Justice in the System

Justice in the System

By Emma Newell on May 01 2017

So yesterday I found myself and my senior property manager sitting at Tribunal listening to a tenant with severe mental health issues accusing us of being in breach of numerous sections of the Residential Tenancies Act.  He rattled the sections off like a skilled lawyer, he was well dressed, clean cut but extremely agitated especially when the Member questioned his claims against us.

Serious faced the tenant explained how we had leased him a unit that was unfit to live in with excrement and vomit all over the walls and covered in mould and how he could no live there and had to sleep in his car.  How the Tribunal works is that a few cases are booked in to be heard at a certain time and we are firstly given the opportunity to negotiate a good outcome for both parties before coming before the Member.  If conciliation is not reached, the Member does not usually have time to hear it that day so organises what they refer to as exchange of evidence between both parties and then it is brought before the Tribunal again in a private hearing.  I hadn’t met the tenant before just had the pleasure of his phone calls and emails at all hours.  My gut instinct was to leave the room.  As property managers, we do enter dangerous territory at times and I always teach my team to “trust your gut instincts” and if you don’t feel comfortable leave the situation immediately.  We can always deal with it later as their safety is paramount.  Hence why I found myself at Tribunal as this tenant had already verbally abused two of our property managers and they were terrified of him.  I now knew why. 

My point of sharing this with you all is to open your eyes to the cost of mental health to the government and how without a doubt it is becoming more common and we are having to work with it more than ever to the point where my team get training on how to read the signs and deal with the various situations and encourage help where needed.  Getting back to this particular tenant he now has two weeks to supply us with proof of his claims so we can respond.  I should point out that he won’t accept our moving in photographs as he claims we used an “alien” USB stick.   Whilst I understand everyone has a right to be heard, this case really pushes the boundaries and takes up a lot of time to tip toe around the real issue.  So why didn’t we check references?  I can hear you asking.  We did his tenancy checks through another agency in another regional town and he was clean and tidy and he always paid his rent on time but people don’t discuss mental health issues despite when it may put others in danger.  To top it off, this tenant has been to Fair Trading and made his complaint and they have encouraged his actions, no questions asked!  Whilst I am confident the Tribunal Member will dismiss the case, we all have to go through this process when what he actually needs is the proper help and for places like Fair Trading to ask appropriate questions before giving one sided advice.  Right now I am really feeling the need to do volunteer work on the Tenants’ Help Line and train their staff on how the phone inquiries should be handled.  Would save a lot of time and money.