affordability’ and ‘housing stress’ are now words in our lexicon. Older people, especially those in the private rental market, often are the most vulnerable.
Two recent cases handled by Older Persons Tenants' Service illustrate the complexities or the injustices of some of the cases that it takes on.
John’s Gully is a quiet valley at the end of the railway line out west.
Last century a mining company allowed its workers to build houses on its land.
Residents paid ground rent in the belief that they owned the houses.
Over time the houses were sold to other families.
Five of the current households have lived in this sleepy hollow for over 30 years.
Another one came, in the early 2000s, but paid a hefty sum when she bought her house.
In 2007 a local entrepreneur purchased the valley from the mining company for what city folk would regard as peanuts.
They then wrote to the residents with a series of options: pay increased rent, buy the land or go.
Some residents decided to buy.
But most were on the pension and one of these residents contacted Older Persons Tenants' Service (OPTS).
In 2005 the New South Wales Court of Appeal ruled on the legal status of residents who pay ground rent, but believe they own their land: such houses are fixtures and therefore the property of the owner of the land.
OPTS obtained a legal opinion from the barrister involved in the Court of Appeal decision.
It also engaged a solicitor whose costs were met by Legal Aid. But the local entrepreneur engaged a big town firm of solicitors. The solicitor of the residents convinced the big town firm that Meg and Bob, Richard their son, Alex, Silvia, Jack and Jill are protected tenants.
It was also agreed that Donna, the resident who came in 2000, and Bill, another resident who had lived there rent free for donkey’s years, should be placed on residential tenancy agreements. The residents agreed to a rent increase and OPTS organised the signing of ‘17A Agreements’ for the protected tenants (one of two legal ways of increasing the rent of a protected tenant) and negotiated leases for Donna and Bill. Bill has made an offer to buy his land.
Anoter case: Miranda is 56 years of age.
She lived in her Eastern Suburbs flat for over 30 years and made it a real home.
She works part-time and managed to pay a hefty rent of $400 per week by sharing with some old friends.
However, just recently the landlord placed the flat for sale on the market.
Unbeknownst to Miranda, he authorised the agent to enter the flat and take photos of the interior.
To her horror, she discovered that her bedroom and all her years of collecting, plus the contents of the rest of the house were on the internet for the whole world to view.
Clearly, the landlord breached the access provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act.
Nevertheless, the Act does not give the tenant, even one of many years’ standing, powers to negotiate around access when the premises are up for sale.
Miranda saw this as very disruptive.
However, she also wanted to be reasonable and was prepared to negotiate around times when she or a trusted friend could be present to safeguard her personal belongings. It is only reasonable that she and the landlord be placed on a more level playing field when it comes to negotiating.
If they can’t agree, she doesn’t want the landlord to give her notice and then charge in with a hoard of prospective buyers.
Clearly, the landlord and the agent had little respect for Miranda’s privacy.
Eventually the landlord sold the flat and then proceeded to issue a couple of invalid termination notices.
Third time right.
Miranda moved out.
However, the Office of Fair Trading currently is investigating the actions of the real estate agent in entering the premises in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act and placing photos on the internet. Hopefully, these will lead to prosecution.
Older Persons Tenants Service may be contacted on (02) 9566 1120 or for country callers FREECALL 1800 13 13 10.
Casework hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 10 to 4, and Wednesday 10 to 1.