Published on Tuesday 11, June 2019

Our tenancy work

“Housing is so fundamental to how we participate in society,” says Louisa, one of IMCL’s Senior Lawyers who specialises in tenancy law.

Having worked as a housing advocate for ten years, both as a housing support outreach worker and as a tenancy community lawyer, Louisa has seen firsthand how central housing is to creating a fair society.

“So many of the difficulties people face in their lives stem from the fact that their housing is unstable or too costly”, she continues. 

That’s why she’s passionate about using the law to empower people like Jack to fulfil their rights.

Since January 2019 she’s been IMCL’s Senior Tenancy Lawyer. Whilst she’s a generalist lawyer, most of her work is housing related, reflecting the high level of tenancy law need among residents of the inner-city area. In just the last year, IMCL has seen 103 people with problems connected to their housing.

“The gentrification and cafes around North Melbourne belie a much more complex local community,” she explains.

Our public housing work

12% of residents in North Melbourne and Carlton live in public housing. That’s compared to only 2% of residents in Victoria.

IMCL targets these public housing residents, knowing they experience a range of characteristics that make them vulnerable to experiencing legal problems and less likely to get help.

To make it easier for the residents to see us, we run an outreach clinic at the NMLLC at the base of North Melbourne flats.  We also go to the Carlton Baths to reach residents of the four buildings that make up the Carlton Housing Estate, in partnership with Family Services. Soon, IMCL will be setting up another clinic at the base of 480 Lygon Street in partnership with the Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre.

“An aspect of the work that I really like is being able to connect directly with people in the public housing estates and getting to know those communities,” she says.

In the last year, half of IMCL’s tenancy clients lived in public housing. One third of those clients came to us needing transfers due to issues connected to safety, health and overcrowding.

“Unfortunately, because of the limited supply of stock, there’s not always much we can do and people can remain on the wait list for years,” says Louisa. For this reason she says it’s so important that we continue to grow public housing. You can sign up to our sector’s campaign calling for more public housing here.

A smaller proportion, about 15%, came to us because they were at risk of eviction.

“We’re typically able to hold the public landlord to their legal obligations and policy objectives to negotiate good outcomes for these residents that maintain their tenancies and compel the state to make repairs or pay compensation,” says Louisa. “This is owing to a robust set of policies and procedures,” she goes on to explain.

Often however, the residents can’t do these negotiations alone and this is where lawyers like Louisa offer a guiding hand.

Due to redevelopment of the Abbotsford Street Public Housing Estate in North Melbourne, another third of our public residents sought help with their relocation and right to return. We’ve been working with them to provide greater certainty and ensure their housing rights aren’t eroded. You can read more about that here. 

Our community housing work

IMCL also have a high number of people in community housing in our area. 1 in 20 of all Victorian residents in community housing live in our catchment alone.

We’ve helped clients in community housing like Jack, who has been living with a severe pest infestation that his landlord refused to remedy. We were forced to take the matter to VCAT and it remains ongoing. You can read his story here.

“We’re seeing some clear and troubling trends with this community housing work,” explains Louisa.

“We’re seeing a higher proportion of community housing residents coming to us with eviction and repairs issues than we're seeing with public housing residents.”

Concerningly, IMCL has observed a practice of compliance orders being issued which progress to formal notices to vacate. This is usually on the basis of resident behaviour, often a consequence of mental health issues.

“Their policies are not designed to sustain tenancies. Rather they are using eviction as a way to manage difficult behaviours, rather than as a measure of last resort. They’re pushing people with complex needs who need housing and support onto the streets. The public landlord knows they can’t do that as the housing provider of last resort.”

IMCL has also found that attempts to negotiate outcomes with community housing providers are often futile, forcing us to use formal tribunal and review processes to resolve issues.

“It’s resource intensive and stressful for our clients, like Jack,” says Louisa. “Those resources would be better spent on resolving resident issues in the first instance.”

IMCL is hearing from other Community Legal Centres (CLCs) that this a systemic issue.

“What we can conclude is that people are worse off in community housing across the board than they are in public housing,” says Louisa. “It’s unfair and we need reform.”

To address this, IMCL is working with our peak body and other CLCs to get to the root of the issue and create stronger community housing. You can read about that work here.

“We’re trying to ensure that community housing residents have the same framework of protections as those in public housing,” says Louisa.  

Our private tenancy work

IMCL also helps people in private accommodation, with a focus on prioritising people experiencing family violence. Most of these clients come to us through our family violence duty lawyering service at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. They typically require assistance to use family violence provisions in tenancy law that enable lease agreements to be changed in order to protect people from perpetrators.

How to access our service

To find out how to access our tenancy and other service areas, go to our website here.