Dealing with disruptive tenants

Thinking about human rights and applying human rights at work can be difficult. This hypothetical case study shows how human rights can apply in an everyday work situation. It gives insight into what you might need to consider when completing your own work.

Shanna works for the Department of Housing and Public Works. She looks after public housing tenants through a Housing Service Centre. People who live in public housing have to follow a Fair expectations of behaviour policy. Sometimes Shanna gives tenants warnings about disruptive behaviour that:

  • disturbs neighbours
  • threatens the safety of tenants, household members, or neighbours
  • damages property.

Shanna has to decide whether to end a tenancy for a family (a single mum and two children, aged 15 and 7) who have been living in their public housing property for 5 years. Over the last year, she’s given them 4 warnings for the older child’s disruptive behaviour. He has threatened the safety of neighbours and his family, and damaged public housing property. Shanna has to think about the internal policies and processes she should follow to make this decision, and she also has to think about human rights.

Shanna’s decision whether to evict the tenant could affect the human rights of the tenant and the people around them.

Privacy and reputation

The tenants and their neighbours have the right to not have their family and home interfered with. If Shanna evicts the tenant, this will interfere with their home. They will lose their property and may have trouble finding another place to live.

Protection of families and children

The children in the family have the right to be protected, as does the family unit. Other families who live nearby also have the right to be protected. If Shanna evicts the tenants, this could affect the stability of their family, especially if they then face housing stress. Eviction might not be in the best interests of the children. If Shanna decides not to evict the tenants, this could affect the rights of other families who live nearby.

Right to life and Right to liberty and security of person

If the tenant’s behaviour risks others’ safety, Shanna needs to take appropriate steps to protect people from physical harm and to protect life. 

Everyone has the right to have their human rights protected without discrimination. When one person’s human rights need to be balanced against the rights of another person or group, the Human Rights Act 2019 shows us how to do this.

Shanna needs to know what law, if any, supports her decision to limit a human right, and the steps she must complete to ensure her decision is fair and for good reason.

What law lets Shanna limit human rights?

Shanna works with Queensland public housing tenants. Tenancy law is found in the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008. The processes that Shanna follows to manage tenancies comes from this law, which allows her to make decisions.

How does Shanna make a fair decision?

Shanna’s decision to evict the tenants could limit their right to privacy and reputation. This right protects people from interference with their family and home. The purpose of limiting the tenants’ right in this situation might be to protect the safety and security of people living nearby, prevent damage to public housing property, protect the peace in the neighbourhood, and protect the rights of people living nearby.

Shanna should understand how limiting the tenants’ right to privacy and reputation will protect the safety and security of people living nearby. If evicting the tenants won’t lead to the safety and security of others, she won’t be able to show that limiting their rights is fair, because it doesn’t achieve her purpose. 

Shanna should consider alternatives that limit rights less. She could consider:

  • issuing another warning
  • offering the tenant some support services to help them address the behaviour
  • working with the tenant to find them another property that’s more suitable for their needs.

Shanna should also consider how serious the risk to neighbours and public housing property is. Is the risk serious enough to outweigh the limitation to the tenants’ rights?

The answers to these questions will depend on the details of the situation. After balancing the competing interests of the tenants, the neighbours, and the department, Shanna will need to show that her decision to evict the tenant and limit their rights is fair and for a good reason.