Senin, 22 November 2010

Legislative Council questions Housing NSW's 'campaign of harassment'

The Brown Couch's parliamentary roundsperson draws our attention to today's notice paper for the Legislative Council, the New South Wales Parliament's upper house.

(The Legislative Council)

In particular:

Ms Cusack to move—

That this House:

(a) notes that during the period from 2005 to 2008, the Department of Housing made 46,404 applications to the Consumer Tenancy and Trader Tribunal against its own tenants,

(b) notes that in 2005 the number of applications was 9,747 but that this grew to 14,649 in the 2008 year - an astonishing increase of 55% over the four year period,

(c) notes that an examination of the Tribunal’s applications concerning public housing reveals 96% of applications are made by the Department of Housing and only 4% are made by tenants,

(d) notes that the Tribunal is substantially funded by interest earned on tenants bond money,

(e) questions the fairness of tenants cross-subsidising the Department of Housing’s relentless campaign of harassment against its own tenants, and

(f) calls on the Government to review application fees for NSW Housing and require it to fully fund the costs of these mass eviction notices being issued against its own residents.

Well put, Catherine Cusack MLC!

As Ms Cusack says, Housing NSW is a big user of the Tribunal: big relative to public housing tenants' own use of the Tribunal against Housing NSW and, we might add, big relative to other landlords.

Public housing tenancies represent about 16 per cent of all tenancies in New South Wales, but last year Housing NSW's applications in relation to 'breach' represented 58 per cent of all such applications by landlords, and its applications for termination on grounds relating to use of the premises (ie use for an illegal purpose, or nuisance and annoyance) represented 45 per cent of all such applications by landlords.

Housing NSW will say that this over-representation is because it has a distinctive clientele. That might be a factor - but community housing organisations have a similar clientele, and they are not so over-represented in the Tribunal's stats. For other factors I would point to some distinctive aspects of Housing NSW as a landlord.

First, about a third of its tenancies are in large estates, making them uniquely dense concentrations of contracts where infractions of order that might otherwise be dealt with informally (or ignored) may be dealt with as matters of contractual breach.

And secondly, Housing NSW is distinctively and intensely involved in the lives of its tenants. In some circumstances - especially where staff are overworked, or undertrained, and become cynical - this involvement can turn, as Ms Cusack says, to harassment. Certainly it is hard to view the two Payne cases as anything else.

And to this Housing NSW might say - rightly - that it tries to train its officers to work positively with their clients, and to value this sort of work over reactive, punitive action in the Tribunal. But perhaps these lessons needs to be reinforced by costs, as Ms Cusack proposes. Worth thinking about.