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CURRENT CASE: The Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) community's fight for housing rights

The Eastern Arrernte community of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) in the NT has been fighting for decent housing since 2015. With the support of the Grata community, they took on the NT government - and won!

Status: The community won at the NT Court of Appeal. They have sought leave to appeal to the High Court to ensure they are properly compensated for the harm and distress caused by the poor condition of their homes.

Jasmine Cavanagh, an Eastern Arrernte woman living in Santa Teresa, NT, and 69 other households in her community, have been fighting to get the NT government to repair their homes since 2015. 

The NT government is the community’s landlord. Its failure to maintain their homes has left many people in the community without electricity, hot water, cooking facilities or functioning toilets for weeks, months and even years at a time. 

Jasmine Cavanagh outside her home in Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa)

Dereliction of duty

In 2015, the residents of Santa Teresa made a list of over 600 repairs, and presented them to the NT government. When the government ignored them, they were forced to take their claim to court, supported by Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights .

The NT government counter-sued the community, claiming they owed years of rental debts, but this failed because the government couldn't prove that any debts existed.

Running out of the funds needed to fight the NT government, the residents and their lawyers were close to giving up. But thanks to the financial support of the Grata community, they were able to continue their fight. 

Annie Young, resident of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa)

A groundbreaking legacy

In February 2018, Jasmine and the Santa Teresa community won at the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal and established the Santa Teresa community’s right to ‘habitable housing’ - defined as ‘at least safe’.

The case went to the NT Supreme Court, which found in favour of the community. It confirmed their right to habitable housing, but said that habitable meant not only safe, but reasonably comfortable, judged against contemporary standards. This is a much stronger definition.

In February 2022, the NT Court of Appeal confirmed that the NT government must provide decent housing, and rejected the NT government’s third attempt to water down its obligations. 

The community’s fight has had a huge impact that will not only benefit the 76 remote communities in the NT, but all tenants in the NT. Thanks to their efforts, all landlords - public or private - are now required to keep their properties in a decent condition.