Your Matters Matter – Matthew

Humanitarian Stories

Your Matters Matter – Matthew

By Daniel Ajak

We first met Matthew at our Campsie advice bureau in December 2015. He had lived in community housing since 1983 and was seeking assistance with tenancy issues that he had with his landlord.

In 2006, Matthew was advised by the community housing provider responsible for his property that his unit was to be painted as part of fire safety renovations. With the help of his GP, Matthew was able to convince the housing provider to postpone the works due to his mental health.

Matthew is legally blind and suffers from advanced glaucoma as well as having mobility and balance issues. He also suffers from psychological medical problems and has been diagnosed with depression, general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and agoraphobia.

In 2008, a new community housing provider took responsibility for the management of Matthew’s property. In 2010, this provider notified Matthew that works needed to be carried out on his property in order to comply with safety measures required under legislation.

Since 2010, Matthew had been resistant to the proposed works. In 2015, unable to convince Matthew to have the works done on his property, the community housing provider brought an application before the NSW Administrative and Civil Tribunal (NCAT) seeking an order to allow them access to the property to have the works done.

Matthew was very concerned about the effect the intumescent (fire protection) painting and the overall works would have on his health and his mental condition. He was determined to avoid the works being carried out and believed that the community housing provider was out to get him and showed a lack of care for its tenants.

We were deeply concerned for Matthew’s health, both mentally and physically, and offered to assist him with the NCAT proceedings. As we worked with Matthew, he would constantly praise our efforts and often referred to an Associate lawyer from our office, Amy, as his ‘angel’.

At our first conciliation hearing at NCAT, we were unable to reach an agreement with the housing provider and the parties were ordered to prepare for a final hearing. Leading up to the hearing, we had gathered expert medical reports and were able to prepare Matthew’s affidavit with supporting evidence. It was evident from his medical records, that he was very unwell.

Two weeks before the final hearing, the representative from the community housing provider informed us that she was resigning. In her email to us, she wished us luck and applauded our support and assistance to vulnerable people like Matthew. This really lifted our hopes that we may be able to reach a settlement after all. She offered to arrange a meeting with Matthew, Salvos Legal and her successor. However, the meeting never went ahead as Matthew was unwilling to participate.

The hearing date finally came around and we went to NCAT with instructions from Matthew to avoid the renovation works being carried out and, if unsuccessful, to reach some form of agreement with the housing provider. Neither was successful and we proceeded to the final hearing.

The presiding Member asked Matthew to wait outside while he listened to both representatives, as Matthew was being disruptive to the proceedings.

After listening to both sides, the Member confirmed that as the landlord’s agent, the housing provider was legally entitled to request that the renovation works occur. But taking into account Matthew’s physical and mental health concerns, the Member ordered that the works be completed in two days, that Matthew be allowed to return to home each night, and that the housing provider make available a dehumidifier to minimise paint fumes. Although the works weren’t postponed indefinitely, we were able to give Matthew some comfort with this outcome.

The works were ordered to take place in June, however, following the hearing, the housing provider requested that the works be postponed until this summer. This was what Matthew had hoped for during the NCAT proceedings.

Whether this was coincidence or providence, Matthew was delighted when we informed him that he would have plenty of time to come to get comfortable with the works being undertaken later in the year and under more sympathetic circumstances. He has expressed to us that he is now very happy and free of the stress the situation has put him in over the past few years.

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Your Matters Matter – Matthew