In a case that could affect all tenants in Australia, residents of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), an Eastern Arrernte community about 85km south of Alice Springs, have applied to take their fight for decent rental homes to the High Court of Australia.
The courts have consistently ruled that the community’s landlord, the Northern Territory government, has failed to meet its legal obligations to the residents of Santa Teresa.  Badly maintained houses have left many people in the community without electricity, hot water, cooking facilities or functioning toilets for weeks, months and even years at a time.
The lead tenant in this case, 77-year-old Enid Young, endured more than five years with a missing external door to her home.
But despite ruling that the government failed to provide secure premises to Ms Young, the Northern Territory Court of Appeal decided that she could not be compensated for the worry and loss of a sense of security caused by having a permanently open front doorway.
This is inconsistent with the law as decided in other states and territories in Australia and also inconsistent with the position in the United Kingdom. It is also inconsistent with how compensation is determined in other instances, such as when holiday accommodation is inadequate.
Ms Young is seeking to appeal this issue to the High Court. If granted leave, her fight will be one that could impact all tenants in Australia and the protections the law gives them when their landlord ignores their obligations, especially when calculating compensation caused by that misconduct.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, roughly one in three Australian households rent their homes. Northern Territory is an outlier, with a majority of households (50.3%) and a significant majority of residents being renters.
“For years the NT government left Ms Young exposed, in a house without a door, causing significant stress for Ms Young and her family. It is only right that this distress is factored in when considering how much compensation she is owed. Tenants deserve to be protected from negligent landlords, and the threat of having to pay compensation is a clear incentive for landlords to follow the law and ensure their properties don’t fall into disrepair,” said Daniel Kelly, Solicitor for Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights.
“If your holiday goes badly wrong, then the hotel or travel provider may be liable to compensate you for any distress they cause. But that doesn’t apply if you’re renting in the NT, no matter how badly the landlord treats you. If Ms Young’s case is successful, then all renters in Australia could be better protected from dodgy landlords,” said Maria Nawaz, Acting Executive Director, Grata Fund.
Notes to editors
In February 2016 70 people from Santa Teresa brought a legal action against the Northern Territory government over the woefully inadequate public housing in the community.
In February 2019 the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal found in favour of the residents.
Two of the residents, Enid Young and Mr Conway, appealed and in December 2019 the case went before the Supreme Court in the NT.
In September 2020 the Supreme Court strengthened many of the precedents in the NTCAT's ruling. Unfortunately Mr Conway passed away shortly after the appeal hearing.
In October 2020 both parties appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal heard the case in February 2021 and delivered judgment in February 2022.
On 4 March 2022, Ms Young applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court. That application will not be determined before mid-April 2022.