New reforms should stop public housing tenants being slugged unreasonable costs for damages and repairs, writes the Victorian Public Tenants’ Association’s Raoul Wainwright.
Over 5,000 Victorian families vacate public housing properties each year, and many of them are saddled with massive maintenance bills for matters that are not their responsibility. For many former tenants, the debt means it is impossible for them to get back into public housing. Many have also had problems with debt collectors.
Last year, the Victorian Ombudsman launched an ‘Own Motion’ investigation into this issue. This was welcomed by the Tenants Union of Victoria, community legal centres, Justice Connect, Legal Aid and the Victorian Public Tenants Association, who all provided the Ombudsman with real life examples of tenants who had been overcharged.
Today, that investigation has been concluded and the Ombudsman has tabled her report in the Victorian Parliament. The report contains 18 recommendations for change, all of which have been immediately accepted by the Office of Housing.
The main thrust of the report is that issues between the tenant and the Government should be able to be resolved efficiently and amicably, without the need for litigation.
In recent years, the Office of Housing has essentially outsourced their decision making to VCAT. Between 2013–14 and 2015–16 the Office of Housing was the largest individual litigant of residential tenancy claims.
On its own, the Office of Housing comprised over 20 per cent of the VCAT Residential Tenancies List, about a third of the total matters brought by all real estate agents representing private landlords combined.
— Victorian Ombudsman (@VicOmbudsman) October 30, 2017
This is despite the Office of Housing as a landlord only being responsible for about 12 per cent of Victorian rental tenancies. Of the 15,990 public housing tenancies vacated over that period, the department submitted 5,866 (37 per cent) applications to VCAT relevant to vacant tenancy maintenance claims.
Just today, Office of Housing have 49 applications against public housing tenants listed in VCAT.
One recommendation relates to a simple reform that housing advocates have identified for some time: end of tenancy property inspections.
Through improvements in processes, training and workloads, it is hoped that this waste of public resources can be reduced and public housing tenants will stop being slugged unreasonable costs for damages and maintenance.