The Northern Territory government has written off nearly $70 million ($448.8 million) in rental debt for remote Indigenous communities amid allegations that housing is not up to scratch.
In late June, Treasurer Eva Lawler canceled the debt following legal action brought by Aboriginal residents of Laramba and Santa Teresa in central Australia near Alice Springs, Grata Fund said. , a non-profit lawyer.
The details of the ruling were heard at a recent Northwest Territories Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing that concluded last week.
“The effect of the determination is that remote rent debts prior to June 30, 2019 have been canceled under section 35(1) of the Financial Management Act,” said Territory solicitor Lauren Tattersall. Families, Housing and Communities, from the witness box.
“Remote rent debts after July 1, 2019 have been canceled under Section 35(2) of the Financial Management Act.”
This determination is a big victory for the Aboriginal residents of Laramba and Santa Teresa, who took legal action against the Northern Territories government five years ago over the poor quality of rental housing in their communities.
“As well as being left with no choice but to rent inhumane homes, Aborigines in remote communities have also had to face charges of rental debts,” said Australian Lawyers for Remote lawyer Dan Kelly. Aboriginal Rights.
Santa Teresa’s unpaid rent was revealed in a counterclaim launched by Territory Families, Housing and Communities against residents in 2019.
The court later dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence on how the debts of approximately $20,000 per household were calculated.
“It was extremely distressing for the people of Santa Teresa, who were just looking to get their rental units repaired to legal standards,” Kelly said.
“The problem arose due to the complexity of the rental system and poor record keeping and administration by the department.”
Kelly said the residents maintained they were paying their rent and had no knowledge of the debt until they took legal action to try to improve their living conditions.
Grata Fund said questions remain about the maintenance of family, housing and community records in the territory and how the $69.7 million debt was calculated.
He also highlighted the $800,000 allegedly spent by the NT government over the past 2.5 years to fight the residents of Laramba and Santa Teresa in court.
In a statement, the department said the Remote Rent Framework has now replaced the previous system which was confusing for tenants and difficult to administer.
“The framework is simple, easy to understand and has built-in safeguards to protect people from rental stress if rent paid by tenants exceeds 25% of household income,” a spokesperson said.
Work on the new system began in 2018 with key stakeholders, including a working group with housing industry leaders.
“Letting agents went door-to-door in more than 80 communities to provide tenants with information about the new framework,” the spokesperson said.
“This consultation was to let tenants know that they no longer need to pay security and that any historic rental debt through December 11, 2021 would not be pursued.”