Forced out during a health crisis: Renters' stories #MovingMonday
You might have seen via our social media that The Tenants' Union NSW is moving – because we've been evicted! We're an organisation and it doesn't affect our lives - or the smooth running of the TU - too much. But for residential renters eviction is a massive upheaval.
So we thought we'd take this opportunity to share renters' stories of eviction and moving via a series of #MovingMonday videos. We've already had three so far (if you missed them scroll down to the bottom of the page and feel free to catch yourself up!).
This week’s #MovingMonday highlights the stories of Amanda and Bassia, two renters who found themselves in awful situations and were ultimately forced to leave. Thankfully both Amanda and Bassia are in better living situations now, but it is shocking to hear how bad things got for them.
Acknowledgement and a very big thank you to Lauren Berends who undertook a social work placement at the Tenants' Union NSW from August through December 2020. Lauren helped to collect and document Amanda and Bassia's stories - as well as many other renters' experiences during COVID-19. We hope we'll be able to share some more of these stories with you in the next few weeks!
Amanda's story: 'At the beginning of the pandemic I faced an illegal eviction'
The property I rented was advertised in the Manly Daily as a studio granny flat for $380/week, completely furnished and in good condition. Sounded great.
After I signed the lease I immediately experienced difficulties with my landlord. The flat was a rumpus room that was in the backyard, with a terrace attached to the house’s balcony. This heavily impacted on my privacy. The rental did not have any kitchen facilities besides a sink. There was no oven, hot plate or stove and there were no windows for ventilation. The floor appeared to be old, dirty lino flooring that was glued to the ground and came up at points.
The landlords advertised a furnished environment; however, the furniture was old and dirty, and I ended up using my own money to replace the furniture. The landlords also used to store their belongings in my home, taking up up my shelves and storage areas. I approached them about this but they thought it was acceptable.
Throughout the tenancy I didn’t have a positive relationship with my landlord. If I was behind or short for rent, even by as little as $20, they would become abusive and would yell at me. I was too afraid to ask for any repairs because of the abuse. On occasion they entered my place when I was not home to take stuff, such as the heater. When my lease ran out, I felt pressured to resign for another lease, the landlords telling me if I didn’t I’d be out in a weeks’ time.
When Covid-19 restrictions started I lost income and couldn’t afford the rent. The landlords agreed to take it down to $360/week. This was still a lot for me, but I hoped I would be able to make rent somehow.
But in the last week of April I faced an illegal eviction. My application at Centrelink didn’t process in time for me to pay rent and I was going to be short. When I let my Landlord know I would be late to pay, she came straight to my property without notice, and started yelling in my face. I went inside the property to avoid her. She then progressed to banging on my front door, screaming at me and threatening to evict me. I started to panic, and felt very anxious. I had a witness call me at this time to check I was safe. The situation got worse, to point where I was so scared of how they were acting I felt forced to leave. That night I stayed in my car.
While I was away, the landlords entered my property and removed my kitchen doors and curtains. They went through my belongings, including my medical and legal papers. Later on, I discovered my new lease and documents relating to my rental negotiations were missing. I then received an email from them notifying me they had removed all my belongings, and had left them on the car port outside – many were dirty, ruined and broken.
I had contacted the police when after the threat of eviction, and the abuse I’d experienced. The police advised me to leave and to not come back to the property for my safety, so I was forced to enter emergency housing for 2 weeks.
I’ve just been to Tribunal about the eviction and experiences around it, and have another hearing in upcoming months. My experience has definitely had a lasting effect on my health. I feel physically sick to my stomach when I hear their names or hear their voices. I still have nightmares about the abuse I suffered. And their intimidation has continued over email and at Tribunal. This is not my first negative experience renting in NSW. However, it was my first time renting alone outside of sharehousing, and the experience left me feeling very insecure.
I am now renting a studio apartment that is in great condition and is very affordable. I’ve had a good friend help me to decorate it, and she has helped me keep strong throughout this journey. I’m much happier now.
Bassia's story: When a rent reduction isn't a reduction at all
Earlier this year I rented a property in Rockdale for around 3 – 4 months. The property was completely uninhabitable. The electricity cut out numerous times a day, there was significant mould and a pest infestation, no hot water, no kitchen appliances and when we moved in the property was extremely dirty.
Soon after we moved in COVID-19 hit, and my partner and I both lost our income due to the crisis. We approached our landlord to ask for a 50% reduction to our rent – a waiver, not a deferral. We were really clear about this in our request, and provided all the relevant financial information that we were asked for. We also reported the issues that needed to be fixed in the property. The landlord agreed to the reduction and we established a plan of when I would start paying the negotiated reduced price.
A little while after this the landlord was exposed to a close contact of Covid-19 and needed to isolate for two weeks. During that time, I was approached by the real estate agent. They informed me I was in rental arrears of $4000. This was really confronting as I believed we had a clear agreement for a reduction of 50%, not a deferral. I refused to pay the arrears. On the 12th of July I received a letter telling me I had 12 days to move out. I also received an email informing me the landlord was taking me to the Tribunal over the rental arrears. My partner and I moved into a new property and prepared for the hearing.
For months my partner and I gathered evidence showing the bad state the property was in when we moved in and the costs involved to clean it and make it liveable (to bring it to a minimum standard. We also collected together the evidence to show we had entered into an agreement for a rental reduction (not a deferral). Our real estate agent had also advised us to use our superannuation money to pay rent, which we’d done - and now we’ve been left with no super.
On the date of the hearing, I was at home waiting for the hearing to commence – all hearings were by phone. After a couple of hours, I called NCAT to check to see why they hadn’t called. The landlords had pulled the case and I’d been given no notification. I subsequently found out the landlord had claimed my bond in full, received an insurance settlement for the arrears they claimed I’d built up and had released the property to new tenants without addressing any of the issues we’d raised with them. I still want to take the landlord to NCAT to challenge their keeping my full bond.
We had another very bad experience renting in the next property. The landlord was intimidating and a bully, and the apartment was also of a really poor standard. But we’d felt forced to accept the place because of the eviction we were facing at Rockdale. The abuse and bullying - at the first, and then in this next tenancy - really had an impact on my mental health.
Luckily I am now renting a sustainable, clean home I’m very happy with. I believe renting can be good, but for young people especially it is very easy to be taken advantage of. There are not enough protections for renters. I believe there should be a ‘black list’ system – similar to the Tenancy Databases for renters – for landlords and real estate agents. I wish I could alert new renters to the state of the property, and the experience I had with the landlord.
If your rental is in a terrible state of repair or you are facing an eviction, have a look at the links below for some great resources. And reach out to your local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service for further support and assistance.