Tales from the Vault: housing workers assaulted

Hi there housing staffers. It’s Mark Smoljo with your latest episode of Tales from the Tenancy Vault.

Over the last two months I have had two phone calls that were rather alarming. One involved a support worker being stabbed by a tenant while the other involved a threat to kill a tenancy worker by her tenant. In both cases their managers were asking what could be done under the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA). Unfortunately, in both cases my answer was ‘not very much’. Believe it or not there is currently nothing housing organisations can do to take immediate action about this under the Residential Tenancies Act. The RTA only refers to ‘the safety of occupiers of neighbouring premises’.

CHIA Vic made strong representations about changing this situation in the review of the Residential Tenancies Act over the last few years. As a result, there were protections for staff and contractors put into the RTA Amendment Act which was passed last year. Unfortunately, these new provisions will not come into force until late June, 2020. (Other states have had these protections for many years.)

So, what can you do in the meantime? In the case of assaults or threats, these are police matters and you need to inform the police. In some cases the tenant will be arrested and kept in custody. However, this will not always happen. The only option open to you is to issue a 120-day notice to vacate for no reason. You will not be able to do this after July 1 next year, but by then the provisions protecting staff and contractors will have come into force.

After you have done this there will be a period of four months (plus postage) during which staff will still have to deal with the tenant. Be very mindful of occupational health and safety during this period. Staff should always deal with the tenant in pairs, and you may even be able to get the police to accompany staff if there is a need to visit the property.

A long shot you could try is to make a general application to VCAT under section 452 of the RTA because ‘a dispute has arisen under the tenancy agreement’. You may not be able to get a possession order this way, but you may able to get some sort of compliance or restraining order.

If you are running rooming houses you have more protection for staff. The danger provisions for rooming houses in the RTA refer to causing ‘a danger to any person or property in the rooming house’ – a staff member is a person in the house while they are there. You can also use the Part 8 violence provisions where appropriate. Additionally, rooming house managers can create a house rule that forbids assaulting, threatening or harassing staff or contractors.

In the meantime, stay safe out there. Please ring me at the office on a Monday or Thursday if you have any questions or email mark.smoljo@chiavic.com.au