‘Ruined my life’: Renters like April are flood disaster’s forgotten victims

Single mother April Bedeau is in tears as she comes off another heartbreaking call from her 10-year-old son at school: “I just want to go home, Mum,” he pleads.

Ever since the Maribyrnong River’s flooded waters invaded her rented two-bedroom unit of 14 years on October 14 and destroyed their belongings, Bedeau and son Sebastian ricocheted around emergency accommodation.

April Bedeau and her 10-year old-son Sebastian are renters who have been severely displaced by the Maribyrnong floods.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The pair stayed in friends’ homes and cramped CBD hotel rooms organised by authorities before landing in a Quest apartment they will need to leave by Tuesday.

“I’m so depressed and worried because I don’t know where we’re going to go. We can’t sleep in the car,” Bedeau said. “I just want some security for my son. He’s dealing with so much.”

Experts say renters, who are most vulnerable to displacement, are among the forgotten victims of the flood disaster which damaged thousands of Victorian homes.

Renters, most of whom do not have contents insurance, face issues such as staying in homes that are unsafe, paying for repairs landlords should arrange, being unfairly evicted or landing unexpectedly in a rental market that is in its own crisis.

Bedeau said finding a new home was a near impossible task due to a lack of available properties and surging rents for two-bedroom apartments.

“I’ve been looking every day to try to get something,” she said. “I feel terrified. This flood has ruined my life.”

More than 240 properties in Maribyrnong were affected in the October flood, an area where the 2021 census showed almost 40 per cent of homes are rented.

Paul Kelly, 58, spent six days cleaning his leased home in the flood’s aftermath before he was given an immediate eviction notice.

“It was pretty cruel. I can understand the owner wanted to get in there and save the place but when it comes to people’s lives, timber and plaster should come second,” said Kelly, a cabin crew manager.

“Having no time, they should have at least assisted with putting me up somewhere or helped with removalists.”

After frantically moving his belongings into storage, Kelly went to the Mickleham quarantine facility – currently housing 192 people – where he has been spending time organising an insurance claim and searching for a new home.

“It’s overwhelming. I haven’t been able to find anything remotely close to [my past rent cost] in that area,” Kelly said.

Joseph Nunweek, economic legal director of West Justice, said the community legal centre was bracing for an influx of calls as people began to consider whether their landlord and real estate agent behaved appropriately.

Nunweek said flood problems sent many renters from an already precarious situation to a “real nightmare”.

“Homeowners have a little bit more control over their destiny: you negotiate with the insurer and you can think about how you address your rebuild. For renters, they don’t have any control and often no finances to immediately remedy the property,” Nunweek said.

“If your [rented] house is affected by flooding you are often left to own devices and have to hope that your connections, funds or social services help you.”

Emergency Recovery Victoria is working with communities, local providers and councils to secure accommodation while the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing’s re-establishment payments of up to $43,850 are available to people who are short on money, aren’t insured and cannot return home due to flood damage.

An initial amount of about $3000 is arriving quickly however assessments for a second instalment are taking longer.

Tenants Victoria’s Farah Farouque said more accommodation was needed to deal with the dual flood and rental crises as well as more legal support to deal with dodgy landlords and real estate agents.

Bedeau, who is unemployed due to multiple serious health issues, was frustrated at the lack of support from her long-standing real estate agency in finding a home, as well as from government, saying she’d had trouble accessing the re-establishment payment and receiving suitable, stable accommodation.

She said she was repeatedly offered to stay at the Mickleham quarantine centre but it wasn’t an environment she wanted her son to live in and it was too far from his school.

“There needs to be some dignity for people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. I don’t feel like I should have to beg to get help for somewhere to put a roof over my son’s head.”

Gabriel Brillantes, a 33-year-old apprentice locksmith who rented in Maribyrnong, echoed this. He will be in a city hotel until the weekend but he is at a loss at where to go next and is struggling to receive enough financial and mental health support.

He said he was going to daily house inspections and submitting applications but had been unable to secure a new rental property. “It’s so disheartening,” Brillantes said.

Damian Stock, chief executive of legal centre ARC Justice, which covers the state’s north and centre, said the issues facing flood-hit renters in regional Victoria were a “slowly unfolding disaster” and he had seen troubling behaviour from real estate agencies, including one that sent 24-hour eviction notices to all 140 rental properties it managed.

“I suspect it’s so they can claim flood damage insurance, slowly find trades and rebuild. If they have tenants there they are required to do that really quickly,” Stock said.

He said that ultimately, disasters affected the disadvantaged most, and that included renters – particularly during an acute housing shortage.

“There’s just nowhere for people to go. There are increasing numbers of rough sleepers and dislocated people.”

A Consumer Affairs Victoria spokeswoman said that when a property was assessed as unsafe to live in, a rental provider or renter could immediately end the lease agreement. However if a home was not totally damaged, a tenant could request urgent repairs.

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