I was desperate: ICU doctor evicted from Sydney share house because of COVID-19 fears

May 07, 2020

BY LIN EVLIN

Hannah* was shocked when her landlord, who she lived with in a Sydney share house for nine months, called her aside while watching the nightly news to tell her she had to move out.

"I felt like he came out of nowhere," she told SBS News. "I had no issues staying at their place before we got along really well.

"All she said was, this pandemic is getting really bad, I don't think you can live here anymore."

Hannah believes her landlord's fears stemmed from her job as a doctor working in ICU in a NSW hospital.

At the time in late March, she had not dealt with any COVID-19 patients, but the uncertainty about the spread of infection, combined with news of how serious the situation had become in other countries such as Italy and the United States, fuelled anxiety.

"I sat down with her the next day to explain to her all the steps I'm taking to make sure there's no risk of infection or contamination, all the steps I'm taking to make sure she's safe and I'm safe and everyone else is. And she said that she was happy with my answers and that I can stay living there.

"But a week later, I received a text asking me why I hadn't left yet, I need you to leave now."

Hannah said she couldn't help but feel let down.

"I didn't understand why she acted like this, I would understand more if she or the other housemates were in the at-risk category.

 

Health workers have been offered temporary accommodation in NSW.

Health workers have been offered temporary accommodation in NSW.

AAP

 

"But my housemates were young, still working full-time in a job that involves being in contact with strangers every day as part of their jobs. 

"I felt like I had the safest job because I worked in a department where we were a strictly closed unit and every patient that came to the department had already been screened for COVID." 

Not covered by eviction moratorium

Hannah said the search to find alternative accommodation in mid-April was one of the most stressful experiences during her career.

"It was absolutely terrible because I was working long hours, there were restrictions on viewing houses because of the pandemic, I felt pressure to move quickly because I began to feel very unwelcome in the house.

"I was desperate." 

Leo Patterson Ross, senior policy advisor at the NSW Tenants Union, told SBS News that Hannah's living arrangement meant she did not fall under the definition of a "tenant" and therefore any new protections, such as a moratorium on evictions, did not apply. 

"When you live with the landlord, the assumption is that you're not the tenant and so you don't have a residential tenancy agreement and you don't have the protection of the Residential Tenancies Act and you really have no protection at all.

"There are tens of thousands of people in Australia who live without having a proper tenancy agreement in place. 

"Even if she was classified as a tenant, the moratorium on evictions would not have been of assistance because she was evicted for reasons other than being financially impacted by the pandemic." 

In early April, the NSW Government announced it would offer accommodation to frontline health workers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and other hospital and ambulance staff which will also help to protect their families.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government would spend nearly $60 million on accommodation for health workers who were worried about putting those they lived with at risk. 

But Hannah said she was only offered short-term hospital accommodation, at more than $220 a night.

"I didn't think it was worth it for me to move into somewhere on a temporary basis at that price, I might as well find something long-term.

 

A for lease sign is displayed in front of a house in Sydney on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (AAP Image/Paul Miller) NO ARCHIVING

Many renters do not have a formal tenancy agreement meaning they're not covered by the moratorium on evictions.

AAP

 

"I had heard all about the free accommodation support package, I was being sent the media articles multiple times by my friends but no-one knew how to actually access it." 

In response to SBS News' queries, NSW Health said it had sent information to health entities about the offer of temporary accomodation and free meals on Tuesday - nearly a month after the state government's announcement. 

"Staff requiring temporary accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic should contact their health entity to arrange a booking using their local arrangements," a NSW Health spokesperson said in a statement.

"Local Health Districts will assess requests from their staff for temporary accommodation, using a risk-based approach that considers the individual circumstances of their worker." 

The spokesperson said some NSW Health staff have already begun taking up the offer of free accommodation which would be booked through existing travel management services.

But Hannah said she was still unclear about how to access the package. 

"I feel like there needs to be a link between actual hospitals and the healthcare staff and the government when they make these policies.

"Where's the link to actually roll it out and give it to actual doctors who are experiencing this? Because I'm not the only one who went through this." 

Danielle McMullen from the NSW AMA has encouraged healthcare workers who need this alternative accommodation to seek it out.

"If they're having difficulties, they can contact groups like the AMA and we can help them navigate the process.

"It is a bit opaque as to how to actually get it to happen but the offer is there." 

The post about “I was desperate: ICU doctor evicted from Sydney share house because of COVID-19 fears" appeared first on the SBS Australia website.

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