The squalid condition of a rental house in Melbourne's west was not fit for a dog, but a blind mother and her two children still had to fight for months to get out of the lease.
Anne-Marie Kelly's seeing-eye dog was removed late last year due to stress and a skin condition he developed while living in the family's dilapidated house in Laverton.
Ms Kelly said neighbours had torn down a fence on her property and squatted inside her shed for four months. She said they also broken in, trashed and robbed her house and that she feared for her children's safety.
“The house was dangerous and in terrible condition, but the situation with the drug addicts was just terrifying,” she said. “The dog was really stressed out and he wouldn't even go into the yard so we decided to get him out until I got out of the lease.”
Footscray Community Legal Centre manager Denis Nelthorpe said this case proved that minimum standards for rental properties needed to be introduced in Victoria.
“It's an indication of the seriousness of the need for repairs and what can happen to tenants if they can't get the repairs,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
Lawyer Jane Berry said Ms Kelly had been in a “terrible position” that was made worse because her landlord refused to fix the problem.
“The fence wasn't repaired so this went on for a lot longer than it should have,” she said. “Anne-Marie had no way of securing her house so the squatters just came in and started living there. In the end there was no penalty to the landlord for what she went through.”
The legal centre published a report this week calling for the introduction of minimum housing and maintenance standards for rental properties, and the establishment of an independent body to regulate them.
It also recommended harsher penalties for landlords who breach the standards.
Ms Berry said the most common complaints from renters related to broken locks, doors and windows, heating problems, gas leaks and mould. But she said tenants rarely took action against their landlords out of fear of being evicted.
“If a tenant has a problem they can go to VCAT to get an order, but there's no police to enforce it,” she said. “If there's another issue or the problem isn't fixed the tenant has to go back to VCAT.”
A spokeswoman for Consumer Affairs Minister Heidi Victoria said the government would consider the recommendations made in the report.