When did you start working as a Tenant Advocate and what led you to take on that job?
I started with Live Better (formally known as Orange Community Resource Organisation – OCRO) in February 2002. I was working for the Home Modification and Maintenance Service within the company as an Administration Assistant. The CEO at the time thought that I would be up for the challenge of being a Tenant Advocate. Unfortunately, OCRO decided not to continue with the funding at the end of the financial year. VERTO took over the Service’s area and I was employed with them on a 3-month contract which then led to me becoming permanent.
What are some of the most memorable stories – the best and the worst experiences?
My worst memory is having to tell a family that they would be homeless in two weeks even though they had done nothing wrong. This family had been given a No Grounds Notice of Termination and although they had been applying for houses, had not been approved for a house at the time of the Tribunal hearing. I later found out that they had found a property shortly before the date of termination by the Tribunal.
Another bad experience was a gentleman living in a tent as he and his wife had split up and he could not afford the rent by himself as he had also recently lost his job. No one would rent to him as he had a large amount of rent arrears because of his situation.
I was also “cursed” by a lovely elderly lady because I helped a tenant get all her rent back – because the landlord was not allowed to rent the property out until she had installed fire proofing to the house she had subdivided.
What have been the challenges you've faced, particularly as a regional worker?
Travel is a big challenge for regional services, as well as access to the internet and mobile phone coverage – for both myself (when travelling) and for clients.
The Tribunal no longer holds hearings in smaller towns and now expects tenants in regional areas to travel to larger towns. Hearings can be held 100 km away but most of our clients do not have a car or the money for petrol to get there and public transport would mean either a stay overnight or does not exist. One example was that the hearing location was 80 km from the tenant’s house but would take her 6 hours each way to attend!
Most smaller towns have only one or two real estate agents. If the agents do not like you or your family, or have “heard things” about you, then you are not going to get a property in the town. This leads quickly to homelessness, unemployment and desperation.
You have helped a lot of people stay in their homes over the years, what does “home” mean to you?
Home is where my family is. I moved a bit as a child so a building is only part of “home.”
What’s next for you?
After a break, I will be out looking for work again in this industry so that I can continue to use my knowledge and skills to help tenants keep their home, even if it is by working for landlords.