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 are taking on the NT government in the High Court.
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.
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 community continues its fight for justice in the High Court, and their impact could not only benefit the 76 remote communities in the NT, but could strengthen rights for all renters across Australia
At stake is the fundamental human right of all people to an adequate standard of housing and the improvement of living conditions.
The Santa Teresa community is fighting to ensure that tenants are adequately compensated for deficiencies in their housing. It is the first residential tenancy case being heard by Australia’s highest court in a generation.
The case is 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. That battle has already established that the legal standard for ‘habitable’ premises requires that the premises be not only safe, but also reasonably comfortable. This High Court hearing is the next step and examines if compensation should be paid for the distress and disappointment suffered by tenants when housing does not meet legal standards.
Badly maintained houses have 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.
This community's case has the potential to impact not only public housing tenants in the NT but all tenants across Australia, by establishing a principle that tenants may be compensated for distress caused by failures to maintain a rental property and not just for physical inconvenience.
The lead plaintiffs and the community of Santa Teresa are being represented by ALRAR at no cost to the community. Grata Fund has provided funding and support to the community throughout the legal journey.