Residents in remote Northern Territory communities have filed a class action against the Northern Territory public housing body.

The case, filed by class action law firm Phi Finney McDonald, alleges the Chief Executive Officer (Housing) has failed to maintain public housing in remote Aboriginal communities and that the housing is not safe, habitable, or secure, with tenants paying excessive rent for housing that does not meet basic minimum standards.

The case is brought by lead representatives Otto Dann and Eleanor Manakgu from Gunbalanya in West Arnhem Land.

Ron Mangiru, 53, a community leader also living in Gunbalanya, cares for his brother who is unwell. He has requested that his landlord address the lack of air conditioning in his home.

“It’s really not good enough and is very complicated for us Aboriginal people living in remote communities. White people are given houses with air con or people come and fix the air con. But we live in a hot area and have no air conditioning. I am scared about the health impacts the heat has on my brother.”

Solicitor and remote housing advocate Daniel Kelly from Redgum Legal & Consulting says the legal action is necessary to hold the Government to account and ensure housing conditions are improved.

“The housing crisis has continued in remote communities for years, as have the physical and mental health impacts, and the negative effects on education and employment outcomes. The Territory government and the Commonwealth government have not communicated plans to bring all housing up to the legal standard, and tenants have no option other than to seek redress through courts,” he said.

Phi Finney McDonald Senior Associate Madeline White hopes the case has far-reaching impacts.

“The applicants are seeking repayment of rent, damages, and orders for repairs. If the case is successful, it has the potential to not only improve housing conditions in the Northern Territory, but in all remote Aboriginal communities in Australia,” she said.

The class action, which was filed in the Darwin registry of the Federal Court, also alleges it was unconscionable for the CEO (Housing) to fail to repair houses, fail to reduce rent where houses were not in good repair and fail to properly explain tenancy agreements, in circumstances where tenants had no other option for housing. The applicants also claim the conduct amounted to unlawful racial discrimination.

The litigation is supported by Australian litigation funder CASL.