Monday 14th March 2016
Almost a third of households in the remote aboriginal community of Papunya lodged claims for compensation in the Northern Territory Civil Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT) today. The claims come after the NT Department of Housing failed to repair urgent maintenance issues within legally-binding time frames.
14 individual claimants from the remote community are each seeking compensation, which will most likely take the form of rental abatement.
In Papunya families have been living with broken drains, electrical faults and ovens and showers that don’t work, among other issues, for months at a time.
Under the Residential Tenancies Act NT (Act) tenants have a right to apply for compensation where a Landlord has failed to comply with the Act.
Sammy Butcher, a spokesperson for Papunya community, said that tenants were not being looked after.
“We just want the NT Government to wake up,” he said. “Come on, we pay rent, we pay the same as everybody else. In Alice Springs, when people ask for something, it’s done straight away, but for us, it’s two or three months before somebody comes, sometimes longer.”
Papunya resident, Phillip Lane, said that prior to the threat of legal action, Department of Housing (DOH) had routinely ignored requests for repairs.
“It’s been like this for a long time,” Mr Lane said, “I ask them, I got a problem with my water and I got a problem with my house, can I get someone to help me? “They say, sorry, come back next week.”
Lawyer for the Papunya residents, Katie Gordon, says the conditions in the community have been dire.
“One family lived with no electricity down one side of their house for over 8 months, from March 2015 until December 2015, the Department were aware of the situation but nothing was done until the problem was reported to the Department through legal avenues.”.
“Tenants pay for a service they don’t receive, and now they are seeking redress.”.
In November last year, lawyers from Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) and Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights (ALRAR) surveyed the community, identifying over 300 outstanding repairs.
Over three-quarters of Papunya residents instructed CAALAS to pursue the NT Department of Housing in order to ensure that the repairs are done.
“We have been told by DOH they have completed all the repair requests but we visited the community last week and some things that were completed have already broken again – particularly air conditioners which are a major problem throughout summer in this desert heat,” said Ms Gordon.
The claims lodged by Papunya residents follow similar claims made last month by 70 households in Santa Teresa community. That claim, in respect to over 600 outstanding repair issues, is currently before the NTCAT.
ALRAR director, Daniel Kelly, who is representing Santa Teresa residents, says the DOH flooded the community with contractors in response to the legal action.
“The department is claiming to have completed over 500 repairs in the community, in a very short period. It was a dramatic response. We’re going through a process of verifying the works done, and then we’ll be turning to issues of compensation.”
Mr Kelly says further litigation from other remote communities is likely.
“People are frustrated, they are living in poor and overcrowded conditions, and they are forced to turn to NTCAT to exercise their rights. This has been a problem for a long time, and I think tenants are happy to be taking action.”
Aboriginal housing advocacy group Aboriginal Housing NT, is meeting in Katherine this week, where it is expected to make further calls for a more diverse, community-based remote housing model, and a response to chronic overcrowding.
Self-management over community housing was lost as a result of the Intervention and transferred to the NT Government.