Ismail's story - holding Ismail's community housing provider to account
Ismail was frustrated when he came to see us about an eviction notice he had received from his community housing landlord. Having received legal assistance from IMCL previously, he knew where he could go for help.
'I went to a housing support service, but they told me that my matter needed a lawyer. That's when I got in contact with IMCL.'
The threat of eviction and potential homelessness was particularly scary for Ismail as a single father caring for five children, and it was starting to take a toll on his mental health. Working two casual jobs meant that he could adjust his hours around the needs of his children, but he had fallen behind in rental payments due to the low and inconsistent income he received.
While assisting Ismail with his eviction notice, our tenancy lawyer, Louisa, discovered that he was owed compensation for a long-standing repair issue at his home, and assisted him to make a claim.
A leaking roof had caused flooding, rendering two bedrooms in the property unsafe for his children to sleep in. Despite reporting the issue to his community housing landlord many times over a period of two years, it was still not resolved.
Ismail told us that he '...felt like a basketball being handballed from one person to another. There was no accountability or consistency at all and I was told a lot of misleading information. They were getting away with it because they knew that I didn't know anything about the law.'
He also found it intimidating to take on his community housing landlord alone, telling us that: 'They make it seem like you're at fault when, in reality, you're not. They just get you in a corner and make you feel so nervous.'
As a community housing tenant, Ismail has fewer rights in comparison to public housing residents. This made resolving his repair and rent issues particularly complicated, but Louisa engaged in assertive advocacy to delay Ismail's eviction and make his claim for compensation.
Ismail was glad to have a lawyer on his side. He also noticed a sudden change in the behaviour of his community housing landlord when Louisa became involved.
'...once Louisa got involved, I got everything in writing. Before, they wouldn't call me back for two or three weeks, but then they started getting back to me straight away.'
Much to Ismail's relief, the claim was successful, and it was enough to clear his rent arrears. With his rental payments up to date, his eviction was withdrawn and he could continue to reside at the property with his children, without fear of becoming homeless.
Louisa continues to advocate for Ismail's transfer to a larger and more suitable property for him and his children.
'Having her by my side has changed a lot of things that I used to just accept. Now the agency I'm dealing with is listening to me and they can't take advantage of me anymore.'
Unfortunately, Ismail's problems are not unique among community housing tenants. His experience has taught him the importance of seeking help.
'It's important that people know they have rights as a tenant. I didn't know and I was scared to say anything or stand-up for myself. Just really know your rights and get someone from a CLC to actually look into your matter.'
As well as providing free legal help to individual tenants, IMCL has also recognised systemic issues within the community housing sector. Subsequently, we have been advocating for reform, including large scale investment in public housing and changes to community housing landlord policies to ensure all social housing tenants are treated fairly.
You can read more our advocacy in our submission to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria here.