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Broken landlord calls for more protection

Monday, 11th January, 2016

By Michael Murphy

A struggling landlord says an “underclass” of tenants has stripped him of his savings and is calling on greater equity under the law.

He says tenants have dodged paying rent, abandoned properties without telling him, handed over keys to “squatters”, punched holes in walls and left his houses in squalor.

Alex Lyall moved to the Silver City seven years ago. His wife Deanne was recovering from breast cancer, and her oncologist suggested they move to a temperate climate.

Broken Hill was perfect.

The semi-retired couple bought six properties and renovated them. Alex utilised his skills as a carpenter and builder.

“Most of the houses I done up, I have taken right back to the frame,” said Alex, who is also a former real estate agent.

“New floors, new kitchens, new bathrooms, new power systems right through .. all that you would expect.

“We bought them relative cheaply, probably spent too much on them to get them up to a decent standard, and then rented them out.”

Everything was fine for a short time, but the last three years have been a nightmare for the elderly couple.

Alex estimates they have lost up to $14,000 in unpaid rent, repairs to damaged property, cleaning costs, water bills and mortgage default fees.

He said not being able to pay his mortgage was “embarrassing and degrading”.

“I’ve only got a little super left, we’ve been draining our own resources to try and keep things going.

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“It has just gone downhill since we have been in Broken Hill.

“We’ve tried ... we’ve tried to be helpful, we have tried to be empathetic to people.

“We know what it is like to struggle, especially when you have got a young family on a limited income.

“It’s not like we are hard-nosed, don’t-give-a-shit landlords and won’t spend a penny.”

Alex said it was soul-destroying the way some tenants chose to live. Last year, he gave a mother escaping domestic violence a break and let her rent one of his properties without a bond.

The woman’s partner found out where she was living and she had to move to another city to escape him.

But without Alex knowing, she left and gave the keys to a “squatter” who would not let the Lyalls into the house.

It took four months of wrangling with authorities to get the woman out of the house.

Alex said the woman left the house in a disgusting state. It appeared she just threw her rubbish out the back door, and when Alex lifted the pile he found it writhing with maggots.

“It’s just the appalling conditions that they have left them in ...

“Pet food just thrown on the carpets, nothing ever swept, windows never washed ...

“Stoves ... you just don’t know how they have managed to make them so bad in such as short time.

“You would open up the door and they would be absolutely putrid.

“But what is galling and sad is that there’s children with these people and they are seeing this and that’s the norm.

“These kids are living with these appalling standards - it’s worse than Third World.”

Alex said the damage to houses had not been major, whole rooms had not been destroyed, but he was just astounded how some people lived.

“It strikes me there’s almost a situation where there’s an underclass, who are ignorant in the true sense on how to live reasonably.

“I’m bagging them from that perspective, but am fair enough to recognise that they are on a limited income.

“It used to be that people were frugal and save for the future, and count every penny without being stupid about it. 

“These people have got nothing ... they have got no skin in the game so it does not matter to them.”

Alex said he had given people a break, was sympathetic toward them, but he also needed the rent to come in.

But the excuses soon rolled in, and tenants would move elsewhere in Broken Hill and he would have no way of finding them.

He would incur losses if he pursued them through NCAT. Judgements were not enforceable and court costs non-recoverable. Police were unable to remove “squatters and non-paying de facto tenants”.

He has written to local politicians asking for help to correct the “injustice” suffered by landlords in Broken Hill under NSW tenancy legislation.

He suggested that a garnishee of wages or Centrelink benefits would be one solution. He believes that rental subsidies paid by Centrelink are not being passed on to landlords.

In the meantime, the Lyalls have decided to get out of the game. They will gradually sell off their properties.

“Even though the market is crap, we have just had enough,” Alex said.

“We don’t have the reserve finances any more to suffer any losses.”

The experience has also taken its toll mentally.

Alex is “supernova angry” and the tenants have also been living rent-free in his head, but he is grateful for the strong relationship he has with his wife.

“Because we are no longer working full time, this becomes the main focus of what’s happening in our lives,” Alex said.

“Its tentacles spread to almost everything.”

Have you got a rental horror story to share? Contact the BDT on 8087 2354 or via our Facebook page.

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