Help for Harry: homeless, unemployed man wins redress against illegal eviction

'I remember Harry’s application well. He kept telling us how humiliated he felt appearing at the tribunal as he was only able to access a shower once a week and only had the clothes he was wearing.' Elizabeth Boxall, Referrals Solicitor, JusticeNet SA.

In 1996 Harry (not his real name), entered into a verbal agreement with a landlord to occupy and reside at a property in the Adelaide foothills. The landlord agreed that 2-3 months’ notice to vacate would be given to Harry if the landlord wished to end the arrangement. For 17 years (from 1996 - 2013) Harry made the property his home. While he did not pay rent, he paid bills associated with the property and maintained and improved the land.

In September 2013 Harry's life was turned upside down. Police officers arrived at the premises and informed Harry that he was occupying the premises without permission of the owner. He was made to leave immediately. Harry, who was unemployed, was unable to take his belongings due to lack of resources.

A few days later the landlord arranged for the demolition of dwellings that Harry had built on the land. The landlord allowed Harry only 10 minutes to remove his belongings from the buildings. He was able to take a suitcase with some of his art work and personal papers but the remainder of his belongings, valued by Harry at about $40,000, were destroyed during the demolition. The police were present but did not stop the demolition as the landlord told them Harry was not a tenant.

As a result of his eviction Harry became homeless. Despite his dire circumstances, Harry successfully represented himself at the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. The Tribunal found he was a tenant under section 3 of the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 and awarded him $10,000 compensation, the maximum amount allowed in the jurisdiction.

The landlord then made an application to the Tribunal to have the order set aside on the basis that the Applicant was not a tenant. The application was dismissed and the landlord appealed to the District Court at which time Harry approached JusticeNet for help.

Ralph Bonig from Finlaysons accepted the referral to act for Harry. In June 2016, nearly two years after the landlord appealed the decisions, judgment was delivered in Harry’s favour.