After living in a deteriorating rental at Smithton for three years, David Billett knew the writing was on the wall when Circular Head Council inspectors came around to look at the house in September.
His calls for the landlord to make repairs to prevent the spread of black mould, fix fittings that were preventing cleaning, add insulation and sufficient heating, had gone unanswered.
He had experienced health problems while living in the house, and the landlord's attendance at the property without warning any hour of the day left him frustrated. He even had his water and power shut off on multiple occasions.
As soon as the council inspectors left, Mr Billett ramped up his search for a new rental. He started moving his belongings out and began couch surfing at a friend's place.
On October 7, the council issued a notice deeming the property "prejudicial to health and unsuitable for habitation". It cited widespread mould, rising damp and moisture, structural and functional faults causing water to enter, poor insulation and heating, and rotting window frames.
It was no surprise to Mr Billett.
"I'd rather be in a jail cell than that place," he said.
"I was running an IXL wall heater that was costing me hundreds of dollars a quarter. The house was that draughty you could shove a biro between the window and the glass. There was dampness, you could hardly breathe some days.
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"I have access to my kids every fortnight, but I had to stop them from coming the house was that bad."
But like with most of Tasmania, the rental market in the North-West is extremely tight with dozens of applicants competing for houses, most of which are unaffordable for people on government support.
Mr Billett could not find anywhere, and so he set up a tent at the Montagu Campground west of Smithton where he remains to this day.
"I've tried to make it home sweet home," he said.
"I reckon there'll be a few more out here later in the year because there's just nowhere to go, no houses available. I had no rental history because it was in my ex's name, so it's hard for me to get into the rental market with no references and being on Centrelink.
"I got laughed at by real estate agents for even trying."
Mr Billett was adamant that, had the landlord carried out the repairs he requested earlier, he would still have a roof over his head.
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The Tenants' Union of Tasmania raised the matter with the Residential Tenancy Commissioner in June. The union later forwarded the RTC the closure order from the council, outlining how it demonstrated "multiple breaches of various minimum standards".
On November 4, the RTC stated the investigation was closed as the matter was being handled by Circular Head Council. The landlord was not fined, but the RTC stated it received the matter "outside the statutory time frame" under the act and so it "was unable to take compliance action".
The RTC encouraged the tenant to contact the Circular Head environmental health officer, resulting in the closure order.
While an extreme example of a landlord failing to carry out repairs - ultimately resulting in a house being condemned by the local council - similar incidents are not unheard of in Tasmania.
In the years from 2016/17 to 2019/20, the Residential Tenancy Commissioner deemed that 365 complaints against landlords or agents were "well founded".
Of those, just seven - fewer than 2 per cent - resulted in a fine.
No landlords or agents have been fined for breaching the minimum standards introduced five years ago.
Tenants' Union solicitor Alexander Bomford said there was no deterrent to force landlords to fix unsafe and unhealthy properties.
"It's the norm that landlords face zero consequences for serious breaches of the law, breaches that cause a lot of stress, inconvenience and suffering for tenants," he said. "By failing to ensure that landlords that do the wrong thing face consequences for their actions, the RTC has abrogated their responsibility to protect tenants from dodgy landlords.
"If there is no deterrence against breaking the law then following the law is effectively optional.
"It is all well and good for tenants to have rights such as the right to privacy, the right to heating, and the right to a property that is in good repair, but if those rights are not adequately enforced they are illusory."
A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Government said the RTC assesses matters on a "case-by-case basis" and preferred to resolve matters between parties rather than immediately take enforcement action.
"If a complaint is received, the RTC will attempt to resolve the matter in the first instance prior to taking further compliance action. This is in the best interest of the parties to the tenancy agreement," the spokesperson said. "The majority of complaints raised with the RTC are resolved with the parties, meaning that no further compliance action is required. This approach is in line with the Department of Justice's objectives to provide a fair, safe and just community.
"The RTC assists and educates both parties in relation to their rights and obligations under the Act. The Tasmanian Government is supportive of the current arrangements and of the RTC in his statutory position."
It was cold comfort for Mr Billett, who felt the system had failed him.
"I invite the minister to come here and spend a fortnight how I'm living, on a generator, no shower, nothing," he said. "There's people like me across the state, under bridges, in tents in parks, I'm not the only one."
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