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PAST 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 in the High Court — and WON! 


Jasmine Cavanagh, an Eastern Arrernte woman living in Santa Teresa, NT, and 69 other households in her community, fought 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. 

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 case went to the High Court and in November 2023, the High Court unanimously recognised for the first time the right of tenants to compensation for disappointment and distress when a rented house does not meet legal standards. The decision is set to have wide-ranging ramifications across the country by giving tenants a new way to hold landlords accountable for unsafe, unhealthy or uncomfortable housing. 

Case Timeline

November 2023 In a massive win for the Santa Teresa community and for renters across the country, the High Court unanimously rules tenants have rights to compensation for inadequate housing.
March 2023 The case was heard in the High Court to ensure residents are properly compensated for the harm and distress caused by the poor condition of their homes
September 2022 The High Court granted special leave
March 2022

Residents applied to take their fight for decent rental homes to the High Court by seeking special leave

February 2022 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
February 2021

The NT Government argues against its responsibility to provide ‘humane’ rental homes in the NT Court of Appeal

October 2020 Both parties appealed the NT Supreme Court decision to the NTCA
September 2020

The NT Supreme Court ruled that remote community tenants must be provided with housing that meets contemporary standards of ‘humaneness, suitability and reasonable comfort’

December 2019

The case is heard in the NT Supreme Court

October 2019

Jasmine and the Santa Teresa community won at NTCAT and established the Santa Teresa community’s right to ‘habitable housing’ - defined as ‘at least safe’

February 2018

The case is heard at the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT)

February 2016

Jasmine and the Santa Teresa community file the case


The Case 

The Santa Teresa community fought for years to ensure that tenants are adequately compensated for deficiencies in their housing. It was the first residential tenancy case to be heard by Australia’s highest court in a generation.

The case was a culmination of a fight for housing justice that started more than seven years ago when tenants from the remote Northern Territory community, Santa Teresa began proceedings with 68 other tenants from that community. 

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

Badly maintained houses left many people in Santa Teresa without electricity, hot water, cooking facilities or functioning toilets for weeks, months and even years at a time. The lead tenant in this case, Ms Young, endured more than five years without being provided a door for an external doorway of her home. Without a front door, Ms Young felt unsafe in her own home and was fearful that her home could be invaded by snakes or her possession stolen when she left the house. Another tenant, a young mother, regularly had to wake up multiple times a night to mop up leaking sewage to protect her young children’s health. The High Court will now consider how compensation should be paid for distress caused by these types of breaches. 

Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) from above

The November 2023 High Court decision is a landmark victory for remote Indigenous communities in the NT, with the High Court ruling that the NT Government is liable for compensation to its tenants in Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) for the distress caused by years living in dilapidated and uninhabitable homes that do not meet basic legal standards. 

The lead appellant’s case concerned the NT housing authority’s failure to provide a back door to her premises for over 5 years. Over 70 other households in the same community brought claims for a range of issues, including leaking sewage, unstable electricity, and no air conditioning. Following the High Court ruling, all applicants from this remote desert community can hope for compensation for deplorable housing conditions that persisted for weeks, months and even years at a time. 

This landmark judgment significantly increases the amount of compensation available to roughly 5,300 remote Indigenous households in the NT and over 30,000 Indigenous tenants who have been subject to the Government’s neglectful approach to housing. With over 50% of all Territorians and approximately one in three Australian households renting their homes, it provides benefit and greater protection to a significant and growing part of the Australian population. 

The case is a culmination of this remote NT community’s fight for housing justice that started almost eight years ago when the NT Government was given a list of over 600 repairs requested by the tenants of about 70 homes.

Annie Young, resident of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa)

The lead plaintiffs and the community of Santa Teresa were represented by ALRAR at no cost to the community. Grata Fund provided funding and support to the community throughout the legal journey. 



View key documents, transcripts and hearing video recordings here.