With such limited resources, the VPTA generally can’t offer direct representation in Tribunal hearings.
Where public tenants need representation, we refer them to the Tenants Union of Victoria, who employ a team of lawyers.
However, in special circumstances we make an exception. When public housing tenant Grace* contacted us, she had been seeking to resolve an issue with the Office of Housing for over 12 months.
In September of 2015, Grace’s sewerage system overflowed through no fault of her own, flooding her home and damaging the carpet. (Later in correspondence the Office of Housing called the flooding an “alleged incident”.)
After the flooding, urgent and essential maintenance was performed. Sections of carpet that had been damaged beyond repair were removed. This meant that a 4 metre long section of the concrete slab was exposed, waiting for the permanent repair to be completed.
It was at this stage that Grace, who suffers from a serious debilitating illness, sought medical advice about the best kind of flooring for her to have installed.
She was advised by her occupational therapist that a surface with some “spring” would assist with her mobility and would be safer for her than other options. Medical practitioners completed reports calling on the Office of Housing to install floating laminated floorboards.
Grace contacted Consumer Affairs Victoria, who conducted an inspection in late July 2016. Their suggested remedy was to install “hard flooring, not carpet or vinyl.”
The Office of Housing refused to install floating laminated floorboards, saying that they did not agree that Grace had special housing requirements and informed her that she could have carpet or vinyl installed.
Grace decided to take the matter to VCAT and on 20 October 2016 VCAT found in her favour. It wasn’t really much of a contest as the Office of Housing failed to attend the Hearing.
By this time Grace had been living with exposed sections of concrete slab in her home for 13 months.
Despite this fact, the Office of Housing informed Grace that they would not accept the umpire’s decision, they said they would ask VCAT to reopen the matter.
This is when Grace contacted us. The VPTA tried to resolve the issue through direct discussion with the local Office of Housing and through correspondence. This approach did not succeed, so we had to go back to the independent umpire.
We represented Grace in the VCAT hearing on November 25. Grace’s disability advocate from Leadership Plus was also there to support her.
Once again, VCAT decided that the Office of Housing must install “floating laminated floorboards with adequate underlay over the concrete base.” A deadline of January 18, 2017 was set for all repairs to be completed.
Floating laminated floorboards were finally installed at Grace’s home in February 2017, 18 months after the initial flood.
The VPTA assists thousands of tenants every year. Only rarely do matters become so intractable that VCAT are required to come in as an independent umpire.
But when that does happen, it is important that tenants have the courage and the determination to stand up for their rights. That is what Grace did, and even though it took 18 months, she achieved the right result in the end.
We are glad to have been able to offer her some small measure of support.
*Not the tenant’s real name.