The recent case of a Tasmanian participant losing her NDIS-modified rental home has put the spotlight on renters’ rights and landlord responsibilities.
ABC News has highlighted the plight of Robyn Butterworth who faces an uncertain future after her landlord recently told her he would not renew her lease after the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)-approved and funded modifications to her Bagdad home, north of Hobart.
The NDIS participant has MS and has difficulty with mobility. The $15,000 home modifications took 12 months to complete, with her landlord’s approval, and made a huge difference to Ms. Butterworth’s life.
But despite believing her living arrangements were long-term at the house, and with excellent rental history, the landlord recently told Ms. Butterworth her lease would not be renewed in February as his mother would be moving in.
While Ms. Butterworth now seems to have found a new home, she said that despite a perfect rental history there were only limited options in the private market particularly when you are only on a disability support pension.
So what are the rules governing the use of NDIS funds to modify rentals, and why does the scheme allow such large amounts of money to be spent on what could very well be temporary rental accommodation in the first place?
First, according to the NDIS, there needs to be certain guarantees that a rental property will remain in the participant's long-term residence before any modifications are funded or made.
The agency recommends written confirmation from the homeowner or landlord that there is no current intent to terminate the lease or not extend at the ending of the existing lease.
The agency also recommends having supporting information such as details regarding the tenant's previous history at the residence, and no expected change to ownership arrangements in the near future that may impact the tenant's ability to live at the residence.
While the NDIS is not able to comment on individual cases, the ABC asked her landlord about what assurances he needed to provide to the agency before the mobility improvements to his rental property were approved last year.
In Ms. Butterworth’s case, her landlord told ABC News he “skimmed” over the paperwork and didn’t really read it properly so didn’t notice that reference to his obligations because his tenant “needed the work done urgently”.
The NDIS says the expected length of tenure for participants and whether this is commensurate with the cost of the home modifications must also be considered before funding is allocated.
According to the Tenants' Union of Tasmania, a landlord is legally within their rights to ask a tenant to leave when their lease expires, without having to provide a reason as long as it is 42 days before the end of the fixed-term tenancy.
Ms. Butterworth was concerned the eviction might make her ineligible for future funding from the NDIS for mobility improvements at another home.
Yet, after calls to the NDIS on behalf of Ms. Butterworth by the ABC, a spokesperson from the agency said it does consider additional funding for modifications at a new residence when a tenant has been forced to relocate due to no fault of their own.
Ms. Butterworth says Mission Australia has since contacted her with an offer for a home to live in.