RLC submission: Follow-up Review of the Management of Public Housing Maintenance Contracts

In December 2020, RLC's tenancy team made submissions to the Follow-up Review of the Management of Public Housing Maintenance Contracts, in follow-up to concerns identified during the 2016 Inquiry.

RLC’s view in summary

RLC has assisted a large number of public housing tenants to get repairs done through advocacy and Tribunal representation. We provide the following submission and recommendations in relation to the experiences of the tenants in the inner Sydney area specifically.

RLC has not seen any significant change in the experience of public housing tenants seeking repairs to their premises since the 2016 Inquiry. We have once again identified a set of common concerns from tenants with the way that repairs and maintenance of public housing stock are conducted.

Some of these concerns include:

  • The lack of co-operation between the Department of Communities and Justice (‘DCJ’) and the Land and Housing Corporation (‘LAHC’);
  • The inaccessibility of the eRepairs portal and maintenance call centre for tenants experiencing a vulnerability and tenants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds;
  • The unnecessary delay to repairs due to LAHC’s scoping and quoting practices;
  • The reluctance of LAHC to carry out structural repairs to public housing stock;
  • Issues with the conduct of contractors towards tenants; and
  • Delays facing tenants seeking repairs to their properties.

A genuine commitment to maintaining and repairing public housing properties is needed. The implementation of previous recommendations has not seen a tangible improvement in the condition of properties for tenants or the accessibility of maintenance and repairs.

Our submission responds to a number of specific issues, providing client case studies that further highlight our concerns, and makes 16 recommendations:

Recommendations

1. More training should be provided to Client Service Officers to understand their role in assisting tenants to seek repairs and maintenance to their properties.

2. DCJ should act on the recommendations provided by LAHC with respect to temporary accommodation for tenants.

3. LAHC should retain a greater oversight over its contractors and quality assurance. This could be done through assessing larger samples of work or conducting a site inspection immediately where tenants inform LAHC that the works either have not been done or are have not been completed to an appropriate standard.

4. Tenants, particularly those who are not able to engage electronically or by phone to log maintenance requests and those with English as a second language should be made aware of alternative methods to log and request maintenance and repairs. This information should also be provided to tenants in a written form and translated into relevant community languages. Client service officers and local offices should be trained in ways to assist tenants to obtain repairs to their properties and actively engage in supporting tenants experiencing vulnerability to obtain repairs to their premises.

5. LAHC and DCJ should review the eRepairs portal and ensure that tenants are able to report any repair and maintenance issues they are experiencing at their property. LAHC and DCJ should also ensure that information is provided to tenants in relevant community languages.

6. LAHC should limit site inspections as far as possible to limit the intrusion on a tenant’s daily life. Alternative quotes, where necessary should be obtained without delay and without need for further inspections of the tenant’s property.

7. LAHC should demonstrate a genuine commitment to carrying out structural repairs of its public housing stock.

8. LAHC should implement a policy to ensure that when contractors are sent out to address repair issues inside a tenant’s premises they accurately assess whether there is a structural issue as the underlying cause and if so, make sure that the structural repair is addressed as a priority.

9. Maintenance workers and sub-contractors should be required to undertake Aboriginal cultural awareness training, CALD cultural awareness training and mental health training. LAHC should also ensure that it has a policy for contractors which requires that they engage interpreters when required.

10. LAHC should implement a policy outlining a contractor’s obligations when scheduling site inspections/repair visits with tenants. The policy should make it clear that contractors must not report to LAHC that they were refused access by a tenant if they fail to attend at the scheduled time and a tenant is not home.

11. LAHC should introduce clearer policies and enforce those policies, with significant consequences for contractors and sub-contractors who have been found to have treated tenants without respect.

12. LAHC should develop clear guidelines about NCAT participation by DCJ and LAHC representatives in repairs matters. They should require that a representative acting on their behalf is prepared for hearing and has appropriate instructions so as not to unnecessarily delay the matter.

13. Where LAHC has accepted that repairs are required and that the tenant has been unable to have full use of their property or has suffered financial/non-financial loss, an offer should be made to settle the financial aspects of the matter along with the substantive repairs.

14. LAHC and DCJ should review their internal policies and practices in conducting litigation to ensure that they are complying with the model litigant policy in all litigation, especially where litigants are unrepresented. Complaints of non-compliance with the model litigant policy should be investigated by an independent body such as the Housing Appeals Committee or the Ombudsman and appropriate action taken to remedy that non-compliance.

15. All client service officers and advocates who are expected to attend NCAT on behalf of DCJ should be trained in the requirements of the model litigant policy and should adhere to that policy.

16. LAHC should fund all disability modifications where a tenant has shown they have a need for the property to be altered and the property is suitable for the alterations.

Case Study: Elijah’s* bathroom repairs

Elijah (not his real name) lives by himself in a small social housing property owned by LAHC. As a result of a leak from his upstairs neighbour’s bathroom, Elijah experienced significant mould, bubbling and dripping from his bathroom ceiling. After reporting the issue, LAHC contractors attended and cut off power to the bathroom for safety reasons. No further action was taken and Elijah was left with no means to ventilate the bathroom, nor any lights.

Elijah contacted RLC and we represented him in NCAT where we obtained an agreement by consent that LAHC would carry out the works within a specified time frame. LAHC did not comply with this agreement and no works had been scoped or completed by the date ordered by NCAT. The matter needed to be relisted in NCAT before LAHC finally completed repairs to make the bathroom safe again.

Not long after repairs were considered completed, Elijah informed RLC that the issue had returned and had not been rectified. RLC was again required to advocate on behalf of Elijah to LAHC to have the repairs finally completed after contractors had declared them to be complete.

Elijah was not able to use his bathroom for a total of close to six months.

There is still a clear lack of oversight of contractors and sub-contractors working on behalf of LAHC which often leads to unsatisfactory outcomes for tenants who have complied with their obligations to report maintenance and repairs issues. Regardless of any decision to contract its maintenance obligations to another body, LAHC is still ultimately responsible under the Act for ensuring that properties are provided and maintained in a reasonable state of repair.

*Name has been changed

 

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