6 June 2018

Tenant wins ACAT hearings in battle with Housing ACT over neighbours from hell

| Ian Bushnell
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Robert Easterbrook in his public housing unit in Belconnen. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

A public housing tenant under siege from the rowdy behaviour of his neighbours has won the right to seek compensation and policy changes from Housing ACT in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).

Unemployed former university teacher Robert Easterbrook, 59, has been putting up with parties and loud music at all hours of the day and night from his Belconnen Town Centre public housing complex neighbours since he moved in a year ago, unable to afford the rent in the private market.

Pleas to Housing ACT to enforce its tenancy agreements with the neighbours have fallen on deaf ears, and he says the police, who soon wearied of his complaints, admit to being able to do little other than tell them to turn the music down or off, only for the party to resume once they leave.

Mr Easterbrook, who has a PhD from the University of Canberra in applied linguistics, says the neighbours became violent when he confronted them and he has had to take out personal protection orders against them.

He has no idea why Housing ACT has not enforced tenancy agreements but suspects there is an unwritten policy to dismiss complaints, with the neighbours saying it doesn’t matter what they do because the landlord won’t do anything about it.

“It seems that people in my situation don’t have any value or carry any weight with either the Housing people or the police,” Mr Easterbrook said.

He said one police officer questioned what he was doing there.

“‘What the hell are you doing here?’ he said. I replied, ‘Because the world has changed in the last six to eight years and I’m one of the unfortunate people who have experienced the negative side,” Mr Easterbrook said.

He said his property manager had said he would just have to live with it with it, but that means ongoing anxiety and sleeplessness.

“So far, what the neighbours say about their relationship with Housing ACT has turned out to be true. In the beginning, they refused to acknowledge their own tenancy agreements and said it didn’t matter what we did, Housing ACT won’t do anything,” he said.

But Mr Easterbrook received a more favourable reception in the ACAT, which recently decided to convert the matter into a civil dispute and give him the opportunity to seek compensation in a three-hour hearing on June 26, and a full day on July 23 to discuss policy and call expert witnesses.

He said had invited the Environment Protection Authority whose rangers measured the noise levels – “they said it was horrendous” – and hopefully a medical expert to detail the effects of ongoing noise on people.

Mr Easterbrook said he would also like others struggling with their own noise issues with their neighbours to tell their stories to the ACAT.

“I’m not just doing this for myself,” he said.

But with homelessness being a political hot potato he sees a risk to his ACAT action.

“If they [the neighbours] were to be evicted, where would they go? If it backfires, I’m the one who ends up paying,” he said.

Housing ACT can’t move him to alternative accommodation because there is no guarantee the same thing won’t happen again.

“It’s better to deal with it now if I can,” Mr Easterbrook said.

Getting work would be one solution but with the humanities and linguistics out of favour in universities, he is pessimistic about continuing his career in that sector. He has broadened the job search but is also discovering the hidden age barrier for mature workers.

In the meantime, he is also preparing for the hearings and hoping that justice will prevail, and that Housing ACT will be forced to support the rights of its law-abiding tenants and uphold a certain standard of behaviour in its properties.

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ACAT means nothing unfortunately. They don’t have powers to enforce. The last member I had asked Housing what his powers were and what he was to do. ACAT cause harm and use a standard excuse for all their mistakes as ‘human error’ ACAT members have the opinion and have directly said to me ‘people are rude, get over it’. There are many more ignorant and disgusting comments by members I could write. The government has no care for the people and are not held accountable along with AFP and legal system. This system; systemic abuse is the domestic violence and child abuse of Australians, only more scary, dangerous and destructive to the people. The only way to get by without being harmed further by the system is to shut up and put up. Housing have unlimited funds and professionals to intentionally tear the ordinary person down and they will, they do, they are enabled to and do abuse their position of power against the uneducated, disabled people unfortunate to be in the system along with theAFP. It is an assumption by the government that all staff act with integrity and humility for the people and ends there. People in the system know that government staff, legal bodies and especially police, lie…a lot. You ‘the people’ in the system are forced to represent yourself against this kind of power that is abused and enable. The bodies put in place to help the people in the system don’t. They have the same assumption; government staff are of integrity and humanity and become the systems voice against you.
The system does not want evidence of the lies from the government staff. They know that this is the end game….the people have to give up, it’s the only way to survive the systemic abuse.

Can we have an update on this case please?

petunia petal3:37 pm 02 Jun 18

I can assure you Robert that your complaints being dismissed by the police and ACT housing are not unique to your position as a public housing tenant. Private owners who have the misfortune of living next to some of these hellish neighbours are also treated this way… its all rights and zero responsibility when it comes to being a bad tenant. I was told by the police to sell and move as nothing would improve as the tenants ‘privacy’ and rights superseded any of my rights. I sold in the end and I will never live next to public housing tenants willingly. Not because I’m an elitist snob, but because there is a chance that one of the rotten 5% may end up next to me and make my life hell. If ACT housing seriously enforced rules and stopped with the PC rubbish this wouldn’t happen as much.

Also brings into question the very sub optimal noise legislation in ACT. People can make a pretty fair racket, persistent and annoying to many, yet still be within the crappy and very permissive noise regulations.
My ‘noisy’ complaints to ACTGov about the legislation have fallen on deaf ears. They need a major review.

What exactly do you think is permissive about the regulations?

For most residential areas the standard is 45dB during the day and 35dB at night.

Birds chirping in your backyard would be more than 35dB, they’re not very relaxed standards at all.

When the Units or apartments are as close as they are where I live, these values of 45dB and 35dB do not equate to comfortable, healthy living. Especially when the neighbour will test the limits of my tolerance for noise. At 45dB the music is in your face, not kept within the neighbour’s Unit. Therefore, 45dB, even 35dB, is as unpleasant as hell because it is in my Unit and sounds like I’ve got the music going in my place and not in theirs. Every tenancy agreements has Section 70(c) in it which says, do not make any noise that affects the neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their property. Where I live, the neighbours breach this section, claim it doesn’t exist in their tenancy agreements and breach the 45dB or 35dB at night with levels exceeding 55dB in my Unit, sometimes 65dB. That’s like a kilometre from Grooving the Moo; it’s 80dB plus at the concert. If the level is 50dB plus in my Unit then it is more than 55dB in the neighbour’s Unit, according to EPA measurements. This constitutes unhealthy living, and negatively affects my health and well-being. But Housing ACT doesn’t see it like that, hence my ACAT application.

35dB is extremely quiet and if the restrictions were any stricter, you wouldn’t even be able to talk in your unit for fear of breaching them.

Your issue doesn’t seem to be the level that the regulations are set at rather it’s the regulations being breached with loud music at all hours, which is then about enforcement.

@ Trish Roberts, if Housing ACT tells you “they’re not a landlord”, well they are. They are the owner of the property and have a duty of care to ensure the tennant complies with their rental agreement. Anything less is pure laziness on Housing ACTs behalf.

Capital Retro9:23 am 30 May 18

My advice is to get down to Cash Converters and buy the biggest amplifier and speakers you can. As soon as they turn theirs down or off you turn yours on, very loud. Play religious or country music. Get a pair of noise suppressing ear muffs too.

The process of “enforcement” is an alien concept to ACT Housing.

It happened to me about 20 or so years ago. The next door neighbour was revving up his car at 4AM each morning waking me up. I then put my Kamahl record on, pointed the speakers out the window and turned it right up. Result? No more revving…

Capital Retro8:40 pm 30 May 18

Direct action gives dividends and Kamahl was an excellent choice.

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