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.
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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.