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News from the Tenants' Union ACT
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Tenants' News

News from the Tenants' Union ACT

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Editorial


May is almost here.  How did that happen?  The weather has helpfully already turned our minds to the need to make sure our homes are heated as well and efficiently as possible.  To this end we have included below some useful tips for energy (and money) saving as well as some guidance about what to do when heating and hot water services break down.

Other elements of this first newsletter for 2015:
  1. What's on @ TUACT
  2. Staff update - we are looking for TAS worker
  3. International Tenants Day Art Competition
  4. Housing and Tenancy in the News
  5. News from the community sector
  6. Renting in winter
  7. Training
  8. Tips on tenancy
  9. Tenants Advice Service
Warm regards,
Your Tenants' Union
 

What's on @ TUACT


Review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997


















After making submissions to the ACT Government's review of the Act back in October 2014 we have been told by the Justice and Community Safety Directorate that they expect to be holding community consultation on proposed changes in the first half of 2015. The TU is preparing some further materials to assist the Directorate including examples of the wide range of occupancy agreements that we have seen through our advice service. Many of these agreements have harsh and unreasonable terms and the TU will continue to advocate for more protection for occupants who are often the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our community.

Canberra South
After some tense weeks before Christmas, reports have emerged that the Canberra South Motor Park, home to many long term elderly residents will not be sold as soon as we had been told. While this means there will not be any major changes to the Park in the near future, the residents there still have no security of tenure. The TU is continuing to advocate with the ACT Government through the review of the Residential Tenancies Act for better protections for occupants, including caravan park residents. More in the Canberra Times here.

More Band For Your Bond -  campaign of the NSW Tenants' Union

From TUNSW:
Total funding to TAASs has not increased in real terms for over 12 years. However, the number of tenants has grown by 25 per cent over that time. This has left TAASs stretched thin. Increasingly, tenants are missing out on the services they need and deserve. We're calling for funding to TAASs to be increased now by $5.2 million per annum — and going forward, funding for TAAS should grow in line with the number of tenants in New South Wales. More here.




The TUACT supports the NSW TU in their "More Bang For Your Bond Campaign. 
 

Staff Update

New Principal Solicitor
Great news is that we have a new Principal Solicitor, Vanessa Faulder.  Vanessa started with us at the beginning of February and joins the TU with a wealth of ACT tenancy law experience from her previous position at Canberra Community Law (previously Welfare Rights & Legal Centre).

Position vacant -  Phone Adviser (paralegal) / Project Worker
In not so great news, on Friday we farewell Adelaide Rief, our fantastic TAS Advice/Project Worker as she moves to follow dreams of  things much more artistic and creative than tenancy law.  We are therefore seeking applications for people who are keen to join the TU team.  Details of the position:

12 Months Full-time
 The main requirements of the position are:
  • Staff the Tenants’ Advice Service phone line to assist tenants in the ACT.
  • Follow up inquiries by further research as necessary.
  • Undertake work on related projects outside advice hours.
 Enquiries:  For copies of the Duty Statement and Selection Criteria, phone 6247 1026, email: info@tenantsact.org.au, or website
 
Applications must address the Selection Criteria and be received by Wednesday 6 May 2015.

 

International Tenants' Day Update



Leo Francois  - First Prize winner of the 2014 International Tenants Day Art Competition

Though it is still early on in the year the ITD Committee at the TU have been hard at work, nutting out the theme for the 2015 Art Competition.  We are pleased to announce that after much use of the thesaurus and and some laughs at silly tenancy puns the theme for the 2015 ITD Art Competition is Rental? Home? Sanctuary?

The theme asks participants to express their response to the question posed by the theme, and to explore the different ways a rental property is and can be seen by the community and government. Is your property just a rental, some bricks, mortar, poor insulation and crummy heating? Or is it a home, a place where you come home after a long day at work, where you share meals with family and friends, create memories and rest your head at night? Or is it a sanctuary, a place where you can escape from the pressures of modern life, long hours at work, or a violent partner? 

Works submitted to the exhibition will be shown at the Belconnen Arts Centre from 25 September to 18 October with the Grand Opening on 25 September at 5pm. More information and entry forms coming soon!

This year we will also be presenting a whole host of other events alongside the Art Competition including an evening of food, music and poetry at the ANU Food Co-op, a film screening and a social media selfies project. Keep your eye on the TU Facebook and website for more details!

Housing and Tenancy News


Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act for Mr Fluffy homes
Recent changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 allow either a tenant or a landlord to terminate a residential tenancy agreement where the residential premises contain, or have contained, loose fill asbestos insulation (‘Mr Fluffy’). The amendments ONLY apply to Mr Fluffy homes NOT to homes with any other type of asbestos.

KEY DETAILS
  • The changes to the Residential Tenancies Act apply only to Mr Fluffy affected properties.
  • Notice to terminate a residential tenancy agreement under these provisions must be given to the other party in writing.
  • A tenant must give at least two (2) day’s notice to the landlord if terminating a tenancy using these provisions.
  • A landlord must give at least one (1) week’s notice to the tenant if terminating a tenancy using these provisions.
A Relocation Assistance Grant is available to assist eligible tenants who need to move to new living arrangements. This Grant can provide a lump sum payment of up to $10,000 per household plus $2,000 per dependent child living in the affected property. More on the grants here

Tenants should seek advice before proceeding to terminate their tenancy agreements. FAQ on asbestos in rental homes available here.

Canberra housing crisis


Photo: Rohan Thomson via Canberra Times
"Canberra has no affordable housing options for young people or single parents on welfare payments, Anglicare's 2015 Rental Affordability Snapshot has found. So bad is the state of Canberra's youth housing, the closest the report's authors could find to an available affordable home for the demographic was a room in Turner listed as a lounge room for $80 a week...Student and single mother of two Tilleah Roselli, 21, who lived on the streets for years as a teenager, has seen the crisis firsthand..." More here.

Canberra's high rents creating housing crisis
"
Canberra's wealth is hiding a housing crisis, with the ACT having the second-highest homelessness rate in the country, second only to the Northern Territory, according to a new report."  Full article here.  Please note an error in the article reporting reporting that only 1000 Canberra households are in housing stress when the report states it is upwards of 13,500.  A copy of the report by ACT Shelter and ACTCOSS, here

Northbourne housing residents to be moved by mid-2016
"Public housing tenants on Northbourne Avenue are likely to be relocated by mid-2016, as the ACT Government pushes forward with the redevelopment of the light rail corridor." More here.

Owen Flats eviction brings hope of a better life

At the age of 51, it's not easy to convince an employer to take her on, but she's started a course in business administration, says Owen Flats resident Maree Pavloudis. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Photo: Rohan Thomson via Canberra Times
"A nice place with quieter neighbours, a newer flat in better condition, that's all I want. To know I'll be there as long as I want, somewhere I can just be happy where I am." More here.

Common Ground to open soon!



Common Ground Canberra is set to open in a short month or so and hopes to be welcoming it's first residents soon after! A community open day on 11 April showcased the amazing facilities that will be available to residents including beautiful light filled apartments furnished by IKEA, shared living rooms, kitchen and art spaces. An incredible space that shows respect to those who have experienced homelessness and will give them the opportunity to live with dignity. Those interested in living at Common Ground should contact Housing ACT. More here

Cost of living for students


Photo: Melissa Adams via Canberra Times
"International students studying in the ACT are finding it difficult to get basic amenities such as decent housing and a well-paying job, according to student groups.

Up to one in five students at Canberra universities is an international student, adding up to more than 7500 territory-wide, but students from the Australian National University and the University of Canberra say they are being left behind." More here.

News from the community sector


Reversal of funding cuts to CLCs

The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) welcomes the announcement made by the Commonwealth Attorney-General today that the funding cuts to community legal centres (CLCs) included in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) 2013, will be reversed.

“The announcement today shows that the Abbott Government has heard the calls from the community that free legal help for people experiencing disadvantage is essential and must continue,” said Michael Smith, NACLC Chairperson." More here.


Law Week 2015

National Law Week is an annual event held in May across Australia. Law Week’s goal is to promote public understanding of the law and its role in society. The theme of National Law Week for 2015 is “Magna Carta: Commemorating 800 years”.

Locally, Law Week seeks to raise donations for a Canberra charity. From 2013 to 2015, Law Week is supporting the ACT Law Society Foundation, which is an enduring fund that assists local charities and other worthy causes.

Law Week events are developed to include people from diverse backgrounds, organisations and perspectives. The wider Canberra community is invited to attend Law Week events which include the Law Week Launch, public lectures including the annual Sir Richard Blackburn Lecture, a Mock Trial organised by the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions, Will Awareness talks, and tours of the ACT Supreme Court. More here.
 

Proposed changes to DV laws
"The ACT Government will introduce legislation later this year to include strangulation as an offence and also allow prosecutors to use victims' initial statements to police as evidence.

Currently offenders can only be prosecuted for choking or strangulation if there was evidence they tried to render the victim unconscious.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the Government also wants to allow a victim's initial statement to police to be permitted as evidence in court" More here.
 

Divorce clinic for women of diverse cultural backgrounds launched in Canberra
"Canberra women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, who are trapped in troubled or violent marriages, are set to have access to free legal services to help them get a divorce.

A new clinic run by the Women's Legal Centre ACT will provide specialised advice and legal representation to women from different cultures who face significant challenges as they try to navigate a foreign legal system and end their marriages" More here.


Payday lending
"Narrowly framing one financial symptom of current society – payday lending – to be a problem resolvable through tighter regulation lets the Australian government off the hook, airbrushes away the real financial struggles of low income earners, and offers no viable strategy to resolve their financial crises." More here.

Renting in winter

Winter energy saving tips
With an average minimum temperature of less than 1oC and average maximum of 13oC, winter in Canberra is a season of cold nights, frosty mornings and typically clear, sunny days.   
These winter energy saving tips could help you save money and reduce your energy use.
  1. Make sure that your home keeps in as much heat as possible.  Use door snakes and door and window seals to stop cold air coming and warm air leaking out.
  2. Open curtains and blinds during the day and close them at night.  For every 2 square metres of window, the sun’s rays shining through is like having a one-bar radiant heater running.
  3. Wear extra clothes to stay warm.  Keep room temperatures comfortable between 17-19oC and use a hot water bottle or heated throw rug if you need extra heat.
  4. Only heat the rooms you are using and close off rooms that are not being used. 
  5. Set a timer rather than having a heater run all day and night.  Turn it on 30 minutes before you get up or get home.
Low income households can receive a free home visit through the Outreach Energy and Water Efficiency Program*.  An energy efficiency officer will visit your home and provide advice and education on how to save energy and water.  For more information or to see if you are eligible, please contact one of the following organisations:
 
Belconnen Community Service - 6264 0200
Communities@Work - 6293 6500 or 6126 9000
Northside Community Service - 6257 2255
The Society of St Vincent de Paul - 6234 7424
YWCA of Canberra - 6173 7100
 
For information about other programs visit http://www.actsmart.act.gov.au/
 
*The Program is funded by the ACT Government.
 
Free energy saving house calls providing door seals, standby power controllers and energy efficient light bulbs are also being offered to all residents in the ACT.  To find out more call 1300 789 002 or visit https://www.actewagl.com.au/energyefficiency
 

Training


TENANTS’ UNION ACT provides FREE weekly information sessions for tenants.



The sessions are designed to empower tenants with information about common issues and strategies for how to resolve problems. The sessions will focus on our two most commonly raised issues, bond disputes and breaking a lease. Tenants or community workers can attend these sessions. 

A list of session dates/times and the topics they will cover is available on the TU website here. The sessions will be held in the TU offices in Turner, will run for 45 minutes and occur twice weekly on Wednesday lunchtimes (12:30pm).

Sessions are FREE. Bookings are required.  To make a booking for the session the tenant or their support worker can book via the form on the website, call the TU on 6247 1026 or send an email to info@tenantsact.org.au.

Tenants can still call the Advice Service on 6247 2011 between 10am and 11:30am weekdays to leave a message to receive a call back. If they are inquiring about bond dispute or break lease issue we may refer them to the information sessions where appropriate. 
 

Tips on tenancy



Winter approaches and the calls about hot water systems breaking down and heating not working start to increase here at the TU.  We've developed some tips for dealing with urgent repairs to essential services.

The tenancy agreement says that some repairs should be considered urgent, often because they affect the safety or liveability of the property. Repairs required to cooking facilities, hot water and heating will often be urgent repairs. The landlord or agent must have urgent repairs done as soon as necessary depending on what the problem is.
  1. Report the issue as soon as possible to your real estate agent or landlord.
    • If you report the problem over the phone, always follow up with an email, SMS or letter to confirm your report. A template is available here.
    • if relevant, take a photo or video of the repair issue and send that to the landlord or agent
    • Describe the problem in sufficient detail to assist the landlord or agent to get the appropriate tradesperson in ASAP e.g. "the hot water lasts for about 2 minutes and then takes about 2 hours to heat up again 
  2. Allow the landlord or real estate agent a reasonable time to get the problem fixed.
    • It is often hard to decide how much time to allow for an urgent repair. You should consider what the problem is and what other facilities you have access to in the meantime. So if your hot water doesn't work at all, that might be an urgent repair that needs attention within 1-2 days. If however, 1 hot plate is broken but you do have use of the other hot plates, this will be less urgent. 
  3. If the repair is not done within a reasonable time then send a notice to remedy to the landlord or agent. 
    • A sample notice to remedy template can be found here
    • It is a good idea to send an email or a letter with the notice to remedy to remind your landlord or agent what the issue is. Refer to your previous report of the repair and state that according to clause 59 and 60 of your tenancy agreement that the repair are urgent and need to be attended to.
    • While a notice to remedy usually requires that you allow 14 days for an repair to be attended to - for an urgent repair you can put a shorter time frame depending on what the problem is.
  4. If the repair is still not done then you can make an urgent application to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order that the repairs are done and also potentially for a rent reduction to reflect that you have not been getting the benefit of facilities you are paying rent for.
For more information you can find our fact sheet on repairs here and applications to the Tribunal here.

No matter how bad the problem is it is NEVER okay to stop paying rent as this puts you in breach of your agreement and can result in eviction.
 

Tenants' Advice Service

The above changes in staffing will have a significant impact on our small service and there will be some disruption to the advice service.   We are a very small service and will be losing our only full-time advice worker.  Until we have recruited and trained a new worker we will be doing as much as we can to try to meet the demand for tenancy advice.however it will mean our capacity will obviously be affected.

We understand the difficulties that people have in trying to access the TAS, and the frustration that people can experience with delays with reaching the service.  Below we have outlined how we operate the TAS line in order to try and assist as many people as possible.

Our process: 
  • The advice line is a message bank only and is open between 10 and 11.30am Mon – Fri.  People are asked to leave a message giving their full name; contact number, name of other party (agent, landlord, housing provider or co-tenant) and a brief overview of the problem.  The message refers them to our website, www.tenantsact.act.org.au, where they can check our factsheets, FAQS and other publications
  • TAS messages are checked daily, on some days when we are down from 2 to 1 (or no) advice workers, or demand has been too high we may not open the advice line and we will have a message that asks people to try again the following day. 
  • There is a triage system for call-backs based on urgency, this is why it is important for people to provide details
  • Advice workers will make 3 attempts to contact a caller always from a private number (which often shows up as No Caller ID).  After each unsuccessful attempt they will leave a voicemail message or send an SMS.  No more than 1 attempt is made on any given day. Once 3 attempts have been made the caller will be advised to try to call the advice line again if they still need advice/
If a person can only be contacted at specific times it is important that they make this clear in their message.
 
If you would like to know when the TAS is open/closed, notices are listed each day at https://twitter.com/tuact

 
Copyright © 2015 Tenants' Union ACT, All rights reserved.


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