Almost $70 million in alleged remote rental debt has been wiped by the Northern Territory treasurer in the wake of powerful litigation led by Aboriginal people from remote communities.
The decision is being heralded as a major win for remote Aboriginal residents from Laramba and Santa Teresa who have been taking the Territory Government on over poor quality housing for the past five years.
“In addition to having no choice but to rent houses which are inhumane, Aboriginal people in remote communities have also had to contend with the accusations of rental debts,” said Dan Kelly, Solicitor for Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights representing both communities.
The issue was first raised by the CEO of Housing who made a counterclaim in 2019 for rents in Santa Teresa where the total debt against the community was alleged to be around $2 million. The Tribunal dismissed the counterclaim after the CEO Housing was unable to provide any credible evidence for how the alleged rental debts were calculated.
“It was extremely distressing for the people living in Santa Teresa, who were simply seeking to have their rental homes repaired to the legal standard, have a huge amount of debt, about $20,000 per household leveled at them by the Government out of nowhere,” said Dan Kelly.
“The problem arose due to the complexity of the rental system, and poor record keeping and administration by the Department. Our clients have always maintained that they have paid what they were asked, and had no knowledge of the debts until they took legal action to try and improve housing conditions. The tireless leadership of renters in Laramba and Santa Teresa has contributed to the lifting of these crushing rental debts from the shoulders of families living in remote communities across the Territory,” said Dan Kelly.