The New South Wales Tenancy Tribunal is dismissing cases where landlords live interstate and advising tenants that they will have to resort to costly legal action to resolve disputes.
Renters Anna Jacobs and Sefton Darby had to move out of their Sydney terrace in April because of toxic mould.
They went to the tribunal to try to recoup several thousand dollars in advance rent and compensation for belongings that had to be destroyed.
After their case was initially adjourned, they were surprised to receive a letter from the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) advising them that their complaint was to be thrown out.
“The tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear and determine this matter as a result of the NSW Court of Appeal’s decision in Burns v Corbett,” the letter read.
That decision, handed down in February in an unrelated anti-discrimination case, means that NCAT is unable to make findings in cases where one party leaves in another state.
“The parties should note that the tribunal’s current practice is to dismiss applications in which Burns v Corbett applies,” the letter went on.
It said this would leave complainants free to pursue their case in the courts.
“It leaves us feeling pretty helpless really,” Mr Darby said.
“It would easily cost more in getting a lawyer than our claim would be worth.
“As soon as you get to a point where people have to hire lawyers to resolve disputes, I can guarantee you, it’s the people who own the houses who are going to win rather than the people who are renting them.”
‘Expensive and complex’
The Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW) predicts that many cases affected will go unresolved.
“The court system is an expensive and complex forum,” REINSW CEO Tim McKibbin said.
“I think a lot of disputes that would have gone to the tribunal will simply be abandoned.”
He said some tenants and landlords would be left without a quick and cost-efficient way of settling their differences.
“I think it is completely unacceptable that government is not prioritising this issue,” he added.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said only 0.2 per cent of tenancy cases before NCAT were potentially affected.
“I am actively engaged with stakeholders to develop a solution to enable tenancy issues to be resolved quickly, informally and inexpensively,” he said.
He said the Government was awaiting a outcome of a High Court appeal.
No date has yet been set for the hearing.