Know your rights: Family of ten escape imminent homelessness

Posted on 01 June 2015 by Belle Ganglmair

Sue Merrell and Susannah Centofanti, Family Services workers at MacKillop Family Services, explain how a family were able to save themselves from becoming homeless by finding out about their rights.

For the past seven months, Maria and her family of ten were living in fear. Their landlord’s unpredictable intrusions into their home, whilst Maria’s husband was at work, had become unbearable. To make matters worse the landlord then demanded the family vacate their rental property, giving them the weekend to pack up and find a new home.

Maria told Sue and Susannah how her family had found the rental property on gumtree.com the year before. They moved in shortly after being notified they were the successful applicants, but never received a tenancy agreement. 

Soon after they moved in, their landlord began visiting the house without notice. Maria says he would barge into the home, always when her husband was at work, saying he needed to get his personal items from a locked room he was keeping in the house. He claimed this was his right as a landlord.  This behaviour continued over seven months and caused Maria and her children to live in fear for their safety. To make matters worse the landlord recently demanded the family vacate the rental property, giving them the weekend to find a new home.

Maria and her husband are New Zealand citizens and therefore unable to access housing support services, so they were facing the very real possibility of becoming homeless. Fortunately the family was referred to MacKillop the week before the eviction and were able to receive assistance.

After Sue and Susannah’s first visit with Maria and her family, it was clear that the family’s most basic need -- a safe and secure home -- had been jeopardised, due to a flagrant disregard for the family’s tenancy rights.

Even though the referral stipulated that Sue and Susannah should focus on the school attendance of the two eldest children, it was clear to them that the first priority was to secure housing for the family of ten. Their decision to focus on housing highlights how families can often have complex needs, which need to be prioritised to deliver the best possible outcome.

Sue knew immediately she had to empower Maria by making her aware of her tenancy rights. Sue suggested she call 000 when the landlord entered unannounced. She also confirmed with Consumer Affairs and the Tenants Union of Victoria that Maria, even without a signed tenancy agreement, had the same rights as a person who had a signed lease. 

By knowing her rights Maria felt empowered, and her family felt much safer in their home. The family did not vacate the property on the Sunday as demanded by the landlord. Furthermore, Maria had the courage to call 000 and on three occasions the police assisted her to remove the landlord from the property.

When the landlord applied to VCAT to have the family evicted on the grounds of causing damage to the property, Susannah supported the family by helping them demonstrate there was no damage to the property. As a result, the landlord’s application was dismissed and based on his behaviour and the breach of his obligations, VCAT directed that the family were entitled to remain in their home and were eligible for compensation - a double win for Maria and her family.

Through their passion and commitment, Sue and Susannah helped the family to gain the information and the confidence they required to stand up for their rights and secure their home. The family of ten, who once feared they may end up on the streets, continue to live safely in their home and are ready to tackle any other challenges they face - safe in the knowledge that support is at hand should they need it.

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